Emily Peters became interested in helping people with neurologic conditions to maximize their quality of life as she worked in home health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now a student in Russell Sage College’s Occupational Therapy doctoral program, Peters is in the midst of a comprehensive research project to investigate the impact of young-onset Parkinson’s disease and techniques individuals can use to help manage Parkinson’s symptoms — and she is reaching a wide audience with her work.

In July, the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s published preliminary results of her study on its website, and she is preparing to lead an inservice on Parkinson’s disease within the Acute Care and Outpatient settings at a local hospital, with the intent to educate clinicians on common clinical manifestations of Parkinson’s and treatment options. Her complete study will be available via open access journal at the end of 2023. A symptom management resource based on that study is forthcoming by the end of the 2023-2024 academic year.

In this Q&A, Peters, a recipient of Sage’s Broughton Graduate Fellowship, talks about her research and how Russell Sage’s graduate OT program is helping her build the expertise and professional network to reach her goals.

Please describe your Occupational Therapy doctoral research.

Doctoral research is conducted in a series. The first component includes a needs assessment, and the second portion — known as the capstone experience — involves further investigation to solve a problem or implement a program or service to fill gaps identified through the needs assessment.

I finished my needs assessment, An Exploration of Functional Impact in Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease, in April. The assessment determined that individuals with young-onset Parkinson’s disease experience motor and nonmotor symptoms that significantly impact their daily functioning. This study has revealed that individuals with YOPD experience changes to their cognition, undergo negative social and emotional experiences, and are often unable to engage in their daily tasks due to physical symptoms. This research determined that women bear the emotional burden of Parkinson’s at increased rates when compared to men. The study also determined that as the domains of cognition, emotions, social interactions, and physical symptoms deteriorate, other domains are negatively impacted as well. Previous literature has determined that individuals with Parkinson’s disease do not receive the level of care they need, specifically within the American healthcare system.

What this project aims to accomplish is providing a symptom-management resource booklet, so that individuals with YOPD may autonomously address their symptoms through occupational therapy interventions.

My next step will be developing and evaluating a symptom management resource. The resource will include occupational therapy interventions that individuals can implement to help increase their functioning based on their specific symptoms.The symptom management resource will be completed by May 2024.

The intention is that the symptom management resource will be distributed by reliable Parkinson’s-focused foundations and distributed by neurologists and movement disorder specialists to improve patient care and quality of life.

How have your Sage classes and professors supported your research?

In the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program, there are several courses dedicated to research. All OTD students take Research Methods, Capstone Planning, the Advocacy, Leadership, and Education course, Research Seminar 1, Capstone Project Evaluation, and Funding in OT Practice Capstone Planning. These courses are intentionally scheduled to progress you through research, logically and comprehensively.

I had the privilege of working closely with OT Associate Professor Debra Collette and Public Health Associate Professor Dayna Maniccia throughout the needs assessment. They were instrumental in the development of the survey, data collection, and analysis for this portion of the study.

I have worked with OT Associate Professor Becky Bernhardt and Biology Associate Professor Kristi LaMonica for the past year in the planning and brainstorming phases of my capstone project, and I will continue to collaborate with both professors due to their valuable experience with neurologic conditions. Additionally, I expanded my knowledge of program evaluation through my coursework with Assistant OT Professors Christine Mulligan and Wendy Gaughan to plan my capstone project.

What I found unique about the OTD program at Sage is they value interdisciplinary approaches, and use the strengths of other departments — like Biology and Public Health — to increase their students’ learning.

Occupational therapy incorporates both physical and mental health, and the OTD coursework is structured for one to learn physical interventions and mental health simultaneously, as disability and social-emotional challenges often co-occur. I am utilizing the occupational therapy interventions I learned throughout my education to implement into my symptom management resource.

How did the opportunity to contribute an article to the Davis Phinney Foundation’s website come up?

During the needs assessment portion of the research, I began reaching out to global Parkinson’s-centered foundations in hopes they would disseminate my survey; I was fortunate to have the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Davis Phinney Foundation, Parkinson’s Europe, the American Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, PDAvengers, and PMD Alliance participate in recruiting participants for this study through their social media connections.

I was invited by the Davis Phinney Foundation to discuss the preliminary findings from my study, An Exploration of Functional Impact in Young-onset Parkinson’s Disease. Additionally, I have been blessed with the connections of my capstone site mentor, Professor Kristi LaMonica, who has been instrumental in networking this project across the Parkinson’s community.

What attracted you to Sage for your OT doctorate?

I completed my undergraduate degree in Health Science at Castleton University in 2021. There is an articulation program between Castleton University and the Russell Sage College Occupational Therapy program. That collaboration made for a seamless and stress-free transition from undergrad to a doctoral program.

What kind of work would you like to do as an occupational therapist?

When I complete my OTD in May 2024, I would like to work in adult rehabilitation, either in an acute hospital or acute rehabilitation. Adults with neurological conditions are of specific interest to me, and I have had the opportunity to work closely with those populations during my fieldwork.

How will having this research and publication experience on your resume help you stand out as you pursue your goals?

Russell Sage’s College Occupational Therapy program prepares you to be an entry-level clinician. Specializations can be earned through continuing education courses when you are a clinician. I believe my research demonstrates that I am interested in seeking out continuing education and specializations within the scope of neurological conditions. Neurologic populations are often underserved, and deep understanding of neurologic conditions is critical for clinicians to provide the highest quality of care.

I came to appreciate the focus Sage’s OT programs put on research in practice. Both OT master’s and doctoral students will conduct research during their time in the OT program. The field of occupational therapy is fairly new to research, and growing. Research is essential to continue building up our profession and increasing quality of care through best practices.

Recent News

June 6, 2024

New York State Food Summit Tackles Food Insecurity and Cultural Responsiveness, Food as Medicine, Strengthening Food Assistance Networks on June 12 at Russell Sage College

The New York State Food Summit on June 12 at Russell Sage College’s Albany campus will bring together approximately 400 food assistance providers, faculty from multiple colleges and universities, and advocates to share research, innovations, and best practices for hunger relief. The event will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Armory […]
Read More
June 6, 2024

Q&A with Graduate Faculty Member of the Year Francesca Durand, Ph.D.

Francesca Durand, Ph.D., found her calling as an educational researcher in graduate school, and now shares her expertise as a research methods professor in Russell Sage College’s Educational Leadership doctoral program and as member of a research team focused on improving educator practice in K-12 schools.   In May 2024, she received Sage’s Terry M. Cannizzaro […]
Read More
June 4, 2024

Russell Sage College to Open Speech Clinic, Start Academic Programs With Three Faculty From The College of Saint Rose

Furthering its commitment to the health professions and education, Russell Sage College has hired three faculty from The College of Saint Rose to launch a speech therapy clinic July 8 and begin undergraduate and graduate programs in communication sciences and disorders in 2025 and 2029 respectively.  Saint Rose was a pioneer in the field of […]
Read More