Clinical Research Track Experiences: Ashley Housten, OTD/S ’14, and MSCI, ‘14

Ashley Housten, OTD ’14, and MSCI, ‘14
Clinical Research Track: Child Health and Educational Laboratory

Why did you choose WUOT for your occupational therapy education?
I moved to St. Louis and started working in Dr. Allison King’s research lab before becoming a student in the Program of Occupational Therapy. At that time, I didn’t really know much about OT. Through my work experience, I discovered the unique theoretical approach of OT and how OTs can address challenges on an individual and community level in a distinctive way. With this experience, I wanted to develop the skills to address these real life problems I had come across first-hand. I decided to pursue a degree in OT at Washington University School of Medicine because of the rigorous academic training and the practical application opportunities supported by WUOT. Courses like Community Health and Occupational Therapy and Problem-Based Learning provided the opportunity to apply the academic skills we were learning to an actual case or case study.

In addition, WUOT is part of the medical school, which provides access to the top resources to pursue clinical investigation. Our partnerships and close work with a variety of disciplines in the medical school is valuable. I was seeking a transdisciplinary learning environment, which WUOT exemplifies.

Why did you choose the clinical research track option for your degree?
With my past experience working in a research lab, I was interested in continuing with the work I had started and developing my own area of interest. WUOT provides the time and resources to really dive into the literature and develop your area of interest. I worked with my mentor to develop my research interests and questions. Based on my interest and questions, we developed an approach and project to investigate this area.

Briefly describe the research lab you chose.
I am part of the Child Health and Educational Laboratory led by Allison King, MD, MPH. Dr. King works in pediatric hematology and oncology and is focused on the treatment of children with sickle cell disease and central nervous system tumors. I wanted to work with youth with sickle cell disease looking at variables related to self-sufficiency, informed decision-making and health education.

What project/s are you involved with in your lab?
When I first started in the lab, I was working on a tutoring program for youth with sickle cell disease and a community-based sickle cell trait testing program. During my first year as a student at WUOT, I started to develop an interest in educating youth about the genetic inheritance of sickle cell disease. As we started developing this program, we decided to combine sexual health with genetic inheritance to develop a novel education program. We are currently pilot testing this educational program.

How does the clinical research experience contribute (beyond the rest of the set curriculum) to your overall skill and preparation as a generalist practitioner?
I am extremely interested in health disparities, health communication, and health literacy. I didn’t realize these were the topics I was interested when I started in the program in OT, but through research opportunities and mentoring, I discovered these areas and how they impact the delivery of OT and healthcare services. Through WUOT, I have a broad understanding of how these areas affect individuals and communities. In the future, I hope to provide interventions that not only address the individual but I hope to also provide community level intervention.

What kind of guidance is provided by your faculty mentor?
Dr. King is extremely innovative and supportive. I decided to develop my own original project, and from the beginning, she has encouraged my vision as well as providing support through the entire research process. Dr. King is always available to discuss challenges or troubleshoot, but she encourages us to be self-motivated and driven to tackle challenges independently to develop our skill set. This type of management style works well for me because I like to push myself, but I always know that Dr. King is a phone call or an email away.

How would you describe this experience to prospective students who may be interested in research?
I knew that I wanted to go into research when I started at WUOT, but I didn’t know exactly what path I would take to get there. I did take some time as a first-year student to explore the variety of options WUOT offers to students to meet their academic and career goals. Talking with students in the classes above me was very helpful. They had good advice and could provide examples of some of the successes and challenges of pursuing research as a WUOT student. I also worked with my mentor and her lab, like Regina Abel, PhD, to learn more about the research process. Your first year as a student is busy and may at sometimes seem overwhelming, but I would recommend taking the time to talk with other students and faculty mentors to develop your area of interest and determine if you would like to follow a more clinical approach or research approach to this area of interest.

I’m very happy I pursued the research path at WUOT. There were some challenges, but the research course work, like with Jack Engsberg, PhD, in addition to developing my own project helped provide a foundation for pursuing clinical research upon graduation.

How will this research experience contribute to your career?
I am planning to pursue a career in clinical research so this time to develop my research interests and conduct feasibility work has been invaluable. I’m looking forward to continuing to develop these projects in the future.

Anything else you would like to add?
WUOT does have a strong research focus for students who are interested, but there are also faculty members with extensive clinical training. That is one of the major strengths of WUOT; there are world-class faculty in both research and clinical roles. It is a great place to be to explore both options. Although, they are not mutually exclusive; clinical research combines clinical work with the research and OTs are well trained to go into the role of a clinical researcher.

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