UF occupational therapy students impact the community

By Anne Riker Garlington

Service to the community is important, not only for giving back and helping those in need, but also for learning the profession of occupational therapy.

O.T.D. students
O.T.D. students prepare for a fieldwork project.

University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions Doctor of Occupational Therapy, or O.T.D., students gain hands-on experience through fieldwork during all three years of the program. Another great benefit: their fieldwork projects contribute meaningful service to the community.

The UF occupational therapy program is unique in that it provides so many different places for fieldwork in Gainesville and surrounding communities, said Heidi Horwitz, O.T.D, M.O.T, OTR/L, a clinical assistant professor and academic fieldwork coordinator in the PHHP department of occupational therapy.

Many other O.T. schools struggle to find enough community partners and may have to teach using simulated online environments for psychosocial training.

“Working in a psychosocial setting helped me to understand occupational therapy’s role where the focus was not physical rehabilitation. I learned how to help clients progress towards their personal goals,” said O.T.D. student Sophia Miller. “I’m grateful for this experience as it helped me understand the ‘soft skills’ needed as an occupational therapy practitioner that will help me to be a more well-rounded clinician in the future.” 

UF O.T.D. students have made a lasting impact at several local organizations, from retirement communities to residential addiction facilities and outpatient care programs. Read on for a few examples.

Transitions Life Center

Transitions Life Center, or TLC, in Ocala provides continuing education in life skills and training designed to help adults with developmental disabilities live as independently as possible.

O.T.D. student prepares sensory activity.
O.T.D. student Grace Loeffler prepares a sensory activity.

This past summer, O.T.D. students began with a needs assessment by interviewing the staff and clients. They learned that staff and families hoped to increase physical activity among clients. The students then correlated what occupational therapy could offer in alignment with TLC’s mission and needs.

The O.T.D. students recognized they could combine social engagement with increased physical activity and endurance to improve cardiovascular fitness while also engaging clients with various sensory stimulations.

They established a program using various methods of engaging the clients’ senses through physical activity. The students were able to model and modify the activities to encourage touching and engaging while still being conscientious that clients have different preferences regarding activity level.

“The students did such a great job being client-centered and considering the needs of all of the clients,” said Becky Piazza, O.T.D, M.S., ORT/L, a clinical assistant professor. “The students completed an activity analysis for every single sensory circuit station to ensure they understood the performance components of what they were asking the clients to do.”

The students created an instruction manual for a sensory circuit curriculum, which the TLC staff can continue to replicate and provide to clients in the future.

“I love the relationship TLC has with the UF occupational therapy students. The connection is invaluable to us,” said Sabrina Hughes, executive director of TLC. “The students are so open and receptive to feedback. They are instrumental to the growth of many of our members. Not only are they learning, but we are learning as well. If we can help each other learn, there is no better connection.”

UF Health Florida Recovery Center

The UF Health Florida Recovery Center, or FRC, is a mostly residential addiction treatment facility which encompasses all aspects of recovery: physical, emotional and spiritual.

O.T.D. students at FRC.
O.T.D. students at FRC.

Last summer O.T.D. students created a step-by-step workbook to help map out the weekly schedule of activities for new residents. The students learned to advise on life skills and issues such as sleep hygiene, weekly budgets, meal prep and recipes.

“The workbook is a great example of the scope of practice of occupational therapy,” said Lindsey Telg, M.O.T., OTR/L, a clinical lecturer. “Occupational therapists are not chefs or dieticians, but are skilled at what’s called activity analysis, which means they are good at listening to the challenges somebody is having and dissecting where the challenge is coming from and what could be interjected into the situation. The O.T.D. students look at what could be changed about the environment, the task itself, or what skills they could help that person develop, so those challenges are alleviated.”

Florida Recovery Center now uses the workbook with all their new residents.

“We have been exposed to settings that focus on physical and cognitive attributes in hospital, inpatient, outpatient and several other settings,” O.T.D. student Liat Sauberman said. “Having the ability to work hands-on in a setting that highlights the psychosocial influences substance and alcohol abuse has on patients has provided a new meaning to occupational therapy. A setting like Florida Recovery Center not only focuses on rehabilitation of physicality, but the importance of mental, emotional and spiritual recovery.”

The Village at Gainesville

After polling the residents and staff of senior living facility The Village at Gainesville, O.T.D. students determined residents in memory care needed a diverse recreational activity to improve their overall quality of life. They organized Paint and Sip: Art and Its impact on Social Participation and Leisure Engagement.

Case studies have shown art can reach people who have cognitive impairment. It is also important to encourage the residents’ social participation, getting them out of their rooms and making sure they’re engaged with the environment and the people around them.

Artwork from residents.
Artwork by The Village memory care residents.

The activity made a significant impact on one resident, who previously declined to participate in any activity, such as bingo or games, and tended to pace the halls anxiously.

As they did with other memory care residents, the students made the gentleman a canvas and were prepared for the day when he decided to participate. When he saw the art project, he became engaged with the students and completed a painting of the beach, which is now hanging outside his bedroom.

“Once the students evaluated the activity and the clients, they were able to celebrate the successes,” said Suny Darcy, O.T.D., OTR/L, a clinical assistant professor. “The students created a common task which can get a group of residents who have potentially some cognitive issues engage in the same task together at a level that was appropriate.”

The staff at The Village appreciate all the OTD students do to assist with their programs.

“Students bring a new perspective when it comes to planning and participating in events on our campus,” said Jonathan Shafii, memory support/assisted living program coordinator. “This allows us to scale up and elevate our programming by engaging more residents since we have additional support. We can also elevate programming by trying new ideas the students bring to the table such as games, discussion groups and individual interventions.”

UF Health Care One Clinic

UF Health Care One Clinic is an interdisciplinary transitional clinic serving Alachua County patients. It addresses the needs of multi-visit patients in an effort to reduce emergency department visits and inpatient days.  

O.T.D. students contribute occupational therapy assessments and interventions and meet regularly with the whole health care team to determine patients’ needs.

The O.T.D. students spend additional time talking to patients about their routines and habits, use of time and what may be getting in the way of clients being able to manage their health.

The students’ support made a big difference for a patient who was slated to be discharged from the clinic because he was often an hour or more late for his appointments.

After meeting with the patient, the students learned he didn’t know how to use the bus system and felt overwhelmed trying to figure out the best route to get to the clinic. He was late to appointments because he was riding his bike across town and wasn’t planning enough time for the journey.

The students were able to collaborate and problem solve with the patient to identify time management strategies, suggestions for establishing daily routines and provide education about available community transportation options. This also included coaching and support on how to utilize the bus system and availability of vouchers.

“That was quite a victory for the students to recognize this was not a non-compliant person, but someone who wanted to meet his health goals,” Piazza said.