Putting Knowledge into Practice

October 8, 2015

Occupational therapy students Kristin Goodwin (left) and Gabby Gelfin pose with their “client,” Charlie, who inspired them to devise a tool to help turn shower faucets.

Like their second-year classmates in the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences occupational therapy program, Gabby Gelfin and Kristin Goodwin already have significant classroom experience under their belts. But one recent course, which involved working with clients and staff from Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center (WWRC) in Fishersville, is helping them make the transition to full-time patient interaction.

“Our client was Charlie, who is wheelchair dependent as a result of polio,” Gelfin said. The trio soon identified a common problem: adjusting water temperature when hotel shower benches are installed too far away from the faucets. The team worked together to devise a low-tech solution. They fashioned a long handle and rubber suction device — much like a toilet plunger — that allows the user to grip and turn the faucet while seated at a distance.

“The projects were all just outstanding,” said Ben Herz, director of the OT program. “Modifying tasks is a mainstay of occupational therapy.”

Herz reached out last spring to Clay Huie, director of occupational therapy at WWRC, about teaching an assistive technology course to Murphy Deming’s charter class. A culminating project in the class sought to create a low-tech device, or modification of an existing device, that would enable an individual to complete a certain functional task.

Students gained the experience of working first-hand with clients with disabilities, and the clients benefitted from the projects that would affect quality of life. The students presented their projects — many pairs using video — during an event at Murphy Deming in August.

In addition to significant interaction with clients, the partnership with WWRC has helped Murphy Deming students learn more about specialized equipment, and skills such as adaptive cooking.

“This was a great experience because it allowed us to use the therapeutic skills that we have learned in class,” Gelfin said. “We also were able to learn problem-solving techniques that we would not be able to experience without a real patient. I learned the importance of interviewing and really listening to a client because that is where you really find out about the person and his or her needs.”