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Returning to Practice: My Journey - Rachael Harrison

Rachael, an occupational therapist with over 23 years of experience, returned to practice in 2023 after a career break

Currently, Rachael is employed in a temporary contract as a Professional Advisor, with the Professional Advisory Service, at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

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Returning to Practice – My Journey

Sometimes the return to practice process feels overwhelming, but it does not need to be a lonely experience. There are so many people to help you on your journey. I hope this honest account of my own expedition helps you in some way.

I am 52 and qualified as an occupational therapist (OT) from Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy, Oxford. I worked in a variety of full-time roles for over 23 years, as an OT, Senior OT, Lead OT, Therapy Lead, Head of Profession, Hospital Director and Service Director. I loved work and many said I was more focused on my career than my personal life.

Perhaps that explains why I didn’t get married until my late 30s (after moving our wedding date due to work) and had our youngest child at 43. A few years later I was made redundant, so I decided to take a career break, which lasted longer than intended.

Starting the journey

I came off the HCPC Register almost five years ago but always knew I would return. Occupational therapy is such a diverse profession and my passion to make a positive difference still burned brightly. My own experiences of being a carer, a mother and a patient only added fuel to the fire.

Once I had decided that it was time to return, I made copious notes and considered what was going to be the best fit for me. Others may approach their return to work differently, but I have always worked best when I assimilate the information, cogitate, and then act!

To do this, I re-joined RCOT as a career break member, referred to the HCPC standards, started to write my learning plan and utilised both the career development framework and the capabilities audit tool from the RCOT website.

There is a plethora of information to explain what you need to do in terms of updating your knowledge and skills. I utilised the following returning to practice resources on:

Taking the first steps

As I had been off the Register for more than two years but less than five years, HCPC’s requirements stated I needed to carry out a minimum of 30 days of updating my skills and knowledge before I could apply to re-join. This could be a combination of supervised practice, formal and private (self-directed) study, however the private study could not be more than 15 out of the 30 days.

Arranging a supervised placement proved challenging. I saw a tweet from RCOT, advertising a 20-day return to practice internship, sponsored by HEE. I selfishly prayed the advert would go unnoticed by others, to reduce competition. My confidence was not sky-high after years of being absorbed in the minutiae of childcare, with its incredible highs and sleep deprivation, having a label of “geriatric motherhood” and so on.

However, I applied, had an interview, and was offered the internship. It was time to return to practice.

Completing the requirements

The internship afforded so many opportunities. My learning plan morphed into a different entity and became unrecognisable from the start. At times it intimidated me, but I took deep breaths, reminded myself of what I knew, and embraced new learning.

Some highlights included working collaboratively with HEE, HCPC and RCOT on return to practice webinars, completing an article for OT news, responding to enquiries to the Professional Practice Service at RCOT and writing this blog. After leaving the Register, one area I had missed the most was teamwork, and it was wonderful being part of a supportive and proactive team.

In my experience, the HCPC provided user-friendly information and paperwork for supervised practice, formal study and private study. In addition, I kept a separate log to evidence CPD activity.

I spent time reflecting on the amazing resources from the RCOT library, refreshed my literature search skills, reviewed articles and considered current issues in occupational therapy.

Returning to practice

After finally completing all the HCPC paperwork, my supervisor countersigned it. When I started this journey, I often wondered if that specific moment would ever happen.

HCPC processed my forms quickly and contacted me to complete payment. I am now delighted to share that I am back on the Register. It is wonderful to be able to call myself an occupational therapist again.

Anxieties over whether or not to return to practice may be an obstacle that many never overcome. But I would encourage anyone with doubts to “just do it”. Don’t be put off by worrying you won’t measure up to the required standards of the HCPC; it’s natural to feel this way but it’s a process with lots of support and excellent resources along the way. Focus on taking one step at a time. If I can do it, so can you!

Good luck with your journey and do return to practice!

You can also read Rachael's story on the RCOT website.

Returning to practice resources

In your words
Page updated on: 15/06/2023