Summer 2024
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The Roads Not Taken

New program spotlight: Occupational Therapy

Faculty members Trevor St. Clair and Kate Turner (pictured above), and Stanley Paul didn’t set out to be occupational therapists, but they ultimately couldn’t shake the appeal of the profession By Sean Patterson

Trevor St. Clair recalls the day his life changed forever. He was 16 and blissfully making his way to his destination when suddenly his car was T-boned and he found himself pinned inside the vehicle, unable to move.

It took the jaws of life to remove him from the wreckage. Medics transferred him to the hospital, where he learned he had bilateral hip fractures, leaving him wheelchair-bound for nine weeks. Physical therapy treatments helped, but there was still something missing from his recovery regimen.

“I was able to rehab strength-wise, but I started noticing some issues I was having around the house,” he recalls. “I had difficulties in the kitchen, I had difficulties getting in and out of different rooms. I struggled with basic activities of daily living. If the phone rang, I had a hard time reaching it. So I started to notice the different daily activities that I was struggling with and told myself, ‘There has to be some better way to address these things.’”

He didn’t know it then, but the accident that temporarily stole his mobility and left him dependent on others would be the very thing that served as the inspiration for a career.

St. Clair, an associate professor of the newly launched occupational therapy program at George Fox, made a life-changing discovery after the incident: Occupational therapy – the practice of helping people overcome the obstacles that interfere with everyday living – changes lives.

As an educator of the next generation of OT clinicians, St. Clair is motivated not only by his personal experience but by the prospect of making an impact on lives throughout the region.

“There is a shortage of occupational therapists in Oregon, and I feel like I’m doing my part to help with that and to expand the field,” he says. “I believe it’s important to have a lasting effect on anything that you do, and I think through the students, what I’m doing now is going to have a ripple effect that will go on for years and years to come.”

St. Clair is one of three professors in the occupational therapy doctorate (OTD) program, set to launch this fall. It’s the latest addition to George Fox’s healthcare offerings, all of which are committed to producing graduates who live out the university’s mission to “serve with passion.”

Stanley Paul in the classroom

Stanley Paul

It was that very attribute that drew Stanley Paul, director of the program, to George Fox.

“A lot of schools do service, but I think our service is unique because it’s based on compassion and the desire to truly help others,” says Paul, whose experience includes working as an OT in VA and conventional hospitals, acute and long-term care settings, pediatrics, homecare and rehabilitation centers. “Service is one of the main components of our vision, mission and philosophy. It’s part of our culture as a university.”

Indeed, the program is an ideal fit for George Fox, with its emphasis on producing practitioners for underserved communities, addressing a glaring shortage of healthcare workers, and sending out graduates who provide comprehensive, patient-centered care.

“It’s very personal,” Paul says of OT. “You really get to know the people you are working with. That isn’t necessarily the case in a lot of medical professions. As an OT, you may be visiting people in their own homes, training them to learn/relearn their daily activities following a stroke, multiple sclerosis, a spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease or other medical conditions. It’s really a ‘rehabilitation profession.’”

Paul initially believed he could best be of service as a medical doctor. Two and a half years into medical school, however, he discovered he wanted a more “hands-on” profession helping others. He finished med school and began a three-year residency in Atlanta, but all along he couldn’t shake the pull of occupational therapy, so he turned down the residency and returned to being an OT.

Kate Turner, the academic fieldwork coordinator for the program, likewise began a path she didn’t ultimately follow, initially earning a business degree before changing course. “I was thinking, ‘There’s got to be more to life than this,’” recalls Turner, who felt unsettled after earning a business degree at Adams State University. “I decided that I needed something more. I wanted to help people.”

Occupational therapy student with a child

That calling led to a job as an EMT for two years before she discovered the OT profession in a brochure. The personal aspect of the discipline struck a chord.

“I knew right away after reading that brochure that I had a connection with OT,” she says. “Occupational therapy would allow me to build relationships with my clients and work with them as individuals, versus only treating a wound or a small part of their life.”

As the academic fieldwork coordinator, Turner’s role is to help students apply what they learn in real-world settings. Ultimately, she loves her work because she is giving students the tools they need to help people take charge of their daily lives.

“I view my role as an occupational therapist as being a facilitator of learning, doing and independence,” she says. “Our job is not to fix people, but to show people the pathway for their own reconnection and how to fix themselves.”

At the heart of the program is a holistic approach to bettering the lives of others – among them young children just developing motor skills, individuals recovering from severe injuries, and the elderly who need assistance doing everyday tasks.

“You don’t always hear how someone is doing after you’ve helped them, but every so often you do get that call,” Paul says. “They tell you they are doing well, and they thank you for what you did for them. It’s good to stop and reflect on those moments, taking the time to think about the difference you’ve made in someone’s life. It’s a satisfying feeling.”

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Summer 2024 Journal Cover

Cover of Summer 2024 issue

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