By Dr Jenny Preston MBE (@preston_jenny)
It was the 24th November 2016 and I had just returned home from a very constructive and positive NMAHP Consultant meeting in Perth. As I went through the front door I had a quick look at the mail, most of which was my birthday cards, before I stumbled across a fairly innocuous white envelope from the Cabinet Office. Whatever did the Cabinet Office want with me I wondered? I opened the letter and started to read the following “The Prime Minister has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that having accepted the advice of the Head of the Civil Service and the Main Honours Committee, she proposes to submit your name to the Queen. She is recommending that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year 2017 Honours List” for services to the occupational therapy profession and neurological rehabilitation.
The honours system recognises people who have made achievements in public life, or who have committed themselves to serving and helping Britain (www.gov.uk). They will usually “have made life better for other people or be outstanding at what they do.” Cue the imposter syndrome! Imposter Syndrome is “a common phenomenon experienced by high achieving women who experience intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud” (Sakulku & James, 2011). This is a common phenomenon within the allied health professions and is particularly apparent within the academic environment.
So what have I achieved a question I have repeatedly asked myself since the arrival of the letter from the Cabinet Office? My career as an occupational therapist began in 1981, when as one of the fifth intake to the Grampian School of Occupational Therapy, I took those first tentative steps into a profession which has offered me the most privileged insights into the challenges of everyday life as we endeavour to balance meaningful occupation with our health and wellbeing. Despite knowing from the outset that I had absolutely made the right career choice I had not anticipated such a lack of awareness of occupational therapy.
From those early days I set myself a mission to educate everyone around me. I had my elevator pitch ready, although I don’t know that I have ever quite got to the point of being able to recite a succinct definition of occupational therapy. That’s not because there isn’t one, it’s just that I want to share my passion and enthusiasm for my profession in the fullest and most informative way at every opportunity. That said I would never have predicted that I would be discussing occupational therapy with the future King in Buckingham Palace, or that a motion would be passed within the Scottish Parliament to congratulate me for my work at the Douglas Grant Rehabilitation Centre.
Yet perhaps the greatest honour for me has come from the cards, flowers and good wishes from patients and their families that I have worked with both recently and some from more than twenty years ago. Like many allied health professionals we go about our daily business to ensure that we deliver safe, effective and quality interventions to improve the lives of those who access our services. We often don’t realise the impact we have on their lives and to be remembered over 20 years later is the most humbling experience imaginable. Throughout my career as an occupational therapist I have been determined to maintain my clinical role and appointment as a Consultant Occupational Therapist in 2009 allowed me to continue to develop my expert clinical practice while providing professional leadership and consultancy; contribute to the generation of evidence through research; and empower the future ambassadors of the profession through education and continuous professional development.
I have contributed to undergraduate and post graduate education through engagement as a visiting lecturer, following a 9 year joint appointment with Glasgow Caledonian University. I have been a member of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists Research and Development Board, and for the last 5 years have been Chair of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists Specialist Section Neurological Practice. I am the author of several papers published in peer review journals, reviewer for international and multidisciplinary journals, and author and editor of “Occupational Therapy and Neurological Conditions.”
I attended an Investiture at Buckingham Palace on 12th May 2017. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by another 90 people who had all made an outstanding contribution in their own way within their own communities. Not one of us felt worthy of the award, not one of us took for granted the recognition, and not one of us felt any more deserving than the next. I felt privileged to be standing alongside a group of people from all walks of life who have made life better for others or who were outstanding at what they do. And just in case I had any delusions of grandeur, I was challenged on the day about the value of occupational therapy … I always knew there would be a need for that elevator pitch one day!
Although I still don’t really know who all was involved in the nomination, I would like to say a huge thank you and to all the wonderful people and teams who have supported me throughout my journey. This is an incredible honour and I am truly proud and delighted.