We are delighted to be able to congratulate alumna Justine Norris, BSc Interprofessional Learning Occupational Therapy 2013, who has been awarded an MBE for her services to the NHS during Covid-19. A member of the Mental Health Crisis Team at St Martin’s Hospital in Canterbury, Justine received the award for her work on a resource pack for people with mental health difficulties to use during isolation.
Justine has been working as an Occupational Therapist for just six years, having trained as a mature student after years of raising her three children. Meeting her husband Paul at 18, they quickly settled down, with Paul working on the railway and Justine at home with the children. As the children got a little older, Justine worked part-time in a nursery for a while, achieving NVQs Levels 2 and 3 in Childcare as she did so. But, when her Mum became ill with cancer, Justine chose to leave to help provide her with full-time care.
It was during this period that Justine discovered the impact that a good Occupational Therapist can have. The OT who worked with her Mum was very holistic in approach, not just concerned with her patients’ medical needs, but for their wellbeing in every way. She was also supportive to the wider family carrying the burden of having a terminally ill relative. Justine found herself thinking that Occupational Therapy was something that she would love to do.
At first, Justine didn’t realise this was something she could actually do. It was after her Mum died, and she had started working part-time again in a residential home, that a friend who had decided to go to University to train as an Occupational Therapist suggested that Justine apply too. As the course was available locally at Christ Church, Justine decided she would try, discovering that her two NVQs enabled her to meet the entry criteria.
Justine studied full-time and admits that she found it a huge challenge. “I’m not really an academic person” she says. But she found the practical placements hugely satisfying and was particularly interested in the parts of the course that covered mental health. Her efforts were rewarded when she successfully became a qualified OT in 2013.
After qualifying, Justine applied for agency work, gaining good practical experience at St Barts Hospital in Chatham working with patients following hip replacement or injury. She then secured a permanent post closer to home at St Martins, working with inpatients on a female ward. This was her first experience of therapeutic working, where teams worked together in a multi-disciplinary way. When this model was changed and staff needed to reapply for roles, Justine moved to the Crisis Team working with mental health patients.
Justine started to work on creating resources to help patients at home and this was the basis of what would ultimately become the resource pack she would develop for people in isolation during Covid. As soon as lockdown was announced, Justine could see that it would have a profoundly negative effect on her patients, who would lose the support groups they so depended on. She developed both a recovery booklet including items like a checklist from Mind, tips to help with goal-setting, an exercise programme and a daily planner and a Self Sooth Bag, full of items like squeeze balls and colouring packs to help people diagnosed with anxiety. Justine’s manager was highly supportive of the pack and the NHS communications team also supported it, providing it with NHS branding.
As well as giving the pack to clients, it was advertised on Facebook. The response was overwhelming, with requests to use the materials coming from a range of different groups all over the world. The pack was also adapted for use more widely across East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust.
Asked how she feels about getting the award, Justine is modest. “I can’t really believe it”, she says. “I’m so honored and when I found out, I cried nearly the whole day. I think I should share it with the team because they all help me do this.”
Justine says that training as an Occupational Therapist at Christ Church changed her life, giving the skills she needed to pursue her dreams and building her personal confidence. And she is delighted that in September, her daughter will be joining the University, also to train in OT! We are equally delighted at her success. Congratulations Justine!