The Discipline of Occupational Therapy (OT) held its annual Research Day at UKZN’s Senate Chamber today, where final-year students presented an array of pertinent research projects, highlighting the critical need for more occupational therapists to be trained in this specialised rehabilitative profession.
Falling under the School of Health Sciences, the primary goal of OT is to enable people to participate independently in their activities of daily living, even after suffering life-changing circumstances such as experiencing a tragic accident that may result in permanent disability.
UKZN’s four-year OT degree covers a wide range of training which prepares graduates to offer rehabilitative services in medical, surgical, orthopaedic, neurological, psychiatric, paediatric, child and adolescent, work-related and geriatric conditions. OT enables people to live meaningful, functional and empowering lives through rehabilitation, advocacy, health promotion and community collaboration.
In his keynote address, the guest speaker, Professor Andile Khathi who is the Academic Leader for Human Body and Function in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences, applauded the students for the robust studies presented and encouraged them to commit to continue conducting meaningful research of great impact to society.
Khathi reflected on South Africa’s recent feat as Rugby World Cup champions, sharing seven tips to having a successful academic career. ‘Your research should always be of benefit to the community, attend as many conferences as possible, get involved in leadership, collaborate even across fields and disciplines, get a mentor, love what you do, and maintain a good support structure. As goes UKZN’s tagline, may you continue to “Inspire Greatness” through your work,’ he said. These sentiments were echoed by the OT Discipline’s Academic Leader, Mr December Mpanza.
The adjudicators were impressed by the standard of research projects each group of students presented. One of the studies explored the perceptions of mental health service users and caregivers in relation to health-seeking pathways for first-episode psychosis clients in the eThekwini region. Another study found that people with substance-use disorders felt that aftercare services were valuable in assisting in relapse prevention and reintegration to families, work, and communities despite barriers to aftercare services. ‘Multiple aftercare sessions to include weekends, and the involvement of occupational therapists within aftercare services are recommended,’ said the group.
One of the groups investigated coping with student occupational life and the use of pharmaceutical cognitive enhancements (PCEs) – drugs that some people use in an attempt to improve memory, increase mental alertness and concentration as well as boost energy levels and wakefulness. The study confirmed that poor coping mechanisms often led students to use PCEs, with limited knowledge of future complications.
Another study explored the lived experiences of Durban Beachfront’s informal traders, confirming that they faced several challenges including financial uncertainty, food insecurity, adverse weather conditions, poor infrastructure, crime, deteriorating health, and decreased tourism. Improving the infrastructure for the traders and introducing more visible policing could reduce crime and create a safer environment for traders, the group recommended.
Another group collected gendered occupational stories in relation to occupations perceived as masculine, while their peers conducted an interrogative review of the correlation between the frequency of social media usage and competent communication amongst undergraduate OT students at UKZN.
The adjudicators commended the students for researching a variety of noteworthy topics. The students were dressed for the occasion and delivered their presentations with conviction and confidence.
Mr Luther Monareng, one of the lecturers in the OT Discipline, agreed with the adjudicators to say the event was ‘well organised and elegant’. He thanked the OT department research supervisors and students, expressing special gratitude towards Ms Nonjabulo Ndaba (Research Module Co-ordinator), Professor Khathi, Ms Nontobeko Gumede, Mrs Heather Pitot de la Beaujardiere, Ms Mbalenhle Maseko, Ms Ntokozo Gumede, Ms Phakeme Mkhize and Ms Salome Naraidu who all made the event a success.
Photos from the event can be viewed in CHS’ Facebook album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set?vanity=ukznHealthSciences&set=a.629136532758360.
Words and photograph: Lunga Memela