Building on Legacy: Forging a New Trail of Excellence in Occupational Therapy

Carole IveyA Note from Carole Ivey, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA Chair, Department of Occupational Therapy Virginia Commonwealth University

The Occupational Therapy program at VCU is one of the oldest academic OT programs in the country, and year after year, incoming students say that our tradition of excellence is what drew them to this program.

Over the last few years, the department has celebrated the retirements of several professors who have been our foundation. And we have welcomed a new group of educators who are building on that legacy.

Our research efforts have also flourished, yielding groundbreaking discoveries that are reshaping the field of occupational therapy.

Assistant professor Virginia Way Tong Chu, Ph.D., OTR/L recently received a prestigious $2.1 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health. That's an incredible accomplishment on just her first time applying and receiving one of the largest awards in our department's 81-year history. Her research is assessing somatosensory input in very young children, a population typically under-researched, yet for whom early intervention is crucial in occupational therapy.

Our educational programs continue to thrive, producing graduates who are well-prepared to make meaningful contributions to the field.

Since welcoming our first class in the O.T.D./ Ph.D. dual degree program in the fall of 2021, we have built upon our previous successes and are preparing more students to not only become clinical leaders in OT, but contribute to the evidence base of the profession (not to mention reduce the time and costs of earning a post-professional degree).

And throughout everything we do, community engagement remains a cornerstone of our department's mission. Our capstones are built on a model of leadership, challenging students to take the initiative to collaborate with local organizations, schools, and healthcare providers to create positive change. Through our outreach programs, we are making a tangible impact on underserved populations, promoting inclusion and advocating for the importance of occupational therapy across a number of settings.

And about that faculty! Brooke Dexheimer, Ph.D., OTD, OTR/L, one of our newest members, manages the Novel Environments for Reducing Disability & Dysfunction (NERDD) lab, where she conducts basic and translational neuroscience research aimed at understanding motor control, motor learning, and movement-related deficits following neurological injury. Recently named the director of the College of Health Professions’ PhD. in Health Related Sciences program, Stacey Reynolds, Ph.D., OTR/L, who has built an international reputation in the area of sensory integration and sensory processing, also serves as editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy — the highest ranked journal in our field. And Audrey Kane, Ph.D., OTR/L, is continuing her invaluable work on holistic admissions, most recently working with the American Occupational Therapy Associations applications task group to revise the centralized admissions questions that occupational therapy programs use nationally.

Those are just a few highlights of the many where VCU Occupational Therapy is pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

As we move forward, I'm excited about the endless possibilities ahead. With a commitment to innovation and excellence, our department will continue to shape the future of occupational therapy through our research, education, and community engagement.

Together, we will tackle new challenges, embrace emerging technologies, and champion the role of OT in enhancing quality of life for individuals across the lifespan.

I am profoundly grateful for the dedication of every member of our department, past and present, and the alumni they have sent out into the world. It is the faculty, staff, alumni and student passion, hard work, and unwavering commitment to our shared mission that will remain the driving force behind our success.

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