How to Feed Two Birds with One Scone: A New Curriculum Model for Enhancing Faculty Scholarship and Engaging Students and Clinicians in Research

Meira L. Orentlicher, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Professor & Associate Chairperson of Research & Scholarship
Occupational Therapy Department, School of Health Sciences, Touro College
meira.orentlicher@touro.edu

Identifying the Challenge: A Tale of Two Birds

 In the past two years the occupational therapy (OT) department focused on meeting two challenges, one within our college and one within our profession:

  • The internal challenge: Our college is committed to creating a vibrant research infrastructure. We are challenged to engage faculty and students in research and to contribute to our professions’ body of knowledge.
  • The external challenge: Our profession is committed to evidence-based practice. We are challenged to provide our students with opportunities to participate in clinical research. A related challenge is the limited engagement of current clinicians, who serve as clinical educators for our students, in research. This limits our students’ exposure to real-life research in daily practice.

Meeting the Challenges with a New Research Program (aka “the scone[1]”)

In their second year in the OT program, graduate level students take two research courses, which cover research design and methods in both quantitative and qualitative research. In the third year, the students take two research courses, in which they serve as co-investigators in faculty’s research projects. Three to six students are assigned, based on their selection, to a research group with a faculty research mentor. The students and research mentors meet weekly and carry out the research projects.

The Unique Approach: Making It Happen

Doing research with student groups is not new to us. These are the new key elements that make our program different:

  • Faculty-driven research: Topics for the research projects are selected by faculty and are part of their research agenda to ensure continuity. Multi-year implementation helps in conducting pilot studies, recruiting the required number of subjects over time, and having sufficient time for dissemination. This approach also advances faculty’s scholarship plans.
  • Unopposed research time: The most significant element of the program is ensuring that busy faculty members are available to work with their students on a regular basis. On a weekly basis the class meets for three hours. The first hour is typically a lecture, while hours 2-3 are designated as unopposed research time. Faculty members who mentor research groups do not teach during that time. Rather, they meet and work with their groups on the research tasks.
  • Making time for research in the field: Three weeks in each semester are used by the research groups for research activities outside of class, such as data collection in the community.
  • Working together: Throughout the semester all student research groups and faculty research mentors meet with the course instructor to make sure the group is progressing in the research project as planned. The meetings also serve as an opportunity to problem solve.
  • Supporting faculty along the way: All faculty researchers are provided with mentorship to develop research agendas and weekly plans for their student groups, and to implement and disseminate their projects through conference proposals and manuscripts.
  • The added bonus: Faculty research mentors receive one credit of teaching load per group per semester.

Expanding Our Impact: Engaging OT Clinicians

We invite OT clinicians to serve as faculty research mentors and engage in research with our department. The clinicians are hired as adjunct instructors and are paid one credit per group per semester. In return, they commit to mentoring a research group in the same way as full time faculty do. By engaging clinicians in this manner we achieve the following:

  • We have additional research groups available for students. This helps to keep the number of students per group relatively small (3-6).
  • The students have the opportunity to engage in “real life” clinical research.
  • We bridge the professional gap.

Final Word: Evaluating Our Progress

We recently held faculty focus groups to review the implementation of the new program. While several challenges were identified, such as time management, the overall response to the new program was very positive. Faculty felt that research became achievable and progress was made on their scholarship goals. Overall, the program was described as gratifying and rewarding.

To receive samples of our course syllabi, faculty weekly schedules or group assignments, please email meira.orentlicher@touro.edu.

[1] According to PETA (2018), this is the new animal-friendly version of the phrase, “killing two birds with one stone”

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