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Emma Gee: An Occupational Therapist’s Perspective on Healthcare

From Australia, we get an occupational therapist’s perspective on healthcare from Emma Gee on this episode of the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast with Rob Oliver. She is a former occupational therapist and a stroke survivor. She has become an author and a renowned speaker. A member of Generation X, she not only brought an occupational therapist’s perspective on healthcare, she also brought the patient’s perspective on healthcare.

Here are 3 things that stood out as Emma Gee shared an occupational therapist’s perspective on healthcare:

· Being a patient provides a whole new perspective on healthcare, even to a medical professional
· Quality healthcare includes valuing what the patient brings to the conversation, valuing their input in the process
· Collaboration and respect leads to a codesign of the treatment plan between the therapist and the patient

You can learn more about Emma Gee through her website and social media links.


Here is the transcript of my interview with Emma Gee as she gave us an occupational therapist’s perspective on healthcare:

Introduction to Emma Gee

Rob Oliver: Thank you. And I appreciate you being here today for another episode of Perspectives on Healthcare. My guest today is Emma Gee. She joins us from down in Australia. Another guest from the Land Down Under. She is an occupational therapist, a speaker, an author. She is a stroke survivor, and she understands things both from the professional perspective and from the patient’s perspective. So, Emma, welcome to the show.

Emma Gee: Thanks, Rob. Thank you.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in healthcare

Rob Oliver: Absolutely. And just for the record, you’re right on the line between Generation X and being a millennial. According to the technical perspective, I think you’re technically Generation X, which is a wonderful thing. So let’s jump right into the questions and can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in healthcare, please?

Emma Gee: Yeah. So my background, Rob, is an occupational therapist. As you said, I was 24 when I was a full time therapist and runner. And due to running injury, I coincidentally had a hemorrhage in my brain, which led to surgery to rectify that and cut a very long story short, basically during the procedure, I had a stroke and went into a coma. So suddenly when I woke eight days later, I was in a very surreal realm where suddenly I was a recipient of the care I’d once provided as an OT and I could no longer walk, talk, blink, feed myself, and then went on again to cut a really long story short years of rehabilitation. And really today I am really learning to speak again and reinvent myself. Began my own speaking business, really drawn my experiences and dual insight as a patient to help others. So I began my own business and wrote my own book and ongoing rehab, which I’m sure, Rob, you’ll appreciate. But I think the longevity of that is not truly understood until you become a patient. Really.

Rob Oliver: Sure. So do you think that your experiences as an OT make it more difficult in the rehab process, or does it make the rehab process a little bit easier or does it not affect that at all?

Emma Gee: Yeah. I guess my experience as an OT gave me a really good foundation as I worked in neuro outpatient therapy. So I had understanding of ways I could manage my pain and, you know, what I needed in support and what was available there. So it was good in that I was able to apply my own fabric to my own body. However, because I was very much for many years trapped inside my body, I took on a very much observational role, and I could not be the op that I was. And that was very frustrating. And being the observer of the profession and knowing what I guess things that I had done as a therapist that perhaps weren’t as person centered or as helpful to a patient was quite confronting. So I think initially, probably having that background was not easy because I knew, however long term now that I can actually communicate and work with that profession particularly and hopefully rehabilitation.

What does quality healthcare mean to you?

Rob Oliver: So, that kind of leads into this question, which is what does quality healthcare mean to you?

Emma Gee: Yeah, I think quality healthcare for me is everything I learned as a student therapist about being respectful and valuing and person centered and working collaboratively. However, I think now my view of the patient of that is very different. The emphasis I see on the importance of feeling valued and respected and really truly working collaboratively and together with their provider and having that choice and autonomy and agency to bring about change, I have a different perspective of that than I did as a health professional. I think.

Rob Oliver: Okay. And I’ll just quickly share my own personal story, and that is I was in College at the time of my injury and I was a psychology major when I was injured, and I felt like after I went back to school, I became a psychology major with purpose because having experienced therapy, I saw the value in it that I had not necessarily seen because I hadn’t experienced the patient side of things. Definitely.

Can you give me an example of quality healthcare?

Rob Oliver: So can you give me an example of quality healthcare?

Emma Gee: I think a good example would be when I am seeing beyond my disability and looked at for my strength and respect and value for the contribution I make working with a therapist, for example, I know the outcomes and the healthcare will be a lot better when I know that I can tap into their expertise, but they also can tap into mine. And I’m not relying on them for the change to come back, whereas it’s something we can work to together. And I think I really learnt through my journey that there’s so much frustration and wasting that happens when you’re patient. That’s why you’re called patience. But anything can do to speed up your recovery or bring about change in some capacity makes it so much easier to understand what we are going through. And so I think it took me a while to realize I write about this in my book that it’s been Proactive rather than reactive to circumstances in the healthcare journey where you don’t just sit and wait and rely on a provider to do something where you can work with them or actually do that yourself despite your circumstances.

Rob Oliver: Yeah, I think you and I are definitely on the same page with this, and that is, as a patient, we definitely need to have a role in our own rehabilitation, in our own care. But there’s also the element that the way that your care progresses for you and I, the way our rehabilitation progressed was in large way dependent on our own willingness to contribute to it and our own willingness to be involved and to put the effort in. And if you’re not putting the effort in, the progress is there, but it’s much slower.

Emma Gee: Definitely. And I think the importance in that is really acceptance. And until I could fully accept that I had responsibility for my own circumstances and I could dictate things and have that ownership, I was really accepting what I can’t change and then changing what I can.

Rob Oliver: Yeah, you’re so right. I think that I would say it this way we can’t change where we start from, but we can change where we’re going, right?

Emma Gee: Yeah, exactly.

Rob Oliver: Excellent.

Emma Gee: Yeah.

What do you wish people understood about your role in healthcare?

Rob Oliver: So what do you wish people understood about your role in healthcare?

Emma Gee: I guess my underlying wish would be that people in that journey with you are open to your involvement in that there is a value that you have in that relationship. It’s a two way thing. And I think it’s a lot easier to go through that healthcare process when you know that you’ve got a role in that and that it’s okay not to know. I think a lot of professionals are almost dismissive of your role because they feel that they want a quick fix. And I’m sure, Bob, you also have experience, that level of empathy that you only can gain from having that experience yourself. And I know as a patient it’s frustrating, but I understand that my therapist might not understand and she probably will never understand, but her being acknowledging that I have that much more respect for her in that, and it just makes it a lot easier. So I think my wish would be that the importance of really showing that, really enabling that person to shine and acknowledging that you don’t have answers, that they also could bring some light into the relationship.

Rob Oliver: Yeah. What you said there is so powerful. I really appreciate when you were filling out the show prep form, you talk about rehabilitation and lived experience, and you couple that with education, and that’s really what creates the most powerful process. Right. And so you and I and other patients have the lived experience and the therapist has the education, and neither one of those on their own, both of them on their own are powerful. But when you mix them together and you put them together, it’s going to create a much better outcome and much better process.

Emma Gee: Definitely. I think they emphasize and that’s why I talk about the importance of collaboration and working together. And particularly in a lot of the work I’m doing now, that code design, where that lived experience is drawn on from the beginning of the development of any project or any resource, identifying what that person needs from the beginning before even embarking on developing a new thing really important.

What excites you about the future of healthcare?

Rob Oliver: Got it. What excites you about the future of health care?

Emma Gee: What excites me is that I guess it was not slow the inclusion of people with lived experience in the development of things? I guess in my experience, it’s been 14 years now since my stroke, and it has been a very slow journey to get that value of that lived experience. I guess forefront and even a lot of the projects that I’m working on, it’s the importance of that. And that is really powerful. So I think for me, that is exciting to know that I guess my role as an advocate, you have to really smash against world, really. But that is become easier. And it’s exciting to think that people that follow me will not have to grapple with that ongoing frustration or being heard. That’s a no brainer, really.

Rob Oliver: Right.

Emma Gee: That is important. And so they automatically valued and included and given the opportunity to speak when that is probably not needed to do.

Rob Oliver: Sure. Let me talk about what I’m hearing. You say people with disabilities are being included in the training in medical school or in nursing school, in nurse practitioner school, wherever it is that they’re actually bringing in the people with the lived experience as part of the education process so that they’re being taught by individuals with disabilities instead of being taught about individuals with disabilities.

Emma Gee: Exactly. Yeah. I can refer to one working at the moment where we’re redesigning rehab facilities in Australia. And so I’m partnering with architects and researchers and health professionals and that they can actually build something that can be accommodating and valuing by tapping into my experience. And so I think just acknowledging that they’ve got an amazing skill set. But in coupling, as you said earlier and Rob, my lived experience, the outcome will be so much greater. And so yeah, definitely that not just in the health industry, but I guess in other areas. How amazing that the inclusion of people with disability and how it can be enabled just simply by people being open to listening.

What can medical professionals do to improve the quality of healthcare their patients receive?

Rob Oliver: Definitely. Last question for you. What is one thing medical professionals can start doing today to improve the quality of health care?

Emma Gee: I think really it’s really simple, but listening and really listening to the person and being open to not knowing but just listening, Daling them, I think so much emphasis on the development of new resources and innovation, they justify why they can’t do things because of money and time and staff dodges. But I think just the basic communication and what they can do now without that having that understanding and building that referral with the person, I think it’s the best thing. And I think I don’t know if you agree with me, but when you’re patient and you’re feeling so vulnerable, that bond in that relationship is way more valuable than a piece of equipment. Really. You need that emotional support as well.

Rob Oliver: Yeah. When you’re going through difficult experiences, when you’re going through rough times as a person, there is a way that you feel alone and you feel frustrated. You feel devalued and just having that connection on a personal level of somebody valuing your thoughts, valuing your input and valuing you as an individual is very comforting and very supporting as you’re going through that. Listen, Emma, thank you so much for being here. I will put links to your website and to your book and everything in the show notes for people that want to connect and learn more about you because what you’ve brought has been very valuable and I appreciate you being with me to share your perspective on healthcare.

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Disclaimer: All opinions expressed by guests on the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast are solely the opinion of the guest. They are not to be misconstrued as medical diagnoses or medical advice. Please consult with a licensed medical professional before attempting any of the treatments suggested.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Libby Witts

    Great interview Em and Rob, as you know Em, I’m also a lived experience professional having studied my social work degree post my brain injury. Thank you so much for promoting lived experience and disability inclusion within the healthcare sector.

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