Introducing Amy Gilder, Specialist Spinal Cord Injury Case Manager

Meet Amy, our new Specialist Rehabilitation Case Manager. From studying at Harvard to working at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, we have a lot to discuss with Amy!

You were awarded the Elizabeth Casson Scholarship in 2010, can you give us a bit of background – what is it and how has it impacted your career?

The Scholarship was originally set-up to remember Elizabeth Casson and to keep the relationship between the two OT schools, which she created many years ago. The scholarship provides OT’s with the opportunity get a fully funded Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy, studying at Tufts University in Boston, USA. I’d been taught about the scholarship at university and knew then that this was something I wanted to go for once I was qualified, to see OT in other parts of the world and to develop my professional skills.

There aren’t any undergraduate occupational therapy courses in America, only at masters level, so the academic demand was very high and a lot of the course had a medical focus, especially neuroanatomy. There was an expectation for you to complete the 2 year masters in 1 year, so it was very demanding and required a lot of discipline to manage my time wisely. The highlight for me was being able to take a class at Harvard University, studying the health system, and joining a dodgeball team.

You’ve previously presented at the OT show on sexuality in spinal cord injury – it’s clear that you’re very client centric and really consider the impact on all areas of life – does this way of thinking form part of your case management approach?

Yes, it’s set me on the right platform to make sure I think about the potential support a client will need across all aspects of their life, rather than zoning in on certain goals and neglecting other areas which may be extremely important in the future. I’d initially gone on a course about sexuality in spinal cord injury and so by default, became that person that colleagues and other professionals talked to and referred others to. My experience evolved in house, and the more clients I had referred, the more experience I got. I’m continually learning to enhance my expertise.

Why the change from leading occupational therapy to case management?

It felt like a natural progression. I worked alongside a lot of case managers and had seen the impact it had on clients and what a difference case management made to their lives.

What are the three top qualities you think a case manager should have?

Good communication, organisation and the ability to empower the client.

Is there a particular case throughout your career that has really made an impact on you and why?

The clients I remember the most are the younger ones who had injuries in their late teens, because it’s such a crucial stage of life and they’re at a point where they’re going through a lot of change. For example, they might be about to move into their first home away from parents, experience their first relationship, start their first year of university or first job. All these things make these cases feel a bit more real and relatable. You realise that they haven’t had the luxury of experiencing all these things prior to their injury, which can be quite emotive.

Equally I’ve had clients who haven’t had the best start in life, sustained their injury and have gone on to become Paralympians or a TV presenter and even a personal injury lawyer.

You specialise in spinal cord injury; how will you apply your expertise from an OT perspective to case management?

As an OT I’m used to looking at the individual’s overall potential and working with them to improve across all aspects of their life. This includes carrying out in depth assessments, setting/reviewing/achieving goals and complex discharge planning. I feel the case manager role is a natural transition and one I feel I have somewhat been doing for my clients in the past.

What type of symptoms would you expect to see as a result of spinal cord injury, and how do you approach these types of cases?

In reality you could list every symptom possible, but the loss of independence is what it comes down to. This may be loss of movement/sensation, reduced self-care skills, lack of social interaction/community-based activities or a change in roles/relationships. Ultimately, I will want to support and empower my clients in regaining independence to achieve all these things again, even if it won’t necessarily be in the same way.

You’ve been involved in complex discharge planning. Do you find the approach varies for each rehab client?

Yes. It depends on what their wishes are and what the dynamics are in their life. Are you supporting a rehab client who is returning to live with their partner and children, or are they just about to start university and live in a student house? Are they going back to independent living, or will they now need a carer? What equipment will they need? There are many different variables that need to be considered.

What three words sum you up?

Friendly, conscientious and empathetic.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I’m very sporty; I love football (a Man Utd supporter) and watching international rugby matches – I’m a big follower of the 6 Nations. I’m into live music and go to a lot of festivals and gigs, so it’s obviously been a bit disappointing over the past couple of years with a lack of live events – both music and sporting!

What attracted you to HCML?

I was working with an HCML case manager on a case, and she sold it to me! She inspired me to branch out and use my skills in a slightly different way.

You’ll be used to dealing with sensitive situations as an occupational therapist, what do you do inside or outside of work to manage stress and remain resilient?

Sport is my thing. Going for a walk or playing squash helps me switch off. I also try to keep a good work/life balance and am very disciplined when it comes to being organised!

What keeps you motivated and inspired?

Healthcare is always evolving. There is always new research and ways to support rehab clients such as neuro-technology, and for some, rehabilitation actually opens new doors for injured individuals to do things they never thought they’d do.

Download Amy's CV or make a referral.