Solving Occupational Participation Problems

Capstone Projects for Touro’s First Class of Occupational Therapy Doctors Address Issues such as Breastfeeding and Helping Older Adults Use Technology

May 01, 2024
Members of the School of Health Sciences first Doctor of Occupational Therapy class.
The eleven members of the first cohort of Touro University School of Health Sciences Doctor of Occupational Therapy program focused their capstone projects on everyday issues.

Touro University’s School of Health Sciences (SHS) graduated its first cohort of Doctor of Occupational Therapy Students. The eleven members of the first class delivered their final presentations in September and were presented with their diplomas during the graduation ceremony.

“It has been a great joy and honor to mentor and guide the students as they conceptualized and brought to life their capstone projects,” said program director Meira Orentlicher, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, CRA. “The students exhibited talent, dedication, persistence, and passion, and in alignment with Touro’s mission and occupational justice principles, developed projects that serve the needs of the underserved. We are certain that they will continue to serve humanity and have real impact on the world around them after graduation.”

Different Backgrounds, Similar Goals

The students emerged from different backgrounds but shared the same ideal of using their occupational therapy background for a social good. Some of the eleven were students in the SHS’s occupational therapy master’s program before attending the doctoral program.

“I’ve always played with the idea of going for a doctorate, but I had my kids and I thought there’s no way and there’s no time,” said Janey Romero-Marano. “I received an email from Touro that mentioned a doctoral program that was geared to working professionals. I had such a great experience in the master’s program that I realized I wouldn’t want to do my doctoral program anywhere else.”

Romero-Marano said she received the same close attention in the doctoral program that she had experienced as a student in the master’s program. “The faculty was able to really guide us through the journey,” she said.

Jennifer Tokash worked the frontlines during the Covid-19 pandemic as a patient supervisor in a rehab unit that was converted into a covid treatment suite. Slightly burnt out after the experience, Tokash began looking into a career in academia, but getting a doctorate didn’t seem feasible until she found herself at an American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference.

“I was at an AOTA convention in 2022,” recalled Tokash. “I found myself surrounded by individuals with degrees from Touro. The people and what they represented as the mission of Touro really intrigued me.”

Capstone Projects on Social Needs and Common Goods

For his capstone project Christopher Marotta examined the effect of adapted wheelchair basketball on socialization for individuals with physical disabilities. “Society imposes disability on those with physical impairments,” said Marotta. “There were significant improvements for participants who joined the adapted wheelchair league. These individuals were able to be part of a team and that helps them in many ways: physically, socially, and mentally.”

Romero-Marano examined the low rate of breastfeeding in minority communities.

“As part of the program, we were introduced to the notion of marginalism and health inequality,” said Romero-Marano. “There is an established low rate of breastfeeding in minority communities due to a lack of resources and support as well as complications in hiring lactation consultants because of health insurance issues. I wanted to investigate ways to close the gap. The core idea of occupational therapy is to allow people to participate in occupations that they value and obviously, for mothers, being able to breastfeed is incredibly important for them. Occupational therapists have that ability to create these programs and target performance patterns that impact success.”

Romero-Marano found that most women in minority communities would be more likely to breastfeed if they were given more information before they gave birth. “Most of the classes about lactation are geared towards women who already have infants,” said Romero-Marano. “For many women, that can be too late. If they have the information prior to giving birth, they will know what to look for and what to do immediately if they have difficulties breastfeeding.”

Romero-Marano herself is working towards getting a lactation consultant certification and believes that there are more roles for OTs in increasing breastfeeding in minority communities.

Adapting New Technologies

For her capstone project, Gail Stocks worked with older adults and taught them how to use Amazon’s Alexa device and Echo Show to promote safety and function in the home. Her capstone project fit in perfectly with her work in her OT company, EZ Way To Stay, where she works with clients to age in place. During the capstone presentation, Stocks joked about the setbacks her research suffered—the original building she planned to use for the class was demolished; the new location had no parking for people with disabilities and older adults, and the new location also blocked the Amazon website.

“Older adults are motivated, but they just need the appropriate teaching and support,” said Stocks. “We need to address their true needs, not our assumptions about their needs.”

The class was a success and Stocks spoke about how the older adults she trained in using Alexa were teaching other older adults in their communities.

“The professors were so motivated,” recalled Stocks about her time in the Touro program. “They created and developed a program that got me excited. I found out that I wasn’t only learning the material, but I was learning to create something. I could create a program that could make a difference in people’s lives. That’s not something I knew about myself until I did it.”

SHS Dean Dr. Steven Lorenzet praised the graduates.

“We are so proud of our first cohort of OTD graduates,” he said “The students’ grasp and application of the scientific method was very impressive. Our graduates are to be commended on their accomplishment, as are our faculty for developing and providing such a rigorous curriculum.”