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What do you do, Sarah?

Sarah Neilson is a clinical specialist occupational therapist at Evelina London Children's Hospital
Colourful question marks drawn by a child

""October 2022

What do you do/what does your job involve?

I am a neonatal occupational therapist (OT), I work on the neonatal unit supporting parents whose babies have been born prematurely or who have other medical complications which are likely to impact on their development.


Why did you get into the role?

I got into the role because I was already a children’s occupational therapist working in the hospital but with older children with neurological conditions. I was interested in working with newborn babies as I know the earlier we can get involved to provide early support and intervention the better the outcomes for children and families, therefore it made sense to start working with the babies at the beginning of their journey.

Why do you love your job?

I love my job because I can help parents understand and interpret their baby’s neuro-behaviour, so they can understand their needs and wants before they are able to talk. I can help parents provide responsive care giving and build their confidence with carrying out usual daily occupations such as feeding, bathing, early play and interaction.

What is your proudest moment?

There are many proud moments about pieces of work I have been involved with over the years such as developing practice guidelines and a career development framework to support new and existing OTs move into a career in neonatal care. I have also taken on the role of lead OT for the London Neonatal Operational delivery network which is looking to raise the profile and increase the amount of OTs working on neonatal units across London. But of course, the ""main driving force for doing the job is making a difference to the babies and their families - supporting a baby like Patrick and his parents Michelle and Mark during their neonatal journey and then being able to offer continuity of Occupational Therapy when he was transferred to Evelina London contributed towards his developmental progress, which was so much better than any of us expected! Patrick has a complex medical condition affecting his breathing and movement impacting on his ability to be positioned and access activities such as bathing, nappy changes ""and play. OT worked with his parents in how to adapt these activities so that Patrick could participate and enjoy them. He is now nearly three years old and doing extremely well at home, crawling, communicating and playing with everything! He was the star of the show at his parents wedding!  

What are the main benefits of occupational therapy in a neonatal context?

Neonatal occupational therapists are specialists in supporting parent-infant co-occupations and infant neuro-behavioural and sensory development. Early intervention is really important so we can improve outcomes for the baby as soon as possible. We can help parents to understand their baby’s condition and feel confident in the support they are providing, thereby improving parental mental health and wellbeing. We help parents and their baby to regulate their behaviour and responses, so they can participate in things like sleeping, eating and social interactions and we can help reduce the negative impact of being in a hospital environment, on the infant’s development through using family integrated care.

Why is it important to celebrate allied health professional (AHP) day?

It is important to celebrate the unique skills and value that AHPs can add to neonatal team. AHPs collaborate with medical and nursing colleagues to provide the best possible care for our patients and their families.

Colourful question marks drawn by a child

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What do you do?

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