100% employment for first graduates of new degree launched in lockdown

Launched just months before Covid-19 forced the country into lockdown – an Occupational Therapy degree has seen every one of its students land industry-level jobs before they even graduated.

Despite the challenges faced by the students on the University of Sunderland BSc (Hons) programme throughout the pandemic – juggling online learning, home working and disruption to placement opportunities – the group of students and staff pulled together.

Their resilience paid off, as the pioneers of the programme all graduated, recently collecting their degrees at the Stadium of Light, before beginning their careers in occupational therapy with jobs lined up in the region’s hospitals and in social care.

Occupational therapy helps people recover or develop skills needed for the activities of daily living, including self-care, leisure, independent living and work. Therapists work in a range of settings including hospitals, schools, nursing homes and with people in their own homes.

Head of the School of Nursing, Sue Brent, said: “This is a great achievement. These students have had an unusual experience, having had to study during the covid crisis and undertake practice placements under extremely difficult conditions, however, they have all shown great determination and dedication to achieve their goals. They are a credit to themselves, and we are all very proud of the positive impact they have demonstrated.”

As part of the first graduation ceremony, a special prize was awarded to a student for their ‘Outstanding Contribution to Occupational Therapy’. Elizabeth Davie, was presented with a specially commissioned stained-glass phoenix, created by artist Rachel McKenna.

Cath Turner, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, said: “Elizabeth has consistently promoted occupational therapy during her training. She has set up talks into schools to tell students about the profession, volunteered to attend the Royal College of Occupational Therapists national conference twice, feeding back the highlights to the other students and has frequently contributed information towards the development of the two new occupational therapy programmes.”

Elizabeth, from Sunderland, awarded a First-Class honours degree, and is now working at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, said: “It is an absolute honour to be receiving this award.

“I would like to thank the academic staff for recognising my efforts and my husband and three children for their continuous support throughout; I could not have done it without them.

“My experience probably hasn’t been the average student experience. Being pioneers for occupational therapy at Sunderland, and then a global pandemic including an abrupt shift to online teaching six months into my degree certainly brought its challenges.

“But I am so proud of my fellow students, who have remained determined to make a difference to people’s lives and what an amazing achievement to be graduating, especially after this unprecedented time. University staff have been extremely supportive and adapted, they listen to your concerns and suggestions and this really enhances that sense of belonging.

“Personally, for me a highlight has been the teaching team going above and beyond to ensure that we have been provided with the best, current education. I will always be proud to say I studied occupational therapy at the University of Sunderland.”

Elizabeth’s fellow graduates were also not left empty handed, as staff presented them with bunches of wild flowers at the ceremony, grown in the garden classroom area, created on a unused area of land on City Campus by occupational therapy staff and students.

The University now delivers a full cycle of health programmes from paramedic training and nursing to pharmacy, physiotherapy, and medicine – and the Occupational Therapy degree, further complements Sunderland’s health and social care offer.

The investment in the course includes a fully functional independent living environment, a multi-media workshop and a suite of rehabilitation laboratories, the programme has also been approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and is accredited by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT).

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