Last week I had the opportunity to visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. And was I impressed! Even though I have been a member of the occupational therapy profession for 41 years, I had no idea that the Center’s many occupational therapists are fully engaged in cutting-edge research on a daily basis. For example, Rebecca Parks, who began working with children 20 years ago, was a key contributor to the development of the widely used Brief Assessment of Motor Function, Sue Robertson has been working on studies of the impact of ovarian insufficiency on quality of life, Terry Nguyen has been studying low vision issues, and Hanna Hildebrand has been engaged in research on the developmental progression in children with rare genetic disorders. Although all of these therapists carry clinical loads, everyone is involved in a research protocol. And under the leadership of Chief of Occupational Therapy Bonnie C. Hodsdon, OTR/L, the entire Department exemplifies a community of practitioner-scientists.
Now, I know that most of us are typically too burdened in our work settings to be able to be engaged in research protocols to this extent. It seems to me there were five factors that accounted for this success story:
1) The entire NIH Clinical Center has as its main purpose to provide researchers with a “shovel ready” clinical arm for implementing research proposals. Occupational therapists are key players in its infrastructure.
2) The Chief of Occupational Therapy, Bonnie Hodsdon, is a terrific leader who totally supports the research activities of the therapists she supervises.
3) One occupational therapist, Fran Oakley, OTR, has risen to assume a major leadership role in the NIH Rehabilitation Medicine Department Scientific Review Process and, therefore, can mentor others.
4) The occupational therapists on staff are hard working and genuinely committed to doing research. (I imagine this is why they sought out NIH positions.)
5) These occupational therapists have been able to demonstrate the unique contributions to the research enterprise that they can make in addressing a wide range of health concerns. Because of this success, they are clearly sought after for their expertise in functional and quality-of-life outcomes measurement and for their holistic perspective on well-being.
We can all be very proud of the work of our fellow practitioners at this facility, and I really wanted those who read my blog to know about this precious island of expertise in our profession. As an aside, I was delighted to be able to share the findings of the Well Elderly Research Program with the entire Rehabilitation Medicine Department during my visit.
Wow! That's quite interesting. I am amazed at these therapists can balance between their work and research. As students, this is definitely something I think students and professionals should strive for when they go out in the field to practice OT.
That is so amazing! I wish more clinics supported their staff to do research on a more regular basis.