Clinical Research Track Experiences: Alison Kwalwaser, OTD/S '17

Alison Kwalwaser, OTD/S '17
Mentor: Erin Foster, OTD, MSCI, OTR/L
Clinical Research Track: Cognitive and Occupational Performance Laboratory

Why did you choose WUOT for your occupational therapy education?

WUOT emphasizes the importance of incorporating evidence into occupational therapy practice and is constantly striving to make new advancements in the profession. I was very interested in the fact that not only is WUOT an incredible school, but they place an emphasis on research. WUOT requires every student to select a mentor and become involved with research. This invaluable experience is not offered at other universities. Because OT is a growing profession, developing the skills to become a future leader within the profession was very important to me, as was having the ability to bring advanced and cutting-edge knowledge and skills my future area of employment.

How is OT a good fit for you and your personal goals?

I think that OT is a unique profession because the ultimate goal is to help people participate in all domains of their lives to their highest potential and reach their personal goals. OT is a good fit for me because I value lifelong learning, and in order to provide my future clients with the most up-to-date information and interventions, it is my responsibility to stay actively involved in research and in the profession. I want to practice as an OT in an acute or clinical setting. However, because of my doctorate degree, I will also strive to stay involved in research and pursue teaching in the future. OTs are able to form trusting relationships with their clients and develop personalized interventions that are client-centered and unique.

Briefly describe why you selected your mentor.

Dr. Erin Foster is a wonderful mentor who allows her students to take an active of a role in her research and encourages involvement in community events, attending journal clubs, and volunteering at worthwhile organizations such as the American Parkinson’s Disease Association. Dr. Foster is constantly involved in her own research, including everyday cognitive functioning among individuals with chronic neurological conditions, and strives to help develop effective and appropriate rehabilitation interventions to improve the participation, performance and well-being among those that experience cognitive dysfunction.

Briefly describe your master’s or doctoral project.

As a doctorate student in Dr. Erin Foster’s lab, I had the opportunity to conduct my own clinical study. I recruited 20 individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) from the Washington University Movement Disorder Clinic as well as 20 healthy age-matched people from the community from Volunteers for Health as controls. The goal of my project was to validate an OT-developed cognitive assessment in the PD population that already has been used in mild stroke. I administrated a variety of cognitive tests, a depression screener, as well as the primary measure of interest, which was a performance-based assessment. I also trained lab members to administer the assessments and help manage the data we collected.

What type of guidance did your mentor provide?

Dr. Foster was always supportive, helpful and encouraged me to apply everything WUOT has taught me on my own first before she offered assistance. Her incredible knowledge base on cognitive dysfunction and desire to remain up-to-date on current literature and research contributes to her own success as a researcher as well as her wonderful ability to mentor her students.

How does this scholarly experience contribute (beyond the rest of the set curriculum) to your overall skill and preparation as a generalist practitioner?

I was able to interact with individuals with PD, as well as healthy controls, and gain experience administering both complex cognitive assessments and depression screeners. Being mentored by Dr. Foster taught me professionalism and how to interact with other faculty and clients. Those skills will be incredibly helpful in guiding my future career as an OT.

How will this scholarly experience align with your career goals?

My current goal is to work in an acute care setting for my first job. Although the acute care setting is very fast-paced and it is rare to have the opportunity to treat a client for a long period of time before they are discharged, I feel strongly that more OT-specific research needs to be conducted in acute care settings.
I am interested in working with my future employer to develop a research project that will explore the cognitive deficits that clients may be experiencing but that are not detectable through the basic OT intake evaluation. This ultimately results in some clients being discharged home when in reality they are experiencing cognitive dysfunction that deems them unsafe in their own environment, possibly resulting in re-admittance into the hospital.

How would you describe this scholarly experience to prospective students?

I had a very positive, and worthwhile, experience through WUOT and with Dr. Foster. I was always challenged, but never felt overwhelmed or as if I had no one to assist me whenever I needed help or more guidance on my specific project or within a class. I have learned how to develop and conduct my own research study with human participants as well as become a stronger writer, both scientifically and scholarly. Dr. Foster will do everything she can to ensure you have a worthwhile and positive experience in her lab. She will provide assistance as needed but encourage you to push yourself and really apply everything that WUOT offers its students through courses and resources.

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