After Heriot’s Blog

The next instalment of our blog features Occupational Therapist, Jacqueline Pentland. Read on to find out her top tips for planning your future career.

We hope you enjoy reading and please get in touch if you wish to share your story ‘after Heriot’s’.

Jacqueline Pentland (née Whitehead)  – Class of 1997

What is your current role?

I am an Occupational Therapist and work in a rehabilitation team in the community that provides support to people who have a neurological condition such as stroke, Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.

Occupational Therapy is a hugely rewarding job as we work with people of all ages, providing practical support to help them participate in the everyday activities they need and want to do (these are the occupations that shape and bring meaning to people’s lives). We enable people to overcome barriers that stop them from doing things that matter to them. This may be by altering the way a task is performed, adapting environments, teaching the person a new skill or working with them to regain old ones.

How did you get there?

I finished school at 17 and went to university in York to study English and art, with the plan of going on to teacher training. I finished my degree and had a change of heart which meant that I worked in jobs from retail to graphic design for the next few years. This afforded me time to try new experiences, consider my priorities and plan what I really wanted to do.

I realised that I wanted a career in which I helped people, could think creatively and offered flexibility of working environments. I returned in Edinburgh at the age of 24 to enrol in a post graduate occupational therapy programme.

My career so far has led me to work in a community setting, supporting adults of all ages to live safely and independently at home. I have also worked in research at Queen Margaret University, developing care pathways for children, and also exploring the concept of community resilience. I achieved my Masters degree whilst in this role. Laterally, I have returned to community practice, delivering neurological rehabilitation to adults across Edinburgh.

What are your most notable achievements?

I am proud of the work I do and the people I work with. We enter people’s lives, often when they are in crisis or at their most vulnerable and can help instil a sense of hope and direction. People have a story to tell and a history they often want to share that has shaped who they are. Their future, however, can seem uncertain after experiencing a period of significant ill health. I am proud that I can help people envision and experience a more positive future because of the work we do together.

What are your memories of Heriot’s?

I started my school career at Heriot’s at the age of 4 in Mrs Wood’s P1 class. I don’t quite remember why this came about, but I remember planting a tree in the grounds of Heriot’s during that first year. Perhaps my parents had bought a tree that was going to grow too big for our garden and asked the grounds people if they could make use of it. Consequently, I have a tree that remains to this day growing in the grounds of school. I returned to Mrs Wood’s class as a class helper in my sixth year, which incidentally was the year we both finished at Heriot’s as she retired from teaching in 1997. Fast forward 23 years and my son started in P1 this year. We regularly walk past ‘our tree’; a little piece of me that will now act as a reminder to both of us of our time at Heriot’s.

I was lucky to have classes with lots of wonderful teachers but some of the fondest memories I have were spent in Cameron Wyllie’s English class. He taught me from Standard Grade through to Advanced Higher and was, for me, one of those special kinds of teacher. He was gregarious, curious, enthusiastic and the way he questioned and challenged us was done with kindness. He brought humour and a sense of fun to the subject that led me to a life of enjoying words and literature. To this day I can still remember the Robert Frost and Philip Larkin poems we memorised in preparation for our exams and a certain line or stanza will spring to mind when looking at a diverged woodland path, church, tree or horses ‘at grass’.

Tell us two ‘takeaways’ from Heriot’s days:

The unofficial motto of GHS, ‘work hard, be kind, be happy’ wasn’t in common parlance whilst I was at school, yet I feel this ethos was present throughout my school career. What runs through my life experiences is the importance and value of kindness. Without question, this was instilled in me from my family however it is, in large part, also attributable to my life at Heriot’s. The ethos of kindness; encouraged between classmates, of staff to pupils, and of the school to the wider community, has shaped who I am and my choice of career.

A sense of curiosity and lifelong learning has also been my ‘takeaway’ from Heriot’s, nurtured by teaching staff and continued into adulthood.  Occupational therapists are interested in the complex nature of human beings and the interwoven systems that surround us; our past, present, future and our social, physical, cultural and political environments. Part of the pleasure of my career is learning from and about the people I work with. I think this makes me better at my job and, I believe, a more informed person.

Any top tips for current pupils when planning their future?

You can see from my career journey that it took several years for me to figure out what I wanted to do. In hindsight, I might not have gone straight to university from school but rather worked for a few years until I formed a firmer plan. My top tip for current pupils is to consider options after school. Perhaps university is the right choice, but you may find that gaining work experience, volunteering or looking for vocational opportunities might be an alternative option.

I would also recommend thinking about a career in the allied health professions. There are interesting, challenging and evolving roles in occupational therapy as well as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, dietetics to name but a few of the many careers in this field. The year 2020 has shown us that unanticipated events can occur at a national and global scale and that jobs to support and help people in hospital, home and in the community will be needed both now and in the future.