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GRADUATIONS 2023: “I’m not one to let things keep me down”

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Published on 12 July 2023

Phil Dobbs (right) with Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland Sir David Bell
Phil Dobbs (right) with Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland Sir David Bell

After making the bold decision to change careers from hospitality management, to becoming one of the first cohort to study a newly introduced Occupational Therapy programme in 2019 at the University of Sunderland, Phil Dobbs steps on stage this week to collect his First-Class Honours degree during the Summer Graduation Ceremonies.

But the past four years have certainly presented their challenges for the graduate.

Phil’s first year consisted of juggling online learning, home working and disruption to placement opportunities.

Tragically during his second year, Phil’s brother died. He says: “This loss had a profound impact on my physical and mental health, and significantly impacted my ability to study. However, with the support of the course lead -  Cath Turner, lecturers, peers, friends and family, I eventually managed to get back on track and continue with my university journey.”

Then in his final year, during a placement, Phil worked in a nursery at a school in Sunderland, but was left with a broken foot after the discovery of some frogs in the garden.

He explains: “The children were all excited to see the frogs so I decided to catch them so that they could have a closer look. However, things didn’t go according to plan and I fell down a pothole in the garden and injured my foot. After several hours at A&E, I had been diagnosed with a broken foot and left after having my foot reset and sporting a moon boot.

“Not one to let things keep me down, I was back at the nursery two days later. That very same day I completed my task and caught the frogs for the children to see. I actually think the children preferred me with a broken foot because I was a bit slower when we were playing ‘tag’ and I was chasing them around the garden with my moon boot on!” 

Throughout his course, Phil also financially supported himself by working part-time as a health advisor in the Ambulance Service and also continuing in hospitality management roles.

Cath Turner, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, said: “Before Phil even joined the programme he made the interview panel cry as he recounted how he had gone the ‘extra mile’ in his role as a 111 call handler. Phil’s thoughtfulness and compassion towards others has always been endearing and he has shown determination to reach his goals.” 

Phil, from Sunderland said: “I had studied at the University of Sunderland on a previous course and so was aware of how good the facilities were. “The new Occupational Therapy facilities were also amazing in comparison to other universities I had looked at.

“The programme has been amazing. As the cohorts are so small, the entire course felt very personalised and support was available on a one-to-one basis every step of the way. Learning through doing, such as rock climbing and swimming in order to learn anatomy and how our muscles work was a definite highlight of the course for me.” 

Occupational therapy helps people recover or develop skills needed for the activities of daily living, including self-care, leisure, independent living and work. Therapists work in a range of settings including hospitals, schools, nursing homes and with people in their own homes.

Now Phil has graduated, he hopes to be working as an Occupational Therapist within the community. 

And what advice does Phil have for students about to begin their own university journey?

“If some of the lessons seem complex and go over your head, don’t worry about it! Take in what you can and return to it at a later date. Eventually, your understanding will develop and things will begin to click into place.”