How a hairdresser, come labourer, come sales exec became a specialist locum OT

Marvin Reid is a locum occupational therapist specialising in moving and handling and founder of Chill Winston Yoga.

Published on 26th September 2016

Marvin Reid

Hairdressing, being a labourer and working in advertising sales seem rare pre-requisites for a career in occupational therapy, yet it doesn’t appear to have done locum OT Marvin Reid any harm. In fact his extensive CV speaks volumes about his experience and confidence in his skills to the extent that he has only had to go for one interview since returning from travelling in India several years ago.

Marvin is currently working at Wandsworth Council in London on the Single Handed Care Project which concentrates on introducing rehab and new equipment to patients in order to reduce their care packages and enable them to live independently.

OT wasn’t on my radar

Yet his first job was a far cry his current role where he specialises in moving and handling. Marvin started out as an apprentice hairdresser, although he soon found it wasn’t for him. “It was badly paid, I had no money, all my friends were going out. It wasn’t for me.”

His second career move was to work for his father as a labourer, however a combination of working with a close family member and the cold mornings made him realise he wasn’t cut out for being a labourer.

Marvin went to work in advertising sales for the local newspaper and Yellow Pages. However, the cut-throat world of advertising where competition is rife, back-stabbing is prevalent and making money is key left a sour taste in his mouth. “The money was great but I wasn’t being creative and I didn’t feel like I was working alongside ‘my’ kind of people. I was interested in anatomy and physiology and psychology but I had no idea what to do.”

“I saved up and went to India travelling for a year. Even when I returned, OT still wasn’t on my radar until I bumped into a friend who worked in occupational therapy. The rest as they say is history.”

What “flipped a switch” for Marvin was a conversation with an ex-girlfriend about studying. “In the UK it is constantly drilled into us that if you go to university, it has to lead to a job. But my friend was saying that in Sweden, you study something that you are interested in and if it leads to a job in that arena, great, if not, well it doesn’t.”

“I felt I had to do a job to fit in with society’s expectations, but going to India and experiencing different cultures and doing different things made me realise that I could do what I wanted to do. And that led me to OT,” explains Marvin.

You learn to live on not a lot

Marvin did an access course in health before studying for a three year degree in OT at Brunel University. At that stage, Marvin could access a bursary and didn’t have to pay for tutorial fees. He took out a student loan for £5K a year for books and travel costs and his £400 a month bursary helped towards living costs.

“It was difficult but I was young and everyone was in the same boat. My family was incredibly supportive and I stayed with them between the first and second year and again between the second and third year. You develop an ability to live on not a lot, things were tight but there’s always a way,” he said.

One of his ‘ways’ was some part-time furniture removals that Marvin carried out in Year three. He also worked at the uni in the dyslexia service transcribing notes for people with learning challenges. Marvin also began his locum career alongside studying.

Marvin contacted a locum OT agency to gain employment and got a job as an OT Assistant at Richmond Social Services while studying. “A few of us did it and it’s the best thing I did,” he says. “It provides you with a really good insight into the work you will be doing that you can’t learn in the classroom and increases your chances of employment.”

“It was a foot in the door and enabled me to learn the ropes. I started to fine tune my skills, it built my confidence and I was working alongside and learning from OTs,” said Marvin. When a part-time job came up at the authority, he got it as a result of his experience there.  “I’d definitely encourage third year students and new graduates to get a locum OTA role. It’s a win-win situation, the NHS get a graduate or final year student who is keen to gain experience, the OT gets the experience on the job and a foot in the door.

I wanted to change the world

One of the attractions of OT for Marvin was that the settings are so varied and OTs can be found in mental health settings, orthopaedic rehab, in an oncology unit or in paediatrics and all the roles and settings are so varied.

Marvin said that uni placements provide you with experience for different roles. His four placements involved time at an acute mental health setting, in a stroke rehabilitation centre, in community mental health and in rehab for older people which was a “good mix”. However, the majority of the learning is done in your first job, says Marvin.

“Work wasn’t what I expected it would be when I was a student, I was going to change the world. The reality is you are working for a local authority or the NHS and it is becoming very much like working for a corporate company. When you are young you have enthusiasm for all the wonderful work you can do, but often financial decisions are made by people that are not thinking about staff or patients but about targets and backlogs,” said Marvin.

However being a mature student and coming into OT slightly later than those coming straight out of school/college/uni is definitely beneficial and common, says Marvin. An exercise in the first or second year in a communication module required the students to plot their journey and how they arrived at OT. So many were mature students, Marvin recalls, and he adds that the majority had experienced a couple of careers prior to going into OT. “You bring so much to OT from your past experiences,” he says.

You take cases and run

After cutting his teeth in Richmond, Marvin moved to the London Borough of Hounslow where he worked as a locum and saved more money to go back to India. “The decision to be a locum was definitely financially driven, I knew I could earn more, save more and then go travelling to India. Knowing that I had the confidence to go locum then, I knew I’d be able to go back and do it again,” he says.

While he was travelling Marvin trained to be a yoga teacher. After three months, he returned to the UK and took a locum job at Wandsworth and then took a placement working for the NHS community team in Richmond. Marvin moved to Merton for a year before returning to Wandsworth where he currently works.

He says it is no different working as a locum than a permanent member of staff. When he was a permanent staff member he worked extra hours saying he had not developed a sense of his own identity. However, as a locum OT he says he is contracted to work 35 hours per week which he works and if he is required to work more, then he is paid extra for it. He doesn’t take work home, it is not compulsory for him to attend meetings because he is a locum and therefore he says he can “come into work, do OT work, go home”. There is no holiday or sick pay, which he says is important for some workers whereas others prefer the locum way of working.

I’ll always be a locum

Locum OTs are, however, expected to hit the ground running, “take cases on and run – that’s what they want to see”. That’s why Marvin would not recommend a locum OT role for a new graduate, whereas he would definitely recommend the route he took and start out as an OT assistant learning the ropes.

Marvin is honest that he wasn’t sure what he expected OT to be like as a career after studying, but he was certain that it would enable him to work all over the world.

In fact, he hopes his career as an OT will take him back to India next year. “Towards the end of next year I am hoping to go and work in a hospital in Calcutta and set up an OT service there through the Hope Foundation. They work with street children and families who have no food, drink, somewhere to stay and ae vulnerable to abuse. The Hope Foundation has set up residential schools there to take children out of the toxic situation they are in and get their health and education sorted out,” he says.

“I would work there for two-three months and would take the opportunity to travel to Indonesia for a few months,” he added.

When he comes back though, Marvin will return to his locum OT roots. “I’ll always be a locum, a specialist in moving and handling. I don’t like the idea of someone saying ‘This is what you need to do’ now, I want to say ‘these are my skills, these are the skills I’ve got, have you got something to offer me?” he concluded.


Marvin Reid is the founder of



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