Chihori Tsukura, MOT’21

Chihori Tsukura (she/her) is originally from Yokohama, Japan and has been living in Canada (mostly on Vancouver Island) for almost 7 years since her undergrad. She completed her bachelors degree with honours in psychology at Vancouver Island University with several awards throughout the undergraduate program, acknowledging her academic excellence and involvement in the community. In November 2021, Chihori graduated with her Master of Occupational Therapy degree as a head of the class and was humbled to receive the Dr. Brock Fahrni Prize in Occupational Therapy. She is currently working as an occupational therapist in the community on Vancouver Island. In her spare time, Chihori likes going for walks on beach, watching movies, cooking/baking, and taking care of her plants.

What drew you to the Master of Occupational Therapy (OT) degree at UBC?

During the third year of my psychology degree, I started to explore career options. I didn’t know what occupational therapists were at that time, but the more I heard about occupational therapy, the more love and passion I felt for this unique profession. As I wanted to continue learning in Canada, I looked for a program that accepts international students. The UBC MOT program was one of the few, and I really liked the idea of small class size and the number of fieldwork placements offered, which would provide more opportunities to get exposed to different clinical fields/contexts and explore my interests/passions.

How has studying in the MOT program made an impact on you?

I have to say, my MOT classmates have been greatly inspiring for me. First of all, it was great to be in the environment where everyone has passion to care for others and value supporting individuals to engage in their occupations, i.e. meaningful activities. In addition, I always learned from my peers who have various unique experiences that they have earned throughout the years before their admission to this program, including recreational therapy to nutritional science! I was particularly inspired by those who strive to look at issues from macro/societal/social justice perspectives, as I often find my perspective is limited within micro/personal level, i.e. focusing only on the individuals and their immediate surroundings. The occupational therapy perspective encourages therapists to look at the person from the micro to macro levels, and my peers modeled this for me through sharing their perspectives, respectfully questioning, and encouraging discussions. I also appreciated that everyone – including peers and faculty – ensured to provide a safe learning environment where we can discuss and share our questions and opinions without judgements.

What was something you learned in the MOT program that surprised you?

I was surprised by how wide the scope of occupational therapy practice could be! I applied for the MOT program because I was amazed by what occupational therapy can offer for people, but I was mainly focusing on geriatric care. Through the two years of the program, we learned from experts in each unique clinical field. I learned that occupational therapists can apply the unique knowledge and perspective not only in the traditional healthcare fields (e.g., acute medicine, rehabilitation), but also in other contexts such as social justice, life care planning, home renovation, universal design, and assistive technology. The possibilities are endless, as participation in occupations (meaningful activities) is universally important for people’s health and well-being!

What advice do you have for students entering the MOT program?

Secure time to take care of yourself! I believe students entering the MOT program are hard-working and have high expectations on their performance. It is normal to feel overwhelmed considering how much you’d learn in 2 years, and many of my peers, including myself, also experienced imposter syndrome when comparing ourselves with others in the program. At the same time, this is a chance to learn how to take care of yourself and maintain a consistent level of physical/mental energy that you have to provide for yourself/others, before you start taking care of others. It might be very difficult at first (and I am still learning as well!), but you can gradually start trying to take time for yourself, and this will be encouraged and supported by your peers and faculty. Remember, you are so special and meant to study at the MOT program, because you WILL be a great clinician after 2 years!

Where do you find inspiration?

In addition to my peers from MOT program, I have always been inspired by my family. My mother is an early childhood educator, and her inexhaustible ideas and creativity for craft activities (based on the knowledge of developmental stages) inspired me to become an occupational therapist and always reminds me how greatly occupations can influence individuals. I also have had several family members with dementia, and being part of family caregiving inspired me to be an occupational therapist for older adult populations. Unfortunately, I have been unable to provide direct assistance for my grandparents at this time as I am staying in Canada, yet listening to my family’s caregiving experiences reminds me to be a clinician who pays attention to and supports both clients’ and their families’ goals and values.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I would love to visit my home in Japan to see my family. I was fortunate to see my mother and grandfather at my graduation ceremony after 2 years without seeing them, but I have lost too many opportunities to be present for my family for too long due to the pandemic. This pandemic has reminded me how far Canada actually is from Japan. Like many others who have been unable to see their loved ones during this challenging time, I cannot wait for this pandemic to be settled down and feel closer to my home again like before.

What does a healthy society mean to you?

To me, a healthy society means a community where people listen, are interested in learning about each other, and respect their perspectives. I think people sometimes assume what’d be important for the majority and fail to acknowledge others who were silenced or overlooked due to being in the minority. Curiosity without judgement would be the first step.

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