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Alumni Stories

Lucy Molenkamp: Making a difference in the daily lives of others

Moving from Bathurst NSW to Canberra, Lucy Molenkamp was excited to embark on a new chapter as a university student, unaware of the unexpected challenges that lay ahead.

Lucy was raised in Bathurst by a father who is a registered nurse and a mother who works at a specialist school for children with disabilities and always knew that she too wanted to pursue a career in healthcare.

After a gap year working in payroll, Lucy applied to study a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at the University of Canberra, keen to join her brother who had already moved to the bush capital.

“I feel like Canberra is like a big Bathurst, with small town vibes, in the sense that everyone knows everyone – but with better shops, better food and more opportunities!”

Lucy began her four-year, full-time course in 2020. Soon after she began, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, with UC moving to online learning. Lucy decided to move back in with her parents in Bathurst while she couldn’t be on campus.

Once restrictions had lifted, Lucy relished the opportunity to get to know her peers in person.

“For the first two years of my degree, we had very limited face-to-face classes, so it was amazing to get back into the classroom and be surrounded by like-minded people,” Lucy says.

“We started to hang out socially and really valued being able to be in the same room again and catching up on getting the university experience after two years!”

While COVID-19 restrictions had started easing, Lucy found herself dealing with an additional challenge and sought assistance through the student support service InclusionUC.

“I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease – an autoimmune disorder that made it hard to keep up with exams and assessments, as I am dealing with ongoing fatigue as a result of the condition,” Lucy says.

A lifelong condition where symptoms range from mild to debilitating, Crohn's is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive system.

The team at InclusionUC worked with Lucy to develop a Reasonable Adjustment Plan (RAP), which then allowed unit convenors to implement measures such as assignment extensions.

“I felt really supported knowing that my fatigue wouldn’t prevent me from continuing my studies and that I had extra time to complete assessments when my symptoms flared up,” Lucy says.

“It was also really helpful when I started doing clinical placements, when I wanted to stay in Canberra rather than travel, due to living with Crohn’s.”

Lucy recalls her positive experience completing an eight-week placement in adolescent occupational therapy (OT) at UC’s student-led health clinics.

“During that period, I worked with clients and their families under the supervision of a registered Occupational Therapist to develop skills and strategies for social, emotional and recreational aspects of their daily lives,” she says.

The Canberra Hospital was home to Lucy’s other clinical placements, where she learnt how to use occupational therapy to help patients in acute care, followed by a stint in the neurology ward, and then an experience in occupational rehabilitation, assisting people with their return to work.

“All of these experiences made me understand how holistic occupational therapy is,” Lucy says.

“It's so diverse and you get to delve into a person’s interests and motivations – why they do the things they do.

“Rather than saying ‘here's an intervention – see ya!’ you actually get to know people really well.”

On completion of her degree, Lucy was offered a graduate allied health position with Canberra Health Services, which allows her to gain experience across different areas of healthcare across the ACT through a six-month rotation.

“My first six months are with the transitional therapy care program at the University of Canberra Hospital, then I’ll transfer to the Canberra Hospital to work in acute care for the second half of the year,” she says.

In her current role as a graduate occupational therapist in transitional therapy care, Lucy is supporting adults aged over 65 to transition from the hospital to home. The form of care involves the collaboration of staff across a range of disciplines including physios, dietitians and social workers.

“Knowing that I’m translating my occupational therapy knowledge into practice, and seeing people progress into feeling comfortable and safe enough to go home is incredible!”

Looking ahead, Lucy is content with continuing her career journey in Canberra but says it’s still too early to determine whether there is a particular area of OT she would like to specialise in.

“I love working with people on a more personal level in their home, so perhaps I’ll end up providing at-home therapy and support – the profession is so broad,” she says.

“No matter where I go though, I just love getting the opportunity to meet people and hear their stories –   helping people get back to doing the things they want to do is a wonderful feeling.”

Words by Emma Larouche. Photos by Liam Budge.

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