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Gena Hycha-Paul graduates from Ulster University this summer with a BSc Hons in Occupational Therapy.

Gena, who is originally from Oshawa, Ontario Canada, moved to NI almost 10 years ago and now lives in Garvagh Co. Derry/Londonderry with her husband and daughter.

Balancing studying and placements with family life is always challenging but the pandemic saw Gena working diligently on the frontline during her placements, providing vital care and support in different care settings.

“My daughter is asthmatic and the worry that I  would bring Covid home to her or my husband was always a major concern. We of course followed the guidelines set out by the government, but we were also hypervigilant at home . A shower as soon as I was home from work and my uniform went immediately into the wash. We were very fortunate and were all safe and healthy during the pandemic.”

Gena came to Ulster University as a mature student, and was initially unsure of how she would fit in with her classmates.

“Joining university as a mature student, there was the initial fear of whether I would fit in, but we were all in the same boat and that fear disappeared after the first day. Initially I was anxious and worried about my performance and saw my additional years as a hindrance rather than a help returning as a mature student. I had to relearn how to study as I had been out of education for many years.

“I had been in the workforce for many years already, so I had already developed an aptitude for communication, teamwork, time management and other life skills that helped me to succeed. I was also able to use my experience to my advantage during practical placements. The practice educators would often remark that they were happy to have a mature student who was bringing work and life experience with them.”

During one of Gena’s placements, herself and two classmates developed a programme with Age NI to help tackle compassion fatigue within the workplace.

“Developing the programme for Age NI was an amazing experience.  I worked with two other students on this programme, and we developed a compassion fatigue awareness programme for the carers employed by Age NI. It was a topic that we felt very strongly about as did the Head of Care at Age NI and she embraced our idea and supported the initiative from the beginning. Due to the pandemic we had to work remotely from our homes but were able to overcome the obstacle and produce a quality product that is currently being used as part of the induction programme for new hires at Age NI.”

On her decision to study at Ulster, Gena said:

“I knew I wanted to be an occupational therapist and Ulster was offering exactly what I wanted. To make this work for me, I wanted to be close to home and my family. Ulster fit the bill.

“As a student at Ulster, I was part of a diverse, inclusive community – for three years I never felt alone. I felt as though the instructors and staff were walking alongside of me during my academic journey - pushing me, encouraging me, challenging me and believing in me.”

Gena hopes to become a palliative occupational therapist, taking inspiration from the Occupational Therapists in Marie Curie hospice,

“The work they do is incredible and they are making such a positive difference to so many lives. I hope to one day do the same, supporting people when they need it most.”