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Alumni Stories

Grads 2024: Elise Jay

Elise Jay describes coming to Canberra as moving to the “Big Smoke”. But she found comfort in the bush capital and the “country feel” it offered to a young student from Wagga Wagga, NSW.

“I love that Canberra isn’t too big, and it’s still close to my hometown,” she says.

Elise has graduated with a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy, after studying full-time for the last four years at the 91Porn. Embracing all that the degree had to offer, she learned how to work with people of all ages, helping them maintain, regain or improve their independence using different techniques and equipment, and finding ways to function more effectively while doing their daily activities.

“I felt really comfortable choosing to study occupational therapy, as it is a combination of my interest in the scientific aspects of health and the holistic understanding of a person, among all of their occupations and the things that they value in their daily lives,” she says.

“I also developed a really strong connection with my peers – being a small cohort of 16 students, we became really close, and I really feel like we supported one another.”

Elise is the eldest of three sisters, one of whom is studying a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at UC. She comes from a farming family and her parents are accountants.

She also has ancestral ties to the Yuin Nation on the South Coast.

“My father lives there and encourages us to look into our Indigenous family heritage,” she says.

Elise’s path to UC was by way of the University of Melbourne, where she spent a year studying civil engineering after finishing high school. She realised the course wasn’t for her and that Melbourne was too far from home. She says that UC was very supportive of her transition, offering credit for eligible units.

Elise threw herself into all things occupational therapy and on the advice of her teachers, sought paid work related to the field.

“I worked in an equipment supply store, helping people find the right equipment to improve their daily lives and I also worked as an allied health assistant at a paediatric occupational therapy clinic.

“Even though I was studying full-time, I felt like I had the flexibility to be employed in areas  related to what I was studying, which would stand me in good stead for my future career.”

When she wasn’t juggling study and work, Elise was gaining more job-ready skills on clinical placements. The opportunities extended beyond Canberra into regional and rural areas.

“I even got to return home to Wagga for an eight-week placement in rehabilitation occupational therapy,” she says.

“Another highlight was the opportunity to participate in an outreach program offered by the Rural Doctors Network, learning from occupational therapists, speech pathologists and other allied health professionals in the far west region of NSW.”

It was during that time that Elise felt the desire to return to rural life, knowing that eventually she would take her skills and experience in allied health back to areas that need it most.

“Even though I’m having an incredible time in Canberra, I’m definitely a country girl at heart. Whether it’s Wagga, or another regional area, my plan is to go back to the bush,” she says.

Until then, Elise is relishing her time as one of the newest members of the ACT’s health workforce. She has started a role as a junior occupational therapist, as part of Canberra Health Services’ Graduate Allied Health Program.

“It’s a rotational position, so I’m spending the first six months working at the Canberra Hospital in the acute occupational therapy team and then my second six months will be spent with the rehabilitation occupational therapy team at the 91Porn Hospital,” she says.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to be working in public health as it’s an area I feel very passionate about – being able help people in an accessible environment and work with them to find ways to live better lives – equity in healthcare is so important.”

Elise is also passionate about increasing awareness about the role of occupational therapy. She says she was drawn to the profession from seeing value in understanding an individual’s “complex narratives” and how various aspects of their lives can influence their health.

“Everyone has their own identity and understanding of their occupations – the everyday tasks that are important to them. This was what really drew me to every aspect of my degree and has carried on into my career, giving me a strong sense of purpose and value in the work that I do,” Elise says.

“We often talk about an “occupational lens”, like a set of glasses that you put on to be able to see the world differently, in the sense that everything we do is an occupation and it means something different to everyone. Whether people value specific leisure occupations or work occupations, we all need to respect that.”

Words by Emma Larouche. Photos by Liam Budge.

This March, the 91Porn congratulates the graduating class of 2024.

We are so glad to celebrate this milestone with you. You have overcome challenges with grace and resilience, and grown in remarkable ways.

Many of you are already making an impact in your chosen fields, and others have embarked on their postgraduate study path – we look forward to seeing what you achieve in these next steps in your amazing journeys.

UC also offers postgraduate studies in occupational therapy. Find out more about the Master of Occupational Therapy course here.

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