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Stay Open to Opportunities: OTA Farewells Nicole O’Reilly

"An occupational therapy degree gives you such a broad skillset. You can apply your skills, knowledge and experiences in a variety of ways—you don’t just have to look for that ‘occupational therapist’ job title.”

It is with mixed emotions that we share that Nicole O’Reilly is leaving her role as OTA’s Deputy CEO, to join Charles Darwin University as Senior Lecturer Occupational Therapy. Nicole has the opportunity to establish the university’s inaugural occupational therapy program and to pursue her PhD.

While it is sombre to see her leave OTA as a staff member, we know this is merely the next step in her contributions to both our association as a member and the broader profession. We are confident she will achieve great things in establishing the NT's first OT program and supporting local occupational therapists.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy at the University of South Australia in 2000, Nicole began her career in Darwin, gaining exposure to the broader health landscape. Initially seen as a short stint, Darwin offered a wealth of valuable learning experiences, including as a childcare Inclusion Consultant across disability, and culturally and linguistically diverse children. She then took an opportunity as a remote occupational therapist in Katherine, working across the entire spectrum of occupational therapy, gaining invaluable insights as a new graduate to management processes and how larger decisions were implemented on the ground.

Returning to Darwin, she progressed through the NT Government, working in various roles including the Director Community Health, followed by the Director Primary Health Care Service Transition, leading policy to support the transition of remote primary healthcare in the NT to Aboriginal community control.

Turning to her involvement with the association, members may be aware of Nicole’s sustained contributions at both the divisional and national levels. Upon moving to Darwin, she joined her first sub-committee in 2000 to network and connect with local peers. In 2005 she served as the State Elected Councillor, granting her a seat at on the national board of (the former) OT Australia. She then stepped into the NT Chair/President role in 2008 as the association undertook the transition to the new national entity structure. Nicole was elected the first Vice President of the national board in 2010, before becoming President in 2013.

During her tenure as President, the association championed the Better Access to Mental Health scheme and continued the integration to a single entity (officially launched at the 2011 Gold Coast national conference, and consolidated in the following years).

Reflecting on the benefits of the new structure: “We improved our lobbying and advocacy capacity and capability. And we are far more connected across divisions than when we were our own organisations, now hearing from our divisions daily. And our access to PD changed. The new national body could make learning available through webinars. This particularly benefited rural and remote OTs, with less red tape and contracts to navigate, making those resources readily available.”

On the role of the President and the Board: “At its core, it’s thinking about the profession and where it’s going. It’s about supporting and engaging in conversations about what’s next. Balancing that with ensuring that as an organisation we continue to exist and support members with their day to day needs. You need to lead, but you also need to let your experts—both staff and members—do their job.”

Nicole, thank you for your years of service, not only to the association (as a member, board member and staff member), but to our broader profession. Charles Darwin is lucky to have you—what an asset they’ve received to lead and shape the next generation of OTs!

Before Nicole left, we asked her a final question. If she could go back to 2000 as a new graduate OT, what advice would she offer herself?

“Stay open to opportunities. I’ve had a sense of where I want to go, but often I’ve diverted from that path because an opportunity arose, and I’ve said yes. I’ve taken the risk. So, stay open to opportunities that people give you, because they believe in you, and they know you can succeed.” 

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