In case you didn’t know… James Madison University’s Occupational Therapy master’s program is seriously top notch. The rigorous two-year program includes lectures, labs, hand-on experiences and field work. On top of a demanding course load, 20 second-year students are attending AND PRESENTING at the 2017 American Occupational Therapy Association Annual Conference, along with 13 more first-year students and all of the faculty members. The will be in Philadelphia from March 30 – April 2.

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For those who don’t know about occupational therapy… it can be defined as any rehabilitative help that is provided by therapists to people across all professions and all walks of life that have been diagnosed with any illness or injury. Occupational therapists work to strengthen their patients and get them back to doing what they love to do. They look at the whole person, not just their disability or injury or disease, and work to return clients back to a high quality of life full of activity.

I had the chance to sit down with Christie Briskey and Elyse Powderly, who are second-year OT graduate students. They are both going to the AOTA Conference on March 30, where they will attend various expos, presentations, workshops, and presentations. They will also present their research to others in the profession. When Christie and Elyse spoke of occupational therapy, they said the two buzz words for the profession are function and independence. They want their patients to be able to function as they once were, as they wish to function; and they want to give patients their independence back. At the AOTA conference, they are presenting as a whole second-year program. For this conference, there were around 30,000 applicants and only 3,000 were accepted – 20 of those from JMU’s second-year class.

Christie and Elyse worked on and researched the same project, with the help of their research advisor, Elizabeth Richardson. This past summer, they went to Roanoke to conduct their research. They traveled to Carilion Children’s Hospital for 5 weeks and studied the impact of an occupation-based group on self esteem and self concept in childhood cancer survivors. The girls’ ages ranged from 9 to 12 years old. Christie and Elyse were interested in this specific group because there are numerous long term effects of the medicines that they take — sitting in a hospital room for an extended period of time, not being around friends, and not having a routine (like school) everyday. After patients recover from their cancer, they often have difficulties adjusting to life after the cancer is gone. Pre-teen life is hard for anyone, but having cancer (or any medical complication) during that time makes that stage much more difficult for kids.

Each week, Christie and Elyse employed a different self-expressive activity for the girls to try. For the first week, the girls made a collage on wooden letters of their first initial with magazines. Week 2 the girls painted to music. They would play three different songs and the girls would paint how the music made them feel. During week 3, Christie and Elyse gave the girls a camera and let them take photos outside of the hospital of whatever they wanted. This activity was the favorite of all of the girls. Utilizing these photographs that they took, they participated in a scrapbooking activity during week 4. In the final week, the girls painted masks — on the inside they painted how they perceived themselves and on the outside they painted how they thought others perceived them. This research experience was extremely rewarding for these two OT students, but also made a significant impact on each young patient.

Congratulations, once again, to JMU’s OT master’s program and best of luck on your presentations in Philadelphia this week!

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On April 12 from 1 to 5, there will be an Occupational Therapy celebration event on Hillside Field. If you’re interested in learning more about the O.T. program, be sure to attend of their upcoming information sessions.

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