Q&A: How one Therapeutic Recreation alum finished off her last semester during the pandemic – and landed a job!

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations

After experiencing the positive impact a therapeutic recreation team had on her as a child, Emma Martina was inspired to pursue a career in the same field. Despite the challenges of pivoting quickly to online learning last March due to the pandemic, Emma graduated and landed a job as a Therapeutic Recreation Assistant with Vancouver Coastal Health at UBC Hospital.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Therapeutic Recreation?

When I was younger, I stayed at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice with a family member. It was a confusing and difficult time where I was surrounded mostly by adults, but the therapeutic recreation team and the army of volunteers worked hard to make the space comfortable for us to enjoy childhood activities with other families.

Upon reflection, I recognized how vital those supports were for my psychosocial health, development and bereavement. After completing the Health Care Assistant program at Vancouver Community College in 2013, I became a registered care aide at George Derby Centre in Burnaby. It was amazing to witness the recreation staff and the various programs having such positive effects on the residents. I worked in complex and dementia units for four years and it reinforced the real impact therapeutic recreation can have for all ages and levels of health care. 

Read more: This alum is bringing joy to seniors with dementia in the midst of the pandemic

Why did you choose to come to Douglas College for your diploma? What was your experience with the program?

As a union member myself, I wanted to support a public college. Plus, all the therapeutic recreation staff I had met were all Douglas graduates and highly recommend the program.  

From the first email, it was clear to me that the program was extremely well organized and welcoming. And it was, from the first day to my last. I felt very supported by the faculty who all had amazing resumes full of lived experiences working in a wide range of therapeutic recreation roles. The small cohort size made it feel like a family where we could have open discussions and learn from one another. The program was well-paced and enabled me to build up to heavier course loads and practicums. 

What was it like to study remotely/online during the pandemic? What were the benefits of your online learning experience? 

We made the shift from in-person to online learning really quickly once the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. It was a bit overwhelming at first because we were at the end of the semester and we had projects and exams that we had been anticipating to complete in person.

Despite the quick shift to online, my professors were incredibly supportive and graceful. One of the benefits I experienced was how many hours I saved not having to commute, while still having a supportive classroom environment through Zoom. I can see the online diploma program as a great option for students who may have other responsibilities that would keep them from attending in-person classes, or for people who want to pursue a career in therapeutic recreation but don’t live in the Lower Mainland.

I took some elective courses in advance of the diploma program, which helped increase my confidence and competence. I went to Strong Start: New Student Orientation which was very helpful for me to meet fellow students and learn about the various resources available through the college.

Emma and her resident Eva Tokke, who worked with Douglas College until 2017!

How did Douglas prepare you for a career in Therapeutic Recreation? 

I also utilized a lot of resources and services at Douglas College – from accessibility services to financial aid to the learning center – which improved my advocating skills, aided my time management and made my diploma experience better. These skills in turn made me more competent and confident in the recreation assistant job search. They helped me find an employer who values providing their employees with positive tools and resources to succeed.

What was your most memorable time at Douglas?

The most memorable part of my Douglas experience would be the relationships with my cohort and professors. They are an inspiring group of women who are very dear to my heart. To have had such a close, supportive cohort from very different walks of life – all with a common goal to bring healing and hope to others – is amazing. 

I learned something long-lasting in every elective and diploma course I took. The teachings provided in the Therapeutic Recreation program have changed my paradigm forever on the endless abilities we are all capable of and intrinsic value in every life.

What were the most challenging and fulfilling aspects of your experience at Douglas?

The first semester with a full course load was overwhelming. I struggled with my health science course and was afraid I would fail and fall behind in the program. Within the first two weeks, I reached out to the learning center and hired a private medical student tutor who I saw every week for my first year of the program. This investment paid off and became one of my most fulfilling memories of the program. Not only did I do well in my health sciences courses, but I learned to love the material and appreciate my body and mind more than ever.

What words of wisdom do you have for future Therapeutic Recreation students considering taking the online diploma program? 

Taking the Therapeutic Recreation diploma online is a great option for those who want to make a difference in their home community, but don’t want to move to the Lower Mainland or commute long distances for school. You get the benefits and flexibility of learning online and can apply and hone those skills with work placements in your area. 

If you’re still unsure, attend an online information session! Sometimes timelines or course loads can seem daunting. Attending an information session can humanize and ground those narratives. Two years can seem like a lot – especially if you are balancing other responsibilities – but those two years are going to go by regardless, so if you feel the longing for change, go for it! 

The pandemic has sadly shown the fragility of many careers, but you will always have stability in health care. If you enjoy human connection and engagement, you can and will learn all the skills needed to help you succeed.

Finally, you’ll never be limited by working in therapeutic recreation. There are various environments, roles and demographics where you can find your passion. 

The Therapeutic Recreation diploma will be offered online starting Fall 2021. Learn more about the diploma on our website.

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