By Sheila Boatman
Have you ever dreamed of combining work with travel? Do you picture yourself relaxing on the beaches of Australia or exploring the beauty of England? Occupational therapy is a wonderful profession because it allows us to explore these possibilities.
When I first graduated I knew that I wanted to work and travel before 'settling down'. As a result, I began my occupational therapy career in Australia and New Zealand. The opportunity to learn about myself, my profession and the challenges faced by health care workers in other countries was invaluable. I discovered the skills an occupational therapist possesses are those that are also needed to succeed abroad. Above all, I made incredible friends that I am still in touch with today. I hope the following tips will help make your own search for international work a little easier.
Be flexible about the area of practice you would like to work in, as this improves your chances of finding a contract position. Contact the occupational therapy association of the country you wish to visit. If you know the specific state or province that you want to work in make this clear so that you can learn about the specific requirements you may need to fulfill. A good place to start is on the Internet. The WFOT site, under member countries (http://www.wfot.org.au/), will give you a list of contact names and addresses of occupational therapy associations abroad.
Be prepared to be granted a three month working visa, so you may need to search for several different jobs if you are going away for a longer period of time. This may not be negative as it allows you to work and then travel until you decide to secure your next contract. Many places will offer you the opportunity to extend your contract if they are unable to find an occupational therapist in the country that wants the position. Several weeks before I left my overseas positions I was approached by my managers with the opportunity to stay - it was very tempting!
Research the job market and contact the occupational therapy association of the country you wish to visit well ahead of time. I looked in an Australian newspaper on the Internet every day for leads. This allowed me to keep track of what positions were being offered and therefore I could focus my efforts on these areas.
Another approach is to contact global recruitment agencies. As with all agencies make sure you check their reputations, as well as the precise terms and conditions of their contract, before accepting any offers.
I tried to secure a job before leaving but found most places preferred to hire in person rather than by phone. As a result, I gathered a great deal of information about Australia before I left. When people found out I was leaving they were very forthcoming with contact names and addresses. It's a good idea to have people that you can go to for support if need be.
If possible, call and arrange to visit the occupational therapy association's head office of the country you are visiting. I found the staff at the Sydney branch to be extremely helpful. They had a book filled with potential contract positions and a staff member read through each one with me providing invaluable advice. Many jobs sound wonderful on paper but if they are in a dangerous area the 'romance' of being away quickly fades.
Once you do find a suitable job, you will need to find a place to live. My home was a cockroach infested, international hostel which I loved. I made some incredible friends whom I still keep in touch with four years later. However, this may not be for everyone. When offered a position ask if the person hiring knows of anyone on staff looking for a border. Also, ask the occupational therapy association's contact if they know of anyone in the area willing to take you in for a few months. If not, try the local paper but visit the home with a friend before agreeing to rent, and only do so if you feel comfortable.
When travelling and looking for work things will not always go according to plan. While waiting to be granted my visa for New Zealand I had to take a completely different job as it took longer than expected and I was running short on money. It is a good idea to find work in a deli or bakery as you can then take home all the day old food and save on groceries!
Researching, obtaining a work visa, establishing contacts and arranging plane tickets is exhausting. The organizational and goal setting skills of an occupational therapist are essential here.
Spirit of Adventure
Remember to expect the unexpected. Be prepared to be flexible and take charge of your situation. The memories you take away with you will last forever.
The number one rule is safety. There is a tendency when travelling to let your guard down and this is a mistake. Research the job, location and place you decide to live thoroughly before making a decision. Do not let dwindling finances influence you if you do not feel right about taking a job. Listen to your instincts. Make sure that you have extra money set aside for true emergencies before leaving. You will find that people love to help 'foreigners' so take advantage of their knowledge and offers of assistance.
The time I spent in Australia and New Zealand was incredible. Not only did I learn about occupational therapy in these countries but I also learned a lot about myself. I went scuba diving with sharks, climbed Ayer's Rock and wandered across a glacier. I would encourage anyone thinking about travelling and working to start setting it up. It is well worth the time and effort. Who knows? You might enjoy yourself so much that you never come back!
About the author
Sheila Boatman is an occupational therapist at McMaster University Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. After graduating in 1996, she chose to work in Australia and New Zealand for one year. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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September/October 2001 Table
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