15 November 2021 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Azette Swanepoel, one of the ten USDP candidates, motivates other PhD candidates to enjoy the incredible journey of growth and self-discovery.

Azette Swanepoel, Lecturer and Head of the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of the Free State (UFS), is one of the ten candidates – five from the UFS and five from the University of Venda (UV) – who were selected to enrol for the University Staff Development Programme (USDP) that is administered by the UFS Office for International Affairs.

This doctoral training programme aims to develop a cohort of academically excellent, competent doctoral staff members in the field of global health.

Although she faced several challenges during the lockdown, which had a major impact on her work, she is of the opinion that the pandemic also showed her how adaptable she could be in ensuring that she meets all the demands in this challenging time.

In an interview, Swanepoel shares her USDP journey up till now. 

How has your background shaped the life and academic path that you have chosen?

I was a practising occupational therapist for many years before I entered the academic arena. As a therapist, I supervised UFS Occupational Therapy students, and I saw the value of being a role model and mentor to the students.

Becoming an academic was the next step in developing my own knowledge and skill set to be a better educator and subsequently a mentor to our students. 

What drew you to the USDP project’s call? 

The opportunity to engage and collaborate with scholars from local and international higher education institutions motivated me to apply. Being nominated and considered for the programme is a great honour.

Please tell us more about your research 

My study focuses on the transfer of knowledge in occupational therapy clinical practice. I believe this study will contribute to a contextually relevant undergraduate programme for occupational therapy and stimulate postgraduate studies that will continue with contextually relevant knowledge generation for our profession in South Africa. 

According to Graham (2006), the transfer of knowledge is a bilateral activity or a ‘two-way process’ of knowledge-informing practice and can include any combination of these types of knowledge. Stakeholders involved in the process can include researchers, clinicians, medical and nursing professionals, patients, and even caregivers.

Global health is one of the critical issues for the future of the human species, especially in Africa, where both infectious and non-communicable diseases threaten development. What will your project contribute to the field of occupation therapy?

My research includes types of knowledge that is prominent in occupational therapy. These comprise profession-specific theory that students learn while in training; practice knowledge that is gained from experience in clinical practice; and personal knowledge that develops through reflective practices and can be influenced by the therapist’s worldview and life experiences.

The journey thus far has strengthened my love for research; having a PhD qualification will assist greatly in future research projects, collaboration, and supervision. – Azette Swanepoel
I would like the long-term positive impact of the study to be the continued use of different types of knowledge in our teaching practices. Therapists should also feel comfortable to share and to use all types of knowledge in practice to the benefit of our patients, and in doing so, contribute to client-centred service delivery.

What are your career plans for the future? How will a PhD qualification assist you in reaching these goals?

Once I have designed the conceptual map of knowledge transfer in occupational therapy practice in central South Africa, I want to engage with occupational therapists all over South Africa to build forth on the map through further research projects. 

The journey thus far has strengthened my love for research; having a PhD qualification will greatly assist in future research projects, collaboration, and supervision.

What is your advice for aspiring PhD candidates?

My advice is: READ wide and deep; LISTEN attentively; STAY focused; BELIEVE in yourself; and most of all, ENJOY the incredible journey of growth and self-discovery.

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