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As part of our focus on promoting rheumatology as a career, we've been speaking to various members about what their career journey has been like so far to help encourage students into rheumatology. Please share these interviews to help us with this initiative. Next up in the series, we caught up with Kate Dulson, Advanced Occupational Therapist (OT) in hand therapy and rheumatology, Countess of Chester Hospital. 

Why did you choose Hand Therapy? 

I trained as an OT and I did the same kind of rotational post as many OTs do initially, but before that I volunteered in a unit that treated hand patients. This experience meant I already knew that I wanted to work as a hand therapist before I went away to train.

What was your career journey like? 

I first qualified in the 1980s. I did a rotational post when hand therapy was just starting to be seen as something that was possible for OTs. I started seeing my first rheumatology patients at that time when the specialty was still often grouped with trauma and orthopaedics. Over the next 10 years I went from doing more ward-based to outpatient hand therapy OT, where I was looking at more specific needs. With hand therapy you're often looking at post-operative recovery but also at other conditions that need assessment and rehabilitation. I've been doing hand therapy and rheumatology alongside each other since then to a greater or lesser extent.

Why do you love what you do? 

You get to see people not be tied down by their condition. My job is to free people and to help them take control of their rheumatological condition. Part of my job is to look at how people can change their behaviour to cope with the impact of the difficult changes that life has imposed on them. Seeing people take that journey and come out the other side is why I'm still doing it after all these years.

What are the challenges? 

I think the challenge is being able to demonstrate how valuable you can be. OT can be a difficult concept to understand. I have no doubt at all our consultants and patients know how valuable we are, but how we are viewed, even amongst our peers, is sometimes tricky because we're often not working in the same space. Our name can cause confusion until it’s understood that the ‘occupational’ bit just refers to whatever a person need to do in their real, daily life. The other challenge can be the amount of work in the NHS, but finding innovative ways to deal with challenges that this can bring continues to be one of my motivations.

What’s your advice for someone thinking about a career as an OT in rheumatology? 

Find a hospital that offers rheumatology as part of a rotation, so that you can try it out. It’s also worth looking in the journals for articles about different areas, what their specialties are and what's available, as not every general hospital is organised in the same way.

Special interest groups can be really helpful – the Royal College of Occupational Therapy has a specialist section for rheumatology and our North West group meetings have been both a support to me and a great opportunity to meet like-minded therapists, share experiences, CPD etc. BSR also has some great and reasonably priced training now opening up to allied health professionals.

Check out our Careers in Rheumatology section for more info on how to get into the specialty. 

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