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Natalie Norman - Occupational Therapist Degree Apprenticeship

Natalie Norman - Occupational Therapy Assistant for Gateshead Council

Natalie Norman is an Occupational Therapy Assistant for Gateshead Council and is undertaking an Occupational Therapist Degree Apprenticeship at Northumbria University.

Why did you decide to undertake a degree apprenticeship?

Although I have been working in the field of social care for almost two decades, when I finished school, occupational therapy wasn’t a role or career which I knew existed.

I very much fell into the role by chance and after ten years of experience as an assistant in the occupational therapist team, I was keen to progress in my workplace. I’d reached the top of my pay grade and there were no further progression opportunities unless I gained formal qualifications as an occupational therapist.

With family commitments and financial responsibilities, pursuing a full-time degree seemed impractical. However, I was determined to progress my career and receive formal recognition for my work. That’s why when I heard about the Occupational Therapist Degree Apprenticeship programme at Northumbria University, I was encouraged to consider it and put my name forward.

I am set to graduate in December, and due to the significant experience I had demonstrated, I was able to skip the first year and enter at year two.

What have you gained from the programme so far?

The programme has developed and cemented my own knowledge in the field. I was able to learn more of the theory about the profession while also building on my skills, all while working towards a degree qualification without having to give up work.  

When I worked as an assistant, I would talk to patients about adaptations that would make their lives easier, assessing the environment and the person’s function, but often without considering other factors in their life. Now I have gained a much better understanding and look at the full picture – plus any potential challenges – through an occupational therapist’s lens.

For example, since undertaking the programme, when I speak to a patient who struggles to get upstairs to bed – as well as considering the physical impact and how we can make that easier or provide an alternative – I will also consider the wider impact; how will not being able to sleep in the same bed as their partner or spouse affect their wellbeing, mood and mental health. 

What support have you received from your employer and from Northumbria University?

Gateshead Council is great at supporting colleagues to progress through their careers. I am working part time whilst I complete my degree apprenticeship without having to sacrifice my salary. I also have a workplace educator who acts as a mentor and provides support and advice.

The module leads at Northumbria University are brilliant too. Everyone is very supportive and accessible, and we enjoy a mix of remote learning with regular time on campus with full access to the library and all the facilities within the university.

What have been your highlights?

I would say getting an opportunity to work in different areas of a specialism I enjoy.

During the programme we’ve had two placements, working outside our usual areas of work, including community learning and the disability team, followed by work with a charity organisation supporting veterans as they adapt to civilian life. It really kept me motivated to see how my adaptable my skills could be.

The last placement I completed was classed as a ‘role emerging placement’, which means there wasn’t an existing occupational therapist but a potential requirement for one going forward. It was brilliant to help shape the role and I had lots of flexibility to demonstrate how occupational therapy can be beneficial.

What advice would you give to someone considering a degree apprenticeship?

At first, it’s always the practical considerations that come to mind – will I have time to complete the degree apprenticeship? Will I be able to cope with the workload and returning to study? Those are natural worries, and two years for some can feel like a long commitment.

But the advice I would give to someone that is on the fence is to go for it, you won’t regret it. Once you find your rhythm and gain confidence with the new routine, it flies by!

It’s a very positive and rewarding experience having the opportunity to study and work at the same time. You strike a great balance of gaining knowledge and insight, plus the practical experience from your workplace.

Why work in health and social care?

I know a lot of media coverage talks about the current pressures in healthcare, but it’s a hugely rewarding job. I love the fact that something quite simple can transform someone’s life and make a big difference to them.

Being an occupational therapist is diverse in a word; no two days or cases are the same. It can be challenging at times, but the rewards outweigh the challenges, most of which come from the political pressures and not from the day-to-day job.

There are many interesting opportunities and lots of potential to learn and progress.People sometimes associate a small number of professions with health and care (doctors, nurses, social workers, etc.), but there are so many other roles available – as well as a diverse range of workplaces, not just the NHS or local authorities.


About Northumbria BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapist Degree Apprenticeship

Northumbria University’s Occupational Therapist Degree Apprenticeship is aimed at those employed in occupational therapy support roles, enabling apprentices to develop a career across a range of settings in health, social care, education, research and beyond.

The degree includes philosophy and theoretical underpinnings of occupational therapy and occupational science and is fully integrated with the EPA included within the three-year (full time) programme. Apprentices with a first degree or substantial relevant experiences may be eligible to apply for recognition of prior learning enabling them to enter the programme at level 5.

For more information visit here

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