Daniel Nguyen: Faculty Lecturer and Occupational Therapist Working in Long-term, Geriatric Care, and Mental Health | School of Physical & Occupational Therapy

Daniel Nguyen, erg., completed his MSc (Applied) in Occupational Therapy in 2012. Since that time, he has worked in geriatric care in several long-term care settings within the CIUSSS Ouest-de-l’ile de Montreal, supervised 19 OT students, and is currently working in return-to-work mental health. He has been a faculty lecturer at the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy since 2018. As part of our Question-and-Answer series to showcase the McGill Occupational Therapy program and illustrate the diversity of the profession, Daniel recently answered these questions.

How did you decide on OT as a career choice?

When I applied out of CEGEP, I was looking for a career in health care which was practical and hands-on, and I didn’t know too much about the profession, it just seemed like an interesting option. It was during my clinical placements, especially my placement at Villa Medica Hospital where I realized the important, and positive, impact we have on a client’s recovery process and their personal life. I remember being surprised that I was able to apply much of the learning we had done in class right into the clinic! It made me reflect on the impact of our decisions in improving other peoples’ conditions and how important participation was in one’s quality of life. That professional objective, to maintain that for our clients, is so important but the broadness of it also makes it difficult to describe in words alone.

What are some of the skills you feel make a great OT?

Being an active listener with a genuine interest in other people is important. OT practice is very client centered, so you may encounter the same condition or problem and even the same environment but completely different issues just because it’s a different client with different personal needs.

Another key characteristic is to be interested in problem solving. We learn anatomy, physiology, and pathology of different conditions but there is no guidebook to solving every problem and each issue is different from person to person. In my current work, I help healthcare workers who are going through mental health issues that have led them to take time off work. Each work environment is different, everyone has different life experiences and stressors affecting them so helping them build up their skills to get back to work, identifying strategies to cope with different stressors combined with the right intervention plans during their return-to-work timeline requires creative problem solving.

Just to give you a few examples, my interventions in my current practice have ranged from helping a client develop strategies to dial in their day to day schedule at home in preparation for their return to work, deal with an overloaded Outlook inbox to role-playing and strategies on how to navigate workplace discussion to avoid sensitive topics.

Finally, a holistic view is important. I’ve heard one of my colleagues say that the OT’s superpower is their activity analysis. OTs are skilled at instantly breaking down a specific activity in multiple components and seeing how all these components interact with each other. To understand how personal systems and environmental components affect the participation in an activity, that’s a very specific OT skill.

How would you describe OT to someone? 

I usually explain that OTs answer three fundamental questions. When observing a client, we ask ourselves: What can’t they do, why can’t they do it and what can we do about it? That’s it.

If for example, you meet a client with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) who has difficulties at their office job. Your first part would be to identify which tasks are affected by the CTS. In this case, typing on the keyboard could be an answer to the first question of what they can’t do. Then we ask ourselves the reasons why the client can’t type. This will be identified through our different assessment tools. In this case, we could measure multiple factors such as range of motion, endurance, strength, fine motor dexterity, body positioning, office set-up, the type of keyboard, potential accommodations in the workspace, the relationship that the client has with their employer that could affect the implementation of said accommodations, etc. Finally, we ask ourselves what we, as OTs, do about it, which would be to develop a treatment plan to manage the symptoms, improve on the physical limitations that have been assessed and make recommendations on optimizing the office area so that in the end, the client performs their task in a more efficient and satisfactory manner.

Why did you choose McGill University?

I am born and raised in Montreal and had always attended school in French. Although I spoke both English and French, I wanted the opportunity to learn in English at the University Level.

Any advice for someone deciding on a career in OT?

I would advise them to get a good understanding of what OT is and the role of an OT from multiple health care professionals. OT is a very broad and holistic program and having a better understanding of it when going into the program will help you contextualise what you are learning and imagine what kind of practice you may see yourself doing later. You also have to enjoy anatomy, physiology and learning about the development through the lifespan.

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