Text: Bertrand Tappy
Photo: Gilles Weber

Christèle Rutishauser, ergotherapist.

Christèle Rutishauser is an ergotherapist. After starting her career in France, she joined Lausanne University Hospital to specialise in geriatrics.

An 85-year old woman busies herself in the kitchen. We’ll call her Jeanine. She had an operation at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) a few weeks ago after a bad fall and is now a patient at the Centre for Geriatric Treatment and Rehabilitation (CUTR Sylvana), just north of Lausanne. Jeanine hasn’t been back to her apartment for several days and is eager to go home. But she’s afraid she won’t be as independent as she used to be. Will she be able to get dressed on her own? Prepare her food?

Christèle Rutishauser is one of the people who can answer Jeanine’s questions. She is responsible for drawing up
an initial assessment of just what this elderly woman, who
is bustling about in a kitchen located in the ergotherapy unit, is able to do. “My colleagues and I assess every person who comes to Sylvana,” says the specialist. “Physiotherapists take care of general mobility, while we check if the patient can perform everyday tasks
and movements at home, such as bathing, getting around, preparing tea or coffee, etc. We sometimes hear that ergotherapists just watch people bake cakes and organise fun workshops,” she says. “We may look as though we’re just observing, but we actually have more than 35 criteria to evaluate as we watch the patient working!”

"Physiotherapists take care of general mobility, while we check if the patient can perform everyday tasks and movements at home"

Although Christèle now talks passionately about her job, she basically stumbled into the field. “I wanted to work in healthcare but didn’t really know what area,” says the Lyon native. “When it came time to choose my specialisation, I was convinced by friends that the job would be fascinating. And I don’t regret my choice.” The next decision would be to come and work in Switzerland, where “the conditions allow you to do the job much better than in France, even though the field is expanding rapidly there too.”

Apart from these assessments, Christèle Rutishauser and
the other members of the ergotherapy team work side by side with all the other professionals at the hospital (doctors, care providers, physiotherapists, liaison nurses, dietitians and chaplain) and from outside healthcare services so that Jeanine can regain independence that is as close as possible to what she had “before”.

“Naturally, many other jobs require this interdisciplinary approach,” says Christèle Rutishauser. “But in geriatrics,
as in paediatrics, patients depend more on their family and friends. It involves a lot of dialogue, which gives our work a unique human aspect,” she goes on. “Not to mention that – of course – ergotherapists never stop challenging themselves and growing. You can see that we do much more than bake cakes!”