Meet Eva Heaton

Eva, rehabilitation assistant, talks about herself and her professional background

How did you come to work as a rehabilitation assistant (RA)?

I’ve always wanted to work with other people and I initially trained as a primary school teacher. After 5 years working in that role, I didn’t feel that my skills were being best utilised and I wanted another challenge. I then worked in a residential children’s home with teenagers experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties. I worked there for several years and that job definitely provided me with the challenge I had been looking for but I found it frustrating at times as I felt limited with how much I was able to help these children to live a better life.

Through talking with a senior occupational therapist at JSP, who is a friend of mine, I decided to apply for a support worker role. I started working with two clients who were involved in a rehabilitation programme and I had the opportunity to work alongside a JSP rehabilitation assistant for the first time. I loved being a support worker but this opportunity showed me that I could further develop my skills and work as part of a team committed to improving peoples quality of life. I really enjoyed assisting the therapists implement specific, client-centred goals and strategies so for 2½ years I focused on further developing my brain injury knowledge and skills to become a rehabilitation assistant.

What do you enjoy most about the role?

I love helping people overcome challenges - no matter how small some barriers may seem. I think I’m very skilled in identifying when someone is facing a problem and I work with them and their rehabilitation team to come up with creative solutions unique to the individual client.

For example, one of my clients had an independent living goal to cook independently but struggles to recognise when he feels hungry. He is very emotional and visual in his thinking, so it's difficult for him to be inspired to choose what to eat. it was a difficult challenge to problem-solve. I started by taking him to cafes and encouraged him to try different dishes. I then progressed this by suggesting that we try to cook the dishes he liked at home. Now he confidently cooks a range of meals at home each week which is a huge step forward for him.

A different client I have been working with is losing his sight. His team wanted to encourage him to go to a pottery class to develop his sensory skills. Initially, he wasn’t keen on the idea, but I took him to meet the teacher at the workshop so he could get a better idea of what it would be like. Afterwards, he started to ask questions about the class and he now wants to go on a regular basis. Making such headway with a client is always a  team effort - from the case manager and the occupational therapist through to the rehabilitaion assistant and the support workers.

I like to help people become more independent - the end goal for me is always to become redundant, so the client doesn’t rely on me but can do things for themselves, with support, if needed.

What do you find most challenging about the role?

It can be a really tricky situation to go into someone’s family home to work with them after they’ve sustained an injury and things are very different for everyone involved. You’ve got to be incredibly sensitive to the needs of the client and their family and also be mindful that you are in their home not your workplace. I try to be prepared for anything. It can be daunting but I like to pull my socks up and get on with it.

I’m looking forward to working with more clients with a variety of needs and I’m also keen to improve my knowledge and skills through training.

What are the main differences between the Support Worker and rehabilitation assistant roles?

As a support worker, you go in and you do your day to day tasks, facilitating independence in the client’s life. You can spend a lot of time with the client. Whereas in my role as a rehabilitation assistant, I liaise with the support workers, to help them understand the client’s condition/injury/behaviour and model how they can best help the client to achieve their goals. I’m often tasked with going in and focussing on a particular skill or goal, such as shopping at the supermarket or cooking, to reinforce therapeutic strategies learned from the treating therapists. I then provide feedback about the client’s development directly to the case manager and/or occupational therapist and I am responsible for maintaining accurate records of my visits. I’m there for a short amount of time, I work with the client and once that’s set up and it works in practice, I’ll hand it over to the support workers and the client to manage themselves.

What do you like most about being a JSP rehabilitation assistant?

I love my job - it’s so much fun and so rewarding! No two days are the same. Working at JSP is great because there are people from different backgrounds, with a huge variety of knowledge to draw from. Everyone has been really welcoming. I’ve joined case managers and occupational therapists on client visits just so I can learn about different situations and ways of working. It’s a brilliant community and I feel really well supported.

Working with occupational therapists and case managers can vary, as each of them is their own person and they work in slightly different ways. It’s important to be flexible. I mainly work with the occupational therapists and it’s great to have that team there for support. They direct me with goals and I can discuss issues with them too.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to keep myself busy - whether it’s doing DIY or spending time with friends and family. I’ve got a spa day coming up, a trip to Dublin and I’m working on creating some modern cross stitch patterns.