Clinical Research Track Experiences: Sarah Kay Hendred, MSOT/S '14

Sarah Kay Hendred, MSOT/S ‘14
Clinical Research Track: Cognitive and Occupational Performance Laboratory

Why did you choose WUOT for your occupational therapy education?
I chose WUOT because it impressed me in two main areas.

  1. The faculty come from a wide variety of backgrounds both in OT and other professions. I appreciated the fact that the Program made a point to have faculty representative of many different OT practice areas and that they are leaders in their focus area. At the time of my campus visit, I only had a vague idea of what practice areas I was interested in. It made me feel comfortable knowing that regardless of what my interest ended up being, there would be faculty members with knowledge and research focus options in something related to whatever I chose.
  2. WUOT has a strong networking presence locally and nationally. This was important to me because it meant that the Program was able to offer a wide variety of community, fieldwork and research opportunities to enhance my academic experience.

Why did you choose the clinical research track option for your degree?
I chose the clinical research track because I preferred the structure of the environment. Coming from a science background, the process of testing participants, entering/collecting data, etc., were familiar concepts to me. Even though research was not something I intended to focus on in my OT career, I thought that the experience of conducting clinical/medical research and working under a mentor with publications in the medical field would enhance my resume and help me further understand the importance of evidence-based practice in OT. Lastly, neurological diseases/impairments were a personal interest of mine, so many of the research track focuses fit within that realm.

Briefly describe the research lab you chose.
I am in the Cognitive and Occupational Performance research lab led by Erin Foster, OTD, MSCI, OTR/L. Her work primarily focuses on understanding the relationship between cognitive-related impairments in Parkinson disease (PD) and occupational performance and its impact on quality of life. In conjunction with her research, she has become involved in developing and implementing group sessions for individuals with PD and/or their caregivers through the American Parkinson Disease Association St. Louis Chapter. She often partners with neurologists and other professionals in the Washington University/St. Louis community to conduct research and provide resources to individuals with PD.

What project/s are you involved with in your lab?
Dr. Foster’s lab is very hands on, which I like. She really gets you involved in her research, which allows you to better understand how the lab runs. She also gives you the freedom to explore areas within the PD realm that are of personal interest to you. In her lab, I’m involved in the following:

  • Sending/collecting/entering follow-up data from PD participants for a study on cognition, function and quality of life;

  • Testing PD participants using many cognitive assessments that were taught in the Assessments class at WUOT and are used in OT practice;

  • Conducting my own research project which focused on validating a quality of life assessment (the WHOQOL-BREF) for use in PD; and

  • Creating/Developing/Implementing a class for caregivers of people with PD, “Tips & Tricks for my New Role,” at the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA).

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

  • Having the opportunity to work with not only people with PD, but their caregivers will improve my interactions with clients and caregivers once I’m in practice. I now have a better understanding of the different needs each role comes with, but also the importance of the client-caregiver relationship.

  • Testing participants gave me hands-on experience in delivering many OT cognitive assessments. It reinforced skills I learned in the Assessments class and I feel comfortable with using these and interpreting the results. It also helped me realize how cognitive deficits impact an individual.

  • Conducting my own research project allowed me to better understand the concept of evidence-based practice. I now feel extremely confident in reviewing literature on my own and investigating the research behind concepts or interventions I may want to use in practice.

What kind of guidance is provided by your faculty mentor?
Another reason I chose Dr. Foster’s lab is because I felt that her mentorship style paired well with my needs as a student. She makes your role in the lab very clear and sets the tone that we all work as a team. Each person in the lab has specified roles and she allows students to work independently to carry those out. Dr. Foster is always available to answer questions either in person or via email. Outside of general lab meetings she takes the time to meet with students one-on-one to ensure that their own personal projects are running smoothly. I appreciated being able to be on my own but also utilize Dr. Foster’s guidance.

How would you describe this experience to prospective students who may be interested in clinical research?
This is an interactive lab that provides the opportunity to get hands-on experience in many phases of the research process. Even though this is a research-focused lab, there are opportunities to get experience in more community-based activities (similar to those in the clinical track). If you are interested in learning more about cognition and its impact on occupational performance, then this is a good way to dive into it more through the PD perspective.

How will this clinical research experience contribute to your career?
This lab has shown me that I am interested in neurorehabilitaiton. I feel that this research experience will make me more prepared for my Level II fieldwork at a traumatic brain injury clinic. It may also make me a more competitive applicant for jobs in this area of practice. Finally, the networking I have done through this lab with professionals outside of OT, as well as with my mentor, will be invaluable resources to refer to well after my time as a student ends. I’ve learned a lot throughout this process.

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