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Returning to Practice: My Journey - Susanna Shotter

Susanna overcame long-term challenges including depression, anxiety and underconfidence to return to the HCPC Register in 2019

I am a HCPC-registered
occupational therapist and the founder and CEO of Aspire Creating Communities, a charity in Huddersfield that combats social isolation amongst over-55s 

The most fulfilling aspect of my practice is witnessing genuine transformations in the lives of older adults. Creating a safe space for belonging and companionship through meaningful engagement brings immeasurable rewards. I am also passionate about teaching and mentoring occupational therapy students, exposing them to community-based care in the charity sector and instilling the desire to make a positive impact. I find tremendous joy in using my occupational therapy expertise to underpin and guide everything we do at Aspire.  

Running a charity has its (many) challenges, but the sense of purpose, and building authentic relationships with the community, outweigh any difficulties. Witnessing lives enriched through meaningful activity, connection and belonging drives my dedication to make a difference every day. 

Leaving the Register 

My journey in healthcare started in 2003 at Oxford Brookes University. After graduating in 2006 I joined the NHS, in older adults’ mental health services. In 2013 I left the HCPC Register. This decision was driven by a series of overwhelming circumstances in my personal and professional life.  

After my maternity leave, I relocated to be closer to family while juggling the demands of my occupational therapy job. Commuting across counties whilst also fulfilling family responsibilities left me physically and emotionally drained. Shortly after our move north, my 10-month old baby fell critically ill with septic arthritis, adding immense stress to an already-challenging situation. 

After being with my child during emergency surgery and recovery, on my first day back at work I experienced a distressing encounter with a senior member of staff, who made comments that I found hurtful. These seemed to suggest that I was not suited to being an occupational therapist and that I should reconsider my entire career path. This encounter left me feeling deeply incompetent, unsupported and unable to challenge the manager's remarks. It had a severe impact on my mental health, triggering depressionanxiety and feelings of hopelessness which, a decade on, still affect me at times. I had been experiencing stress and overwhelm even before going on maternity leave, but now I also felt unable to discuss my struggles with senior colleagues.  

Despite it being a difficult choice, I recognised the importance of prioritising my wellbeing and mental health during this tumultuous period. Consequently, I made the decision to deliberately allow my HCPC registration to lapse in October 2013. 

During the years that followed I dedicated myself to being a full-time mum and, in 2015, founding Aspire Creating Communities, a Huddersfield-based charity focused on combatting social isolation amongst over-55s through meaningful activity and community engagement. While my passion for making a difference remained strong, I continued to believe that my career as an occupational therapist had come to an end. 

However, everything changed in 2019 when I attended the ‘Diverse Roles in Occupational Therapy’ conference at Leeds Beckett University. Listening to the stories of others working as occupational therapists in non-traditional settings ignited a spark within me. I realised my love for occupational therapy was still very much alive, and I knew that I wanted to rekindle my career in the field.  

This marked a pivotal moment in my journey. With newfound clarity and determination, I decided to take the necessary steps to return to practice and re-register with the HCPC. 

Beginning the process 

Following the conference, I sought guidance from a clinical supervisor on returning to practice. Initially I worried about potential trauma exposure in hospitals and the possibility of returning to the NHS. However, my supervisor reassured me, explaining that the role I had tailored and developed for the past few years at Aspire already encompassed the necessary skills. 

With my supervisor's support, I realised I was ready to begin the process. This involved maintaining a reflective diary, engaging in more CPD activities, recording them and analysing my work to ensure it aligned with professional standards and ethics. My supervisor provided invaluable guidance, empowering me to take each step with confidence. 

I highly recommend seeking such support to overcome challenges, gain confidence and find your true purpose in your career. With the right mentorship and a good team, you can embrace new possibilities and reignite your passion, ultimately leading to fulfillment and success in your chosen path. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Margaret, my supervisor in 2019 for her unwavering support during my return to practice journey.

Returning to practice 

I successfully regained my registered status with the HCPC in December 2019. I continue to lead Aspire Creating Communities, and the decision to return to the Register has been instrumental in its growth and success.  

As well as creating positive change and enriching the lives of older adults within our community, I find joy in teaching students on placement and learning from them through reflective practice. I have also shared my story through guest lectures at multiple universities, encouraging students to discover their own paths with support and guidance. 

While I have a deep appreciation for the NHS, I know others have also faced difficult experiences in their careers and may have let their registration lapse. My time in the NHS was challenging towards the end, but it is possible to learn and grow from those challenges.  

I am proud of the journey that led me to this point. The process of returning to practice was an essential chapter in my career, solidifying my professional identity and reinforcing my commitment to meaningful and impactful work. I am grateful for the chance to practice what I preach - promoting balance, purpose, meaning, rest and play.  

I am so lucky to have found purpose, direction and joy in my role as CEO and occupational therapist for my charity - I am thrilled that my 'job' is not just a job but a real delight, a place where I learn something new every day. It's a pleasure to lead my wonderful team and grow together. We now have over 200 members and 7 community groups across the town.  

As I continue to move forward in my career, I am excited about the possibilities that lie ahead and the positive changes we can create for the community. I aim to inspire others to overcome obstacles and find fulfillment in their chosen paths, just as I rediscovered my purpose and love for occupational therapy, and the difference it makes. 


Returning to practice resources

In your words
Tudalen wedi'i diweddaru ymlaen: 05/01/2024