Helping the Elderly to Age in Place

Touro Occupational Therapy Doctorate Alumna Transforms Clients' Homes and Promotes Independence Using the Latest in Technology

January 02, 2024
School of Health Sciences occupational therapy doctorate program alum Gail Stocks
School of Health Sciences occupational therapy doctorate program alum Gail Stocks

Touro University School of Health Sciences alum Gail Stocks is an occupational therapy (OT) practitioner with over 30 years of experience working with clients of all ages and abilities. Earlier this year, she was part of the inaugural graduating class of Touro University’s post-professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate program. Stocks also recently received the distinguished Educator of the Year Award from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) for her work enhancing and teaching their critical education programs.

Can you share a bit about your educational journey and what prompted you to pursue your Post-Professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) degree at Touro’s School of Health Sciences?

I received my master’s degree in OT decades ago, but recently felt compelled to reignite what initially made me passionate about OT — giving purpose to people’s lives when they’re having difficulty finding it themselves due to a limitation or change in their physical abilities. I was in search of a way to use my years of experience, skills, and insights to make tangible, measurable, and meaningful changes in my clients’ quality of life. I completely reimagined what my career would look like as I began to explore new research and evidence-based information. I quickly began to recognize the important role that technology plays in ensuring independence for those wanting to live in their environment of choice as they age, and the impact that an OT could make in their daily lives. I decided to pursue my doctorate at Touro to grow my business and my professional skillset through learning about new types of technology, strategies, and techniques.

What inspired you to start your own OT business, EZ Way to Stay? What is your mission, and can you highlight an example of how you helped someone live more independently?

While at an American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference, I saw firsthand that aging-in-place was a growing niche area for OTPs. This opportunity resonated with me, as my own parents needed these types of services, and it seemed like this was the perfect space for me to make a difference. I was excited at the prospect of being at the forefront of this movement and created my company EZ Way to Stay to enable my clients to live independently in their homes for their lifetime, regardless of changes to their abilities.

I feel great satisfaction in helping all types of clients achieve their personal goals and live independently in their homes. I’ll never forget when I began working with a client in his 20’s who had a progressive disability and wanted to live in his own accessible space within his parents’ home, while also having privacy and the ability to remain independent. I was proud to be a part of a team which successfully connected him with a contractor, a durable medical equipment vendor, and a technology company. We worked together to modify the lower floor of the house to create his own apartment that contained a FlexStep, a barrier-free bathroom; an Orbit Lift, an app to control the blinds, heating and cooling system, and lights; and a Wyze camera to help him back up and move on and off the lift with ease using his power wheelchair.

How did your experience working with diverse clients of all ages and abilities prepare you to create a home study course about home modifications? What are some of its benefits?

After working directly with students and collaborating with their families for years, I was able to leverage my in-depth understanding of how people’s needs change over time while taking all members of the household into consideration when assessing and planning for vital modifications.

For example, a child with sensory dysfunction might benefit from soundproofing a space and from being able to utilize a sensory pathway or multi-sensory environment. Yet, an older family member moving into her child’s home might require more privacy and some simple technology like an intercom if she has trouble hearing, or lights on sensors and bathroom safety equipment. 

Congrats on winning the prestigious Educator of the Year Award from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)! How did this recognition come about and what is its significance to you and your work?

I was the only occupational therapist in the first cohort of instructors once NAHB’s courses pivoted to a virtual environment due to Covid in 2020. I had a huge following of OTs taking my courses and it means so much to me that because they appreciated my personal touch and creativity in teaching, they continually gave me positive reviews and recommended me to their colleagues. In fact, they were the ones who nominated me for this prestigious recognition, then the NAHB committee voted to select me. I continue to learn a tremendous amount from my students who work in diverse areas of home modification throughout the country. Educating them helped me realize how much I love teaching and led me to my current position as an adjunct professor at Touro’s School of Health Sciences OT master’s program.

Which key skills or lessons from your time at Touro helped you to advance your career?

I graduated in September ‘23 so I’m now just beginning to integrate the vast knowledge I gained from completing my doctoral studies into my career. Teamwork was an essential part of this experience as my class consisted of a tight-knit group of students, who all supported, encouraged, and learned from one another. My Touro professors taught me the important skills necessary to successfully write a manuscript as well, which is now under review for publication in an academic journal. They encouraged me to present at the recent New York State Occupational Therapy Association conference and highlighted how to grow my program nationwide through grants as well.  

What advice would you give to aspiring occupational therapist entrepreneurs? Any advice for students considering pursuing their doctoral studies in this field?

OTs who are considering becoming entrepreneurs should thoroughly investigate the specific niche that motivates them and ask themselves if they can leverage their skills, knowledge, and passion to make a positive impact in that area. Joining the AOTA community forum or other groups in their area of interest will give them the opportunity to ask questions and receive advice and insight from others who may have more experience in the field or even from someone who has overcome a similar barrier. For an OT considering developing a business in home safety modifications and accessibility, it’s key to stay abreast of new technological innovations as this is ever-changing. Additionally, receiving a doctoral degree can provide an OT with the opportunity to do research and learn more about how to advocate for community health partnerships, in addition to the best ways to successfully create programs to benefit those in their own community, and potentially communities nationwide.