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YU News

At Symposium, Occupational Therapy Research Addresses Societal Needs

Left to right, Drs. Gavi Gordon, Ebony Sneed-Knight, Avani Patel, Deena Motechin, Rinu Abraham, Rachel Buckley, Judy Chalouh-Benjamin and Noah Frydman.

By Dave DeFusco

While the core function of an occupational therapist is to help people live their lives to the fullest by supporting their independence, the Katz School’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate takes that mission a step further by asking students to consider the wider implications of their scholarship—to fill an urgent societal need or a gap in the academic literature. At a recent Capstone Dissemination Day, the results of that programmatic effort were vividly on display.

Seven projects were presented by eight recently graduated OT doctoral students. Research-oriented projects included the impact of manual dexterity on the cognition of individuals with Multiple Sclerosis (Dr. Rinu Abraham); promoting student resiliency and academic performance (Dr. Noah Frydman); and the development of standardized educational modules to ensure the integrity of researchers (Dr. Deena Motechin and Dr. Avani Patel).

Projects involving the development of programs or education modules to meet the needs of different populations or communities included a toolkit for people suffering from spinal cord injuries and disease (Dr. Rachel Buckley); the development of a fall prevention program for senior citizens (Dr. Judy Chalouh-Benjamin); a protocol using mindfulness and leisure for adults with disabilities (Dr. Gavi Gordon); and a culturally informed aging-in-place program for underserved adults (Dr. Ebony Sneed-Knight).

“Unlike other entry-level occupational therapy programs, graduates of Yeshiva University’s accredited Occupational Therapy Doctorate program are prepared to work with clients directly and to act as scholars and leaders who support change in individuals, groups, populations and society,” said Dr. Mindy Garfinkel, interim director of the OT program. “Our students are innovators, leaders and scholar-practitioners, and the capstone symposium is such a wonderful venue to highlight their accomplishments.”

Dr. Amiya Waldman-Levi, a clinical associate professor and director of scholarship and research in the OT program, said student scholarship and research are responsive to societal, community and scientific needs. “The program is informed by the best pedagogical approaches and is robust in the support and guidance that we give to our students,” she said. “It produces tangible and sustainable outcomes.”

The doctoral capstone project takes place over two semesters. Students plumb the academic literature to understand the foundational knowledge and theory related to their areas of inquiry, identifying gaps in the literature or practice, analyzing data and creating new materials, programs or conceptual models.

The program’s capstone seminars and lab work encourage students to share their progress, mentor each other through project development and engage in critical review of their classmates’ goals and research methods. “It provides another opportunity for students to demonstrate the advanced knowledge gained through this experience and prepares them for professional conferences and future scholarly work,” said Dr. Waldman-Levi.

Dr. Alexandra Laghezza, capstone coordinator and a clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy, said the transformation of the student presenters throughout the process was significant. They developed a variety of skills, including problem-solving, critical thinking, reflectivity, advanced clinical reasoning and project management, among others, which are important in becoming an occupational therapist and a leader within the profession.

An overarching objective of the capstone program, she said, is “sustainability,” or embedding student research and projects in the fabric of communities to promote their long-term health and well-being. Dr. Laghezza said three students have submitted a conference proposal currently under review; five projects are being continued this fall by other students or by the community partner the student worked with; one student will be submitting a manuscript for publication in a prestigious scientific journal; and data collection has started for two other research projects.

“They’ve developed and acquired a strong grasp of knowledge,” she said. “By the end of the program, they have transformed into scholar-practitioners who can translate knowledge into practice, as well as identify and fill the gaps in clinical practice by developing evidence-based programs and processes.”