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From 200 points to Occupational Therapy

From 200 points to Occupational Therapy

Colm Johnson is a shining example of why high CAO points shouldn’t put students off pursuing their dream career, writes Mary Phelan.

Colm Johnson from Gurteen in Sligo did his Leaving Certificate in 2007. While he considered occupational therapy at the time, his first choice on the CAO was a Level 8 degree in physiotherapy.

Colm got 200 points in his Leaving Cert, therefore not getting near the required points for physio. His first Level 7 choice was Health Science and Physiology at IT Sligo, but he didn’t get the points for that either. Yet Colm wasn’t disappointed with his results.

“I was happy to pass. I knew I wouldn’t get a great Leaving Cert because I was only doing two honours subjects.”

But a small matter like CAO points wasn’t going to stand between him and his desired career. “I tried to find back doors, which I did through the Cavan Institute,” explains Colm. “The careers counsellor at school was a great help.”

And so Colm took a place on a sports therapy course (now known as physiotherapy assistant) and gradually his interests broadened beyond physio. “Over time, my dreams kind of shifted due to the jobs market. I thought there would be too many physios around. I’m from a village of 1,000 people and already there are five or six physios there. I said I’d give occupational therapy a go. My mother was availing of the services of an occupational therapist and that’s what made me want to go into healthcare originally.” Colm says he found the sports therapy course very helpful, especially what he learned about anatomy and physiology. This knowledge came across in an interview he did with Canterbury Christ Church University, located in southeast England, and secured him a place on the three-year Level 8 Interprofessional Learning in Occupational Therapy degree.

“My course was a professional learning course,” explains Colm, “which meant I was in a group with other health professionals, learning with and from them.” Colm settled very well into Canterbury Christ Church. The fact that there were nursing students from Cavan Institute there (as that course also has a link with Canterbury Christ Church also helped. That the course wasn’t full of young academics was also a positive.

“Over here there are only two to three mature students in a class, but in Canterbury the majority of the class was mature students. They wanted people with life experience for the course. I had a friend in my class who didn’t even have GCSEs. “The universities in England give you leeway. They base acceptance to the course on the interview and personal statement. Life experience is very important.”

Colm may have gone the long way around to get his qualification, but this route was only a year longer than if he had completed occupational therapy in Ireland, as the degree here is four years, compared with Canterbury Christ Church’s three. “It was only an extra year in education. It was definitely worth it. I’d go through all of it again. Cavan gave me the opportunity to progress.”

The course in Cavan lasted two years and Colm says it wasn’t easy. He attributes the difficulty to the fact that the programme was comprised of Level 6 ITEC modules, which have a 60% pass rate and more demanding assessment. He finished his degree in June and he is now officially a professionally registered occupational therapist and is looking for a job in Ireland or the UK.

What’s Colm’s advice for this year’s crop of Leaving Certs?

“The most important thing is to get a background on the career and what it entails – go and organise some shadowing. Ask them questions. What does it take to do that career? What qualities do you need?

“Another good idea is to get a carer or healthcare assistant job. A lot of people go in and don’t like it and drop out. I was surprised by that, because they were chosen specifically for that course.” CL

Mary Phelan IFJ