Trevor Ritchie is a Kaurna man from Adelaide, South Australia. Growing up, he spent much of his time alternating between the Yorke Peninsula and the west coast of South Australia, both in Aboriginal missions. Trevor’s family settled down in Adelaide so he and his siblings could have consistency and concentrate on their education. Trevor was 28 when he finished his Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) in 2013 and is the first Aboriginal person to graduate from the University of South Australia with this degree. Trevor has been an IAHA Board Director since November 2014.
This is Trevor’s story – his journey into allied health.
“I chose to study Occupational Therapy (OT) because many of the core values aligned with my own equality, social justice and a holistic approach to health,” said Trevor. “My journey into this profession was different as I originally studied music and Aboriginal studies then worked in corrections, housing and education. These experiences gave me great life skills and knowledge, which led me to decide to study OT. In addition, I had always had health issues as a child and, as a result, had to play catch up with children in a developmental sense. My light bulb moment to study OT was when I knew that I wanted to help other children, especially Aboriginal children, not to have to play catch up and be given the best start in life.
“My journey was a bit different from many of the other people I studied my degree with. I did not complete year 12. However, I went straight into work and TAFE study after finishing high school. My family and friends have been a great source of support and inspiration throughout my degree. I’ve also had some really good mentors, both professional and cultural mentors, which have helped me immensely.
“One of the most challenging things that I found when going back to university was learning how to study again after so many years away from the classroom environment. Initially, I found it very difficult being older and Aboriginal; my values, views, attitudes, and upbringing differed from my fellow students. Initially, I felt very isolated, but my stubbornness won through, and eventually, this became much easier to deal with, and I met like-minded people.
“My family, friends and community were very proud that I was studying but had little idea of what an OT was. So many of my interactions with my community are initial excitement and then spending 15 minutes explaining exactly what an OT does. After that explanation, they are very excited to see the potential help that it can provide to the community.
“The thing I love most about my profession is how similar its values align with an Aboriginal view of health in which it has a holistic approach to health care. Our view of health is more than the absence of disease, and it’s not just about the health of an individual but the health of the entire community. Therefore, I see great potential for OTs to help Aboriginal people at an individual level and at a whole community level to achieve better health outcomes for Aboriginal people.
“To people, young or old, who are thinking about pursuing a career in OT, I would say that if you like working alongside people and communities to enable them to do things they have to do, love to do and would like to do – then go for it! If you like thinking outside of the box and being able to take a holistic approach to health care, then definitely consider studying Occupational Therapy.”
In the future, Trevor hopes to be either working within paediatrics, research or both – with an Aboriginal focus.