Widening the OT perspective

Alumna Divya Sood, OTD, OTR/L, shares her experiences

After earning a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Manipal University in India, Divya Sood, OTD ’07, OTR/L, worked in New Delhi for two years as an occupational therapy practitioner at a special school for children. Wanting to expand her occupational therapy (OT) perspective, Sood began looking for an occupational therapy doctorate (OTD) degree program in Canada and the U.S.

“Ten years ago, the OT practice in India was very much embedded in the biomedical model. I wanted to find an OTD program that could prepare me to be an evidence-based practitioner and enhance my knowledge and skills related to clinical research to be an effective clinician,” Sood recalls. “The Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University offers a perfect blend of research, practice and education so that the students learn to be innovators in the field of occupational therapy.”

During her time as a student in the Program, Sood’s perspective began to widen. “The Person-Environment-Occupation-Performance (PEOP) curriculum model helped me see how participation of individuals in meaningful occupations is not only influenced by personal factors but also by environmental factors. I also learned the importance of evidence-based practice and how to use it,” Sood says.

The value placed on diversity at Washington University was important to Sood, as an international student. “Many universities I looked at had good programs, but I wasn’t sure if they were open to different opinions in OT practice. As a student and a teaching assistant at WashU, I was often asked about my experience working with clients in India. Even though my views were different, I felt comfortable expressing them because the faculty and my cohorts valued my opinion and cultural viewpoint,” Sood remembers.

Sood also enjoyed learning from the other post-professional students in the OTD program, including Claire Yang, OTD ’07, from Taiwan, and Chaya Zingerich, OTD ’07, from Israel. “It was wonderful to have conversations with my colleagues from other countries and share our international perspectives. I’m still in touch with both of them,” she says.

After graduation, Sood’s career shifted from clinical practitioner to educator and researcher. Following a brief trip to India to visit family, she accepted a faculty position as an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Missouri in Columbia in 2008. As part of her appointment, Sood also provided clinical occupational therapy services at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. She worked there for a year and half before joining her husband in Chicago in 2009.

In May of that same year, Sood accepted a faculty position at Governors State University (GSU) in Illinois, where she is now an associate professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy. “I teach a variety of courses including theories of occupational therapy, program development and evaluation, and serve as a primary research advisor for a number of doctoral students for their doctoral capstone projects. Had I not gone through the rigorous doctoral process at WashU, this role would have been difficult for me,” Sood said.

Sood was appointed the coordinator of research for GSU’s Department of Occupational Therapy in 2013. She initiated the Partnership in Research (PIR) program for OT faculty, which provides opportunities to develop and implement research projects in collaboration with masters and post-professional doctoral students, as well as with other faculty members and stakeholders in the community. Sood’s own research focuses on how environmental factors can shape participation patterns of children with disabilities. She uses the data to develop intervention models for caregivers of children with disabilities with the goal of generating strategies to promote participation of children in various contexts such as the home, school and community environments. This research agenda is informed by her doctoral work at WashU.

Sood enjoys teaching research courses, such as quantitative and qualitative research, and preparing master’s and doctoral students to be evidence-based practitioners. “The most exciting part of my position at GSU is collaborating with doctoral students to develop and implement doctoral capstone projects; this gives me an opportunity to incorporate scholarship into practice,” Sood shares.

Because of her clinical experiences in India and the evolution of her perspective since that time, Sood was invited to write a chapter on occupational-focused models for a text book titled, “Concepts in Occupational Therapy: Understanding Southern Perspectives.” She asked Carolyn Baum, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, and three other colleagues to co-author the chapter with her. “The chapter discusses theories guiding our profession, including the PEOP model. The book will be distributed in India. I’m excited to be able to share what I have learned over the past eight years with my colleagues in India,” Sood says.

Sood credits her success to her experiences at WashU and the OTD degree program for post-professional students. “I am so grateful to WashU for igniting my passion for teaching and research. It was more than just an academic experience; it was the support system I needed to succeed and meet my career goals.”

If you are interested in the OTD degree program for post-professional students, please contact its assistant director, Vicki Kaskutas, OTD, MHS, OTR/L, FAOTA, at 314-286-1672 or kaskutasv@wustl.edu.

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