VCU OT Service Trip to Peru

By Assistant Professors Audrey Kane & Supriya Sen

For the first time this Summer, the OT Department participated in a VCU HOMBRE trip.The Humanitarian Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort or HOMBRE seeks to improve the health of underserved communities in developing countries, and at the same time provides opportunities to enhance the education of students in health professions. VCU HOMBRE has been operating for years in places such as Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Peru. This particular trip was to a new location in Zana, Peru. Two grad II students, Katie Penn and Kaelah Pou, and two faculty, Audrey Kane and Supriya Sen, joined the Peru team. Other members of the team included physicians from the US and Peru, nurse practitioners, a physician’s assistant, students from the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the Department of Physical Therapy, as well as undergraduate students from the University of Richmond.

Preparation for the trip began in January. All participating students enrolled in a course offered through the Department of Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Care. Topics of the course included global health and healthcare disparities, as well as preparation for the clinical experience. OT students and faculty, and PT students also participated in a journal club where these themes were continued. So, after six months of preparation, the trip became a reality.

Located about 13 hours north of Lima, the town of Zana, Peru is home to several hundred people, with a small health outpost that is open during business hours, M-F. The closest emergency care is located about 15 minutes away, and there is a larger hospital 45 minutes away, but the time and cost of traveling can be prohibitive for Zana residents. We spent a few days providing services in Zana, and other days were spent in neighboring villages that had no healthcare services available. The villages offered school buildings for us to set up our clinic.

Clients who came to the clinic were triaged and directed to a healthcare provider. From there, referrals were made to OT and PT as needed. Our days were very busy, with 20 – 43 clients per day, being seen by OT and PT. Many clients had osteoarthritis of the knees, back pain, neck pain, and other conditions that are the result of the agrarian culture. Clients were evaluated and then provided with intervention aimed to relieve current pain and/or minimize the risk for future conditions, injury or pain. Several clients were evaluated for assistive devices, which were purchased and delivered in the second week of the trip.

Clinic Sign

The trip was very rewarding in many respects. The clients that were served were incredibly grateful and it was not uncommon for them to offer blessings and hugs and kisses on their departure. While some conditions/complaints were not able to be directly addressed, clients appeared grateful for the occasion to have a listening ear and to tell their stories. The families and individuals that housed and fed us were daily reminders of what unselfish giving looks like. As clinicians and preceptors, it was rewarding to see the increase in confidence and clinical problem-solving of our students. We hope that this experience has reinforced that kindness and empathy are essential for the practice of OT.

A Student Project Becomes a Real-Life Accessible Cabin!

By 2017 Alum Hannah Newlon MS OTR/L

Since graduating in 2017, I’ve been working as a traveling OT in Texas. Additionally, I partnered with my Dad to create an accessible rental cabin in Gatlinburg, TN. My family has been traveling to this area for years and we have fallen in love with the Great Smoky Mountains. My Dad (Blaine Newlon) started a rental cabin business Smoky Mountain Views, ten years ago, dedicated to providing a fun vacation experience in the Great Smoky Mountains. We purchased a cabin and have been remodeling the past year to transform it to an accessible cabin following universal design principles.

Accessible cabin, Gatlinburg, TN

As OTs and future OTs, we recognize the importance of accessibility and the direct impact on an individual’s quality of life. Our overarching goal is to not only make an accessible cabin, but to decrease the barriers that individuals with disabilities face in our community, beginning with the physical environment. Here’s a Youtube video that displays the cabin’s features, which include:

• 2 roll in showers with a fold down bench, grab bars, and a hand held faucet
• Level entry into the home (2 different entrances)
• Level hardwood floors (no thresholds)
• Roll under stove
• 36in + hallways
• Lever operated faucets
• Emergency exit signs
• Appliances with good color contrast and front panel access

As a graduate student at VCU MSOT, I completed a simulated home renovations accessibility project as part of Dr. Tony Gentry’s adult physical disabilities class. I spent countless hours on the phone with my dad and in hardware stores, trying to problem solve how best to accomplish this task. Prior to graduate school I thought I wanted to work solely with the pediatric population…… but once again, our professors were right. They always taught us to keep an open mind because the field of OT is vast and you never know where your passion may fall, despite your original assumptions.

As OTs, we have the unique ability to look at the whole picture. When constructing this home, my dad and I were taking into account the whole family on vacation, not just one individual. We are thinking about the caregiver who needs a nice place to relax and take a break from caregiving duties. We are thinking about the children who need time to relax, play games and explore. We are thinking about the family being able to sit around a table, partaking in a meal that they all helped to make in our accessible kitchen.

Overall, our hope is to increase the cultural and social acceptance of individuals with disabilities in the Smoky Mountain Region. And it all started in a classroom at VCU!

Our First Doctoral Capstone Poster Fair

By Associate Professor Carole Ivey

On Thursday, May 9, our 41 third-year graduate students presented their capstones at the Occupational Therapy Poster Fair at VCU’s Larrick Center. Since the summer of 2017, students have been developing knowledge and skills related to their capstone topic, conducting literature reviews and needs analyses, and planning for their capstone experience. This past Spring semester, students completed at least 14 weeks and 560 hours implementing their plans and completing their capstone projects. The Occupational Therapy Poster Fair was a culminating event, in which students shared information about their capstone activities and outcomes. The Poster Fair was also the final student requirement prior to students graduating two days later.

Carolyn Dawkins with her capstone poster

Deanna Dambrose with her capstone poster

The poster fair commenced with opening remarks by Dr. Al Copolillo, department chair, who welcomed attendees and congratulated students on the successful completion of their capstones. The poster session showcased 41 posters that spanned research, education, and community related projects. For a complete list of the posters as well as their abstracts, visit this site. For more information about doctoral capstone opportunities or serving as a capstone mentor, contact Carole Ivey at

Inaugural DEC Projects Underway!

By Associate Professor & DEC Coordinator Carole Ivey

Our third year OT doctoral students are out of the classroom, devoting an entire semester of full-time effort (14 weeks, 560 hours) developing in-depth knowledge and skill in a focused area while working to meet a need. Here are a few of the practicums in which our students are engaged:

REAL LIFE Community Center
The REAL LIFE Community Center provides support and solutions for people re-integrating into the community after incarceration and recovering from chemical dependency. For their Doctoral Practicum, Matt Carpenter and Paul Kehrer are leading psycho-social skill building at the REAL LIFE Community Center. They have been designing and implementing several groups, such as stress management, communication, and leisure They were interviewed for a podcast, in which they discuss occupational therapy in relation to the center:

The Effectiveness of Bilateral Alternating Tactile Stimulation for Improving Sleep in Children
Katie McGhee and Emily Kidney are conducting a pilot study into the effectiveness of a wearable technology device for improving sleep in children with sensory over-responsivity issues. They are doing this by looking at objective sleep measures via an actigraph sleep tracker and subjective sleep measures via parent survey. The study is a multiple baseline design in which children serve as their own control group. Their hope is to increase awareness of sleep as an important area of treatment focus for pediatric clinicians by publishing their study in a peer-reviewed journal, and by publishing an article in OT Practice.

Psychosocial Fieldwork Course
As part of the education track doctoral practicum, Deanna Dambrose is providing training, support, and supervision of students of the Psychosocial Fieldwork course as they lead therapeutic groups in the community this semester. The course is divided into six weeks of preparation and training, eight weeks of implementing groups, and one culminating week of sharing and reflection. Her perspective as a former student of this course bridges the divide between student and instructor and provides a unique perspective into an intricately laid out course with many moving pieces. Her contributions to the course include: reorganizing the course calendar, creating 16 distinct session plans for two of the community groups based on research and needs analysis, and introducing the concepts of usability and visual design as they can be used when designing materials for clients.

Reimagining Recess: Adapted Playground to Increase Social Participation for Students with Autism
Kelsey Edmonds has worked alongside her community mentor, Michelle Allen, creating an adapted playground for students at Swift Creek Elementary School. A big goal of this experience is to appeal to a variety of students and play styles to provide an alternative to the traditional fixed playground equipment. Often times, students diagnosed with autism have difficulty with motor planning, imaginary play, turn taking, and initiating play with peers. By introducing more open-ended toys, natural materials, art and construction, whimsical spaces, creative props, and more inviting playscapes, our hope is to enrich student’s playground experience. So much social development and learning happens outside of the classroom during recess; therefore, our goal is to better align the environment with the student’s needs. As part of this DEC project, she has taken data throughout with observations, interviews, and standardized assessments to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of the current and adapted playground. We have already seen so much success with the project and we hope it continues to provide opportunities for these students and even impact others in the community!

These are just a few of the current DEC projects now underway. In my next blog post, I plan to discuss some more. We’re so proud of our students and the good work they’re doing to address research, academic and community support needs!

Peer Learning in a Community-Based DEC

By Grad III Paul Kehrer

VCU DEC students Matt Carpenter and Paul Kehrer

As a proud member of VCU’s inaugural entry level OTD class I am thankful to have made it halfway through the semester-long Doctoral Experiential Component (DEC). I am now counting days instead of years until graduation. My classmate Matt Carpenter and I are following a community engagement DEC track, spending five days a week at the REAL Life Community Center not far from Theatre Row. The community center is the base of operations for a recovery program that provides resources for people with a history of chemical dependency who are re-entering the community after incarceration. Under the supervision of our faculty mentor Professor Dianne Simons and our community-site supervisor Dr. Sarah Scarbrough, we provide cognitive and psychosocial screenings, lead life skill building groups, and do more focused treatments when appropriate. Since our DEC objectives and deliverables are similar, Matt and I work with the same clients and our interventions intersect at times, however they are different enough that we each have concentrated content to research, format, and deliver.

Working alongside my fieldwork educator in inpatient rehab and in the ICU, I learned the value of the OT/PT co-treat, as well as the OT/SLP co-treat in pediatrics. However, not until the DEC, and likely never again afterwards, have I had the opportunity to deliver client centered interventions in a peer learning environment doing what I consider to be, the “OT/OT co-treat”. The constructive learning benefits of daily debriefing, collaborative planning, and working together to deliver interventions in real time with a fellow student cannot be understated. In the context of the REAL Life Community Center, one of the benefits of the “OT/OT co-treat” is the ability to mutually resolve treatment priorities and goals for clients with chronic medical issues in addition to their psychosocial and process skill deficits. Also, in the context of leading psychosocial skill building groups, it can be harder to interpret client’s reactions to activities when there are many clients and only one provider, but the “OT/OT co-treat” allows one of us to lead, while the other observes the groups and then provides feedback and input. On other occasions here, our clients have even been able to benefit from additional support provided by further inclusion of other VCU OT classmates for clarification on Medicaid systems, and yoga instruction. The ability to share educational resources and problem solve client plans and interventions is much more efficient in the context of peer learning, and has been a valuable resource.

Our Newest Faculty Member – Audrey Kane!

By Assistant Professor Audrey Kane

Audrey Kane

While I’m a familiar face that’s been around for a while, nonetheless, I am honored and thrilled to join the OT faculty in a full-time position.

My OT journey began at VCU. After graduating from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, I discovered OT when working as a physical therapy aide in a rehab hospital. I applied to VCU as it was away from home and one of the few master’s programs at the time. Since graduating OT school, I have always maintained close connections in Richmond, always returning after an adventure somewhere else. The bulk of my clinical practice was in pediatrics, working in almost every setting from NICU through school system, from hospital to out-patient, as well as psychiatric settings. I also have experience in acute care adults, skilled nursing facilities, and home health.

I feel fortunate to have lived and worked in Colorado and Germany. I had begun to guest lecture and help with labs in the VCU OT program, which led me to pursue a PhD. While finishing my dissertation, I began to teach as adjunct faculty, eventually transitioning to full time academia at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. After two years there, life brought me back to Richmond and VCU. I rejoined VCU as adjunct faculty and began working in the Motor Development Lab in the Department of Physical Therapy. I will continue my work there as we investigate interventions and their efficacy for advancing cognitive and motor development in young children with neuromotor disorders. In addition to teaching and research, I serve as Chair of the Graduate Admissions Committee, a position that I find exciting. The committee works together to review applications and select members of the next class of this exceptional program.

Once again, I am thrilled to be a part of this program and look forward to the future, the changes in store for us as we transition to our bright, shiny new building, continuing to build on the tradition of excellence that has always been a part of VCU’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

Hackawhat? VCU Team wins Grand Prize in Caring for the Caregiver Hackathon!

By Grad IIs Marianne Capps and Sara Tierney

This October, we two occupational therapy students competed in our first hackathon. The Caring for the Caregiver Hackathon is a competition hosted by Virginia Navigator and the Lindsey Institute with the mission of creating technologies that serve caregivers. Teams from eight universities in Virginia met on a Saturday in Richmond and worked through the night to create a wide array of web applications that serve an assigned caregiver. The VCU team was made up of 6 members from 3 disciplines: 2 OT students, 2 experience design graduate students, and 2 biomedical engineering undergraduate students. We were also assisted by our coach, Prof. Tony Gentry, our inspiring caregiver, Cheryl, and subject matter experts who were on-hand throughout the event.

Our caregiver, Cheryl, is a survivor of a car accident that resulted in her daughter sustaining a spinal cord injury and her son sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury. Thirteen years after the crash, Cheryl is a busy mom and lawyer who is also the primary caregiver of her son, Connor. Our team was struck by the amount of time Cheryl allots to managing Connor’s daily care. We wanted to help free up some of that mental energy she had put toward organizing and training health aides, so that Cheryl and Connor could enjoy more quality time together. In the end, we created an app design that we are all incredibly proud of – Hummingbird. Hummingbird is a connected approach to caregiving that allows primary caregivers to more fluidly manage the scheduling and training of health aides. Many caregivers worry about what will happen to their loved one after they are gone. This app creates a continuity of care that allows the primary caregiver to rest assured that their loved one is still receiving the customized, consistent quality care they deserve through task scheduling and video tutorials.

Winning the Grand Prize was such an inspiring moment, but more so the unique interprofessional collaboration that the competition afforded was incredibly meaningful for us. Our other team members had an amazing set of skills vital to our success, which included: creative vision, user experience design, and technical prototyping. But how could two OT students contribute to building a web app in 24 hours? It turns out, two OT students (when placed on an awesome team) can do a lot! The two of us approached Cheryl’s interview from an occupational lens and used our own unique caregiving experiences to inform our process of identifying her key areas of need. We also used knowledge from our assistive technology class to understand what products are already on the market as well as concepts from our program development class to form our business plan. It was amazing to see how OT can be used beyond a clinical setting and how our (future) profession can innovate and collaborate with others to meet a real need.

The VCU Team, left to right: Daniel Huffine (Brand Center), Mahira Ali (Rehab Engineering), Tony Gentry (OT – coach), Cheryl (caregiver), Melissa Poe (Brand Center), Linda Alexander (rehab engineering), Sara Tierney (OT) and Mern Capps (OT)

VCU OT Participates in Urban Baby Beginnings Event

By Assistant Professor Virginia Chu

Faculty and students from VCU OT participated in the Urban Baby Beginnings 4th Diaper Duty Pop-Up “Covering Babies with Love” event during National Diaper Needs Awareness Week (September 24-30, 2018).

VCU participants in Urban Baby Beginnings event.

Diaper Duty Pop-Ups are outreach events where families from the community can come to learn about resources available for families with young children and to have fun. 23 VCU OT students, supervised by 2 faculty members and a local pediatric OT, provided developmental screening to 20 children under the age of 5 years old and offered fun activity ideas to 30 families to encourage parents to promote their kids’ development through play. Our students spoke with parents about their children’s development and answered any concerns they had. Students conducted further motor assessments for the children whose screening indicated areas of concern. During one of our screenings, Nutzy the Flying Squirrel came by and demonstrated proper tummy time to the baby. The students enjoyed an afternoon of interacting with families and adorable babies from the community, taking part in meeting a community need, and getting a small taste of their future careers.

Richmond Flying Squirrels mascot helps VCU students at event.

In the state of Virginia, 35% of infants and toddlers live in poor or low-income families. Diapers are expensive and can cost $70-$80 per month, yet funds from government programs such as SNAP and WIC cannot be used to purchase diapers. Only funds from TANF program can be used on diapers, but TANF funds (maximum for a family of 1 parent and children is $409/month) also mustt cover many other expenses, including rent, utilities, clothing, and transportation. In the US, 1 in 3 mothers report struggling to provide a sufficient supply of diapers to keep their infants and toddlers clean, dry and healthy. This is where community agencies such as Urban Baby Beginnings step in to fill the gap. Urban Baby Beginnings provides an average of 100,000 diapers plus baby essentials, prenatal and postpartum support, child and adult education to more than 3700 families a month. Urban Baby Beginnings has provided support services to over 1 million families experiencing homelessness, medical challenges or a disaster in the Central Virginia area. We are proud to have had an opportunity to work with them on this day and hope to continue doing so.

My Work with VCU’s Student Council for Inclusive Environments

By Grad I Katherine Clancy

VCU’s Student Council for Inclusive Environments or SCIE (pronounced “sky) is led out of the Office of Student Experience, run by Dr. Alena Hampton. SCIE offers a one-year leadership residency for inter-professional students from across VCU’s medical and health disciplines. I am the Occupational Therapy student currently serving as an Ambassador on the council. My fellow Ambassadors come from Pharmacy, Medicine, Health Administration, Genetics, and Dentistry.

Together we meet 2-3 times per month to discuss leadership objectives and challenges as they pertain to VCU and our experiences as students from underrepresented backgrounds. As the only openly gay person in my cohort, the SCIE Ambassador Program offers me a space of inclusion and an opportunity to have my perspective heard and explored. More than that, though, it is helping me build solid, transferable leadership skills that will enhance my career as an occupational therapist, informing my future practice in responding to the diverse perspectives of my clients. With SCIE I have the opportunity to craft a professional identity that embraces open-ended questions that lead to discovery.

Above all, it is this contribution to my education I am most thankful for. As scientists, there is the lure of “finding the right answer.” Yet, as occupational therapists we want to help our clients succeed in their lives as they define it, not as we would. SCIE works with differences in order to create a structure that creatively finds ways to let each voice be utilized. And this is what makes SCIE so unique, as there is a difference between acknowledging our differences and leveraging those differences in order to accomplish goals. The latter is how diversity emerges as a leading edge in leadership development, and these are the skills being offered to SCIE Ambassadors. Real diversity work means having the difficult conversations, using our words to foster inclusion, and actively listening while putting one’s ego on the shelf. These are all skills needed as occupational therapists. I feel both lucky and proud to be a SCIE Ambassador. I believe firmly it is preparing me to be an emerging leader in my field.

OT Students Join Backpack Awareness Day Event

By Grad II Sara Tierney

At the end of September, OTD students Katie Penn, Molly Gupta and I volunteered with VCU’s Inter-Health Professionals Alliance (IHPA) at their monthly Kroger Outreach event. The IHPA is an interdisciplinary group with students from the College of Health Professions, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work, Biomedical Engineering, and Dietetic Interns who collaborate to provide health education and public outreach projects in underserved Richmond communities.

VCU IHPA Team at Kroger

IHPA’s monthly Kroger Outreach events provide free blood pressure screenings as well as information about dental care, nutrition, health and wellness, and medications at Kroger grocery store. This month, in recognition of AOTA’s annual Backpack Awareness Day, the OTD students educated the public on how to properly fit, pack, and carry backpacks. In addition to writing an article on backpack awareness for the IHPA newsletter, which gets distributed during the KO events, the students also demonstrated backpack ergonomics and answered questions.