Monday, May 21, 2018
Education

Gannon University connects occupational therapy students with actors for unique exercise

RUSKIN — It started with a friendly chat on a plane.

John Connelly, director of the occupational therapy program at Gannon University in Ruskin, struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to him. She shared that she was traveling to Chicago to help her daughter, a teacher in the Northwestern University medical school, with a new project: bring in actors to role-play certain medical conditions with the students.

In turn, the students had to determine the diagnosis and treatment for each illness being portrayed. Connelly embraced the concept and decided to include that type of experiential learning into his curriculum.

As a result, the new college has connected with community actors to create an exercise that's meaningful to both the would-be patients and the students at the university, which expanded from its Pennsylvania campus to Ruskin last year.

Connelly started by searching for acting troupes and learned from one of his therapy patients of two performing companies: the Pelican Players from Kings Point and the SouthShore Players (formerly the Performing Arts Club). He reached out to members of both groups and after a brief orientation, asked actors to mimic the symptoms for such conditions as dementia, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, head trauma, stroke and ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The actors were given a "script" that described the symptoms of the illness and some of the difficulties associated with it. Then, the occupational therapy students interviewed the actors.

An unexpected learning experience occurred during the process.

"We have been learning about different diagnoses in our medical science class," said occupational therapy student Meghan Billick. "During the interview process with the actors, we were able to see firsthand the actual stuff we've been talking about in class. It really opened my eyes to the fact that the things we're learning in class really do apply to real patients who have these disabilities."

Alexa Richter, another student working on her doctoral degree in occupational therapy, said the exercise helped her step out of her comfort zone.

"It make us think on our toes and that's something that is going to be invaluable once we get into the clinic," Richter said. "When we do role-playing with each other, it's so easy because we know each other, but when you're with someone you don't know, you don't know how they are going to respond or how they'll act. It was great to experience that."

Student Adele Campbell said the experience added real-life emotion to the clinical text book descriptions.

"It's completely different when there is another human being sitting in front of you that's having trouble and it's really affecting their life," Campbell said. "I wasn't expecting to feel that emotional tug. I was glad to have that experience."

After the actors were interviewed, the students were asked to write a five-to seven-page reflection of their impressions of the illnesses and the whole process.

"They did well, their papers were excellent," Connelly said. "This is what they're going to see in the real world. These experiential learning projects are critical to the development of the doctorate program."

The experiential approach also proved memorable for the actors.

Shirley Walker, a member of the Pelican Players, was asked to portray a patient with Parkinson's disease and it turned out to be a very emotional experience for her.

"I know someone who has Parkinson's and it made it very personal for me," Walker said. "I'm such an active person and to think that these simple things that I've always done and now I can't do them, that can really make your emotions go a little wild.

"While I was answering the questions, I could just take on that role and give them my own feedback. Some things they expected from me and some they didn't, especially when I started to cry. But it was a great experience … I'm glad I did it."

This event was only the beginning of role-playing exercises involving actors. This first interview process served to introduce occupational therapy to the "patient" and to ask specific questions geared to a specific diagnosis. Next semester there will be two more sessions for the student/actor interviews involving neurorehabilitation and more-detailed patient assessment.

"This is a perfect way to practice what we do," Connelly said. "Where else can you tap into something like this? (The actors) knew something about the disease itself, they had personal experience with it. You can't find that just anywhere unless you get the real patient."

For more information about the occupational therapy doctorate program at Gannon or to take part in the role-playing experience, contact the university at (814) 860-6170.

Editor's note: Kathy Straub is a member of the SouthShore Players and was one of the participants in the exercise. Contact Straub at [email protected]

Comments
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own.Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held at Tropicana ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

SANTA FE, Texas - They gathered here by the dozens Friday evening, wearing their school colors, T-shirts that said "Texas Tough," while huddling under the shade of a gaggle of pine trees, not 11 hours after the first shots were fired.They came to pra...
Published: 05/19/18
‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

Paige Curry tried to keep calm Friday morning as a gunman tore through her Santa Fe High School, eventually killing 10 people and injuring another 10. The 17-year-old watched as a girl nearby panicked. Curry, herself terrified, considered running out...
Published: 05/19/18
Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Before they could get away, we asked the top graduates at Pinellas County’s private schools to write a Twitter-length paragraph about what’s on their mind. We suggested they reflect on the past or the future, or talk about the people who helped them ...
Published: 05/18/18
Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

TAMPA — For those who fear there is no hope, or help, or heart left in this world, there is the story of Anita Morgan.There are any number of life-wrenching places to begin …In the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, cruising over the b...
Published: 05/18/18
Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

TAMPA — For those who fear there is no hope, or help, or heart left in this world, there is the story of Anita Morgan.There are any number of life-wrenching places to begin …In the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, cruising over the b...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons in class placed on leave

Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons in class placed on leave

A Florida teacher was placed on administrative leave after school officials were told that he had students help him drown wild raccoons during class.A 14-second video published by CBS affiliate WKMG showed a group of students filling a tub of water u...
Published: 05/17/18
The US spends less on children than almost any other developed nation

The US spends less on children than almost any other developed nation

The federal government now spends less than it did about 30 years ago on some of the country’s poorest children, the result of cuts to federal welfare programs, according to a new research paper.In 1990, the government spent about $8,700 on every chi...
Published: 05/17/18
Two gifts on graduation day: white Crocs, and a lesson that ‘it can’t hurt to ask’

Two gifts on graduation day: white Crocs, and a lesson that ‘it can’t hurt to ask’

ST. PETERSBURG — Sarah Agee and her friends never pictured themselves wearing Crocs to their graduation. But the foam shoes were comfortable, offered better footing than heels, and now the Seminole High seniors had a story to tell.It all started a li...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Romano: Instead of securing schools, lawmakers saved themselves

Romano: Instead of securing schools, lawmakers saved themselves

I said it two months ago, and it’s only become more obvious since then:The bipartisan school safety proposal passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor had more to do with protecting the rear ends of politicians than the lives of students.I...
Published: 05/16/18