It sounds impossible, to sum up a year in three words, especially when it’s your first year of practice.

The move from education to employment is an emotional roller coaster ride, as the upward swoop of hope contorts into the downward swoop of reality. It is only when we glide back up, with hard-earned resilience, that we can begin to assess the journey. Even then, there is little time to contemplate the curved and complex route, the conundrum of emotions and our own holistic wellbeing.

To ask a first year Occupational Therapist to sum all this up in three little words is a bold provocation – so that’s what we did! We dispensed with the usual (excellent) forms of self-analysis, reflective journals and the like, replacing them with a short, sharp shock: 1 year, 1 question, 3 words.

From Day One, the experiment worked. Our touchpaper question ignited a firework of conversation, a myriad of colourful emotions, exploding into the digisphere. Some of the responses were funny, while others heart-breaking. All read like poetry and share one thing in common, they capture ‘what it’s like’ to be a First Year Occupational Therapist.

Bewilderment is a common theme, as the newly qualified struggle to navigate a complex workload and the heavy weight of responsibility. Here are some three-word responses that illustrate this view:

          “Sooooo many questions!!”

          “Going too fast”

          “What’s going on?”

Even in this concise form of language, the sense of urgency comes across clear as day. For others, the stakes are raised even higher. In stark revelation, these former students beautifully capture their raw emotional state:

          “Terrifying, inspiring, (I’m) crying”

          “Sink or swim”

          “This is hard”

          “Nobody warned me”

          “Abort mission now”

It is a privilege to read such honest outpourings. The sentiments speak of strength and a fabulous sense of self-awareness, essential for our professional. They are emotionally articulate and profound.

We can almost feel the wriggle, as the former students readjust and reconfigure, acclimatising themselves to this Brave New World. In phrases like, “Doubter, Dreamer, Doer”, the protagonist literally reinvents herself as three distinct identities, as craft and confidence grow. We see this theme of ‘professional bloom’ again and again:

          “Challenging, rewarding, growth”

          “Rollercoaster, perseverance, reconfigure”

          “Challenging, empowering, rewarding”

          “Apprehension, excitement, rewarding”

One response that I found particularly intriguing was the three-word phrase, “Show clinical reasoning”. It reminds us that the face we present to the public is one of calm, rational wisdom and the choices we make on their behalf, have safe, reassuring boundaries – but we are also human and need to nurture our own wellbeing as much as those we serve.

The reason why we are harvesting this content is so that we can create a wellbeing resource, to help newly qualified Occupational Therapists in their first year of work. The echoes we receive will help us enormously and we are grateful to all who respond.

A witty summary of a first year’s journey comes from this cheeky response:

          “Growth, freaking-challenging, exhilarating”

Even in this casual tone, the sense of triumph shines through. What it shares with all of its peers, is that the sense of triumph has been earned.

There are many positive responses, along the lines of “Believe in yourself” but I shall end with my favourite, three words that are an inspiration to us all:

          “The right path”


If you’re an occupational therapist in your first year of practice we’d love you to join the project and share your experiences. You can get involved in a number of ways:

          Twitter – @1OTYear

          Facebook – Thriving Not Surviving Year One OT

          Instagram – YEAR1OT


Photo by Tony Hand / Unsplash