Clinical Research Track Experiences: Katherine Ross, OTD/S '16

Katherine Ross, OTD/S '16
Clinical Research Track: Occupational Therapy NICU Laboratory

Why did you choose WUOT for your occupational therapy education?

I was drawn to WUOT not just because it’s known as one of the best programs in the country, but because they offered opportunities in areas of occupational therapy that the majority of other programs do not, as well as an entry-level OTD. I was specifically drawn to the opportunity of working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with preterm infants. The opportunity of NICU exposure as a student solidified my decision to attend WUOT, because other programs do not offer opportunities in such an advanced area of practice. I felt getting additional education in that area prior to becoming a clinician would make me more marketable and more qualified than students from other programs.

Why did you choose the clinical research track option for your degree?

Although I had not engaged in research before attending WUOT, I’m thankful for the opportunity to develop and learn about the research that informs our practice. Formulating a research question, gathering data, and formulating results is a very rewarding process that not only makes you a better clinician, but also provides an appreciation for all of the research articles we read to ensure best practice. Also, WUOT provides excellent research experiences for students, so why not take a part in that while you’re here?

Briefly describe the research lab you chose.

I chose to join Dr. Bobbi Pineda’s Occupational Therapy NICU Laboratory. I was drawn to this lab, because it was so much more than just research. Upon joining the lab, we were educated on a variety of topics related to working in the NICU including prematurity, the NICU environment, common diagnoses, NICU therapy, current research etc. In addition, we are a part of a multidisciplinary health care team, allowing for knowledge acquisition outside of occupational therapy. Within this lab, each student has the opportunity to develop a research project based on premature infants under the guidance of Dr. Pineda that will develop each semester at WUOT, culminating with a final manuscript and presentation. I will be submitting my manuscript to Pediatrics just prior to graduation.

What project/s are you involved with in your lab?

In the NICU lab, we take on a teamwork approach. Not only am I gathering data for my own study, but I’m also able to help with other ongoing projects. I have had the opportunity to gather data for my personal project, which is looking at NICU-based therapy services and interventions provided in the NICU and determining whether there are associations with neurobehavioral outcomes at NICU discharge. In addition, over the past couple of years, I have had numerous opportunities outside of my own project related to recruiting families, communicating with nurses and neonatologists, using new equipment to measure oral feeding skills among preterm infants, learning neurobehavioral assessments, doing sensory testing on former preterm infants, videotaping oral feeds, completing parent interviews, etc. We have the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of the research process, a valuable opportunity not often offered to students.

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

Through this experience, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with other team members, as well as communicate with the medical team and families. The development of good communication skills is important regardless of what setting you’re going into, and the fact that we have the opportunity to approach physicians, families and other members of the medical team as students helps us feel comfortable when we need to do it as a practitioner. In addition, the research lab helps us critically analyze current literature to determine what is relevant, effective and appropriate. The lab has also improved my flexible thinking, time management and professional behaviors.

What kind of guidance is provided by your faculty mentor?

Dr. Pineda has so much knowledge, and she is willing to share and guide you through the entire research process. As someone who had no research experience prior to entering the program, I was overwhelmed by the thought of taking on my own research project. However, Bobbi really goes above and beyond to help you to understand your strengths and areas of growth so she can help you develop and thrive. She provided me with additional resources on research development, and is actively involved in the entire process from formulating your research idea to presenting your final results. She scaffolds the research lab experience depending on the needs of her students so that everyone can feel successful and competent. When I joined her lab, I was terrified of public speaking and told her that was one of the goals I had for myself; I wanted to be a good, confident presenter. She really challenged me and provided me with experiences to help me reach my goals. And just recently, I presented my research findings at the National Association of Neonatal Therapy Conference in front of approximately 400 therapists. Without her guidance, hands on support and encouragement, I would never have pursued that opportunity.

How would you describe this experience to prospective students who may be interested in clinical research?

I came to WUOT having little to no knowledge of research. The NICU lab has given me the opportunity to develop my skills and knowledge related to research as well as get hands-on experience. I am able to complete a personal research project tailored to my interests with the guidance and support of an experienced clinical researcher. In addition, we are encouraged and supported if we want to pursue the publishing of our research paper, an amazing opportunity.

How will this clinical research experience contribute to your career?

I came to WUOT because I knew I was interested in neonatal therapy and WUOT is one of few programs that provide that experience for students. My experience in this lab has truly been invaluable. I have gained immense knowledge in the area of NICU therapy and research that I would not have received if not for this lab. I want to pursue a career as an occupational therapist in the NICU, so having the opportunity as a student to not only learn about occupational therapy in the NICU, but also get hands-on experience and the chance to contribute to the current body of literature in such an advanced area of practice has really built my competence and excitement about my future practice. In addition, this experience kept me up-to-date on all the current evidence, which makes me feel prepared to enter the field. I have the opportunity to do things that students at other programs who may be interested in working in the NICU rarely, if ever, get the chance to do.

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