Investing in the future of occupational therapy

Sven Eliasson, MD, PhD, has been a friend and supporter of the Program in Occupational Therapy and the profession since he came to Washington University in 1964 as an associate professor of neurology.

During his long and esteemed career in medicine, Eliasson took a holistic approach to healing and spent a great deal of time talking and listening to his patients to find out what they did each day, what their lives were like and what type of relationships they had with the important people in their lives. Understanding the meaning people attached to the activities of daily life in relation to their physical and emotional well-being helped Eliasson better diagnose and treat his patients. He had a strong belief in rehabilitating individuals so that they could resume their lives and work – their occupations – as quickly as possible following a sickness or an accident. He became an advocate of rehabilitation, and staunchly defended and actively promoted occupational and physical therapy. It was Eliasson who fought hard to keep the Program in Occupational Therapy when its closing seemed imminent in the 1980s.

“At that point in our history, we had very few people trained as scientists in the occupational therapy (OT) profession. Dr. Eliasson knew that was the direction our profession needed to move in. He wanted us to learn how to ask questions, drive hypotheses, organize our work and think/act like scientists,” explains Carolyn M. Baum, PhD, OTR, FAOTA.

During the 1980s, Baum was the director of the Occupational Therapy Clinical Service at the Irene Walter Johnson Institute of Rehabilitation at Washington University School of Medicine. She and Eliasson had been colleagues for many years so when the Program was searching for an executive director in 1988, Eliasson encouraged her to apply.

“He knew I had the drive and the passion to save this Program, and that I understood the need to incorporate science into our work and our curriculum,” Baum says. “He encouraged and supported me and the Program during that difficult time, and helped us become what we are today.”

“Right from the start, Dr. Baum started modernizing the teaching methods, the topics that were addressed in the classroom and explored what rehabilitation needs were in the community. Since she was already connected with a number of neurologists and orthopedists, Dr. Baum encouraged research collaboration, knowing it would eventually affect clinical measurement and approaches,” Eliasson says. “There was – and still is – a strong push for interdisciplinary collaboration because occupational therapists are a vital part of the health care system. I knew the value of OT during the course of my own career; that is why I was a proponent it for back in the 1960s and still am today.”

Eliasson retired from Washington University School of Medicine in 1992. He has been a donor and a William Greenleaf Eliot Society member for many years. Eliot Society members are leaders in supporting the Annual Fund, which provides the university’s critical margin of excellence in its mission of teaching, research and service to community and society. Eliot Society members can specify which programs or departments their donations support. Eliasson is proud to invest in the future of occupational therapy.

“The techniques of OT are applicable in every facet of life, especially as we age. We all want to live longer and live quality lives in our homes and in our community,” Eliasson says. “I especially encourage anyone in medical professions to support OT because, by advancing rehabilitation science forward, the whole of community health will be improved.”

If you are interested in joining the William Greenleaf Eliot Society and learning about its many benefits, please contact Ashley Snyder in Medical Alumni and Development at 314-935-9686 or

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Current, future, and accepted applicants are encouraged to visit. We also welcome people who are exploring career options and considering occupational therapy. Dr. Kathy Kniepmann, one of our faculty members, opens our visit sessions with an informal presentation and discussion, followed by a tour that’s led by one of our current occupational therapy students.

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Call Dr. Kniepmann at (314) 286-1610
or Robin Hattori at (314) 286-1653