by Meredith Dault
When Catherine Brandon first came to Queen's as an undergraduate fine arts student in 2002, she had no idea that a few short years later she would be working as an occupational therapist in Yellowknife -- but she's more-than-thrilled by where she has ended up.
Brandon admits that it when a university career counsellor suggested she consider a future in occupational therapy, she didn't even know what it was -- but it seemed like a perfect fit. "I was always interested in health sciences," laughs Brandon, "and she said I should look into it because it's a creative health care profession."
After graduating with her BFA in Fine Arts in 2006, Brandon easily made the transition to the Occupational Therapy program, earning her MSc (OT) in 2008. It was while she was in that program that Brandon had the opportunity to do a six-week community development placement and ended up working in Yellowknife. "I really liked the community," says Brandon, an Ontario-native, "it's the sort of place where within four days you can know people walking down the street. I got it into my head that that's where I wanted to be." When a position opened up after graduation, Brandon was quick to apply.
Her current job sees her working with children -- both in a hospital setting on an outpatient basis --and in schools where she does assessments and classroom accommodations. "Occupational therapists enable people to do the things that are meaningful in their daily lives," Brandon explains. "I'm working with kids, and their main occupation is play -- but some have disabilities or other diagnoses that get in the way. We work to break down the barriers."
Her job in Yellowknife has also given Brandon the opportunity to do some week-long clinics in Nunavut -- an experience she says is "too hard to describe in short sentences." But she says she feels privileged to have seen that part of the country.
Though Brandon admits she's done a lot of on-the-job learning, she says her time at Queen's gave her the skills she needed to take on her new position, and she praises her former professors for being both accessible and supportive. "It was a good balance of academic and hands-on skills," she says of the OT program, " and we had a lot of group work, so I got to know my classmates really well."
But Brandon admits that she wrote herself a note during her first week on the job that has guided her in her transition to the working-world. "I wrote that life is not a case study," says Brandon, reflecting on the move from working in pretend scenarios to the ‘real world.' "For me, it was about realizing that what I'm doing impacts people's lives."
For now, Brandon says she's staying focused on the future and is thrilled about the possibilities. "I'm excited about the flexibilities that the degree allows for... and the different opportunities. I never would have pictured I would be in Yellowknife," she laughs. "Occupational therapy has opened a lot of doors for me."