An interview with Emily Peters on Advocacy through Occupational Therapy on August 29, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
My name is Emily Peters, and I am a third year Doctor of Occupational Therapy student at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY, USA.
For the past two years, I have been conducting research into the functional impact of young onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD); my doctoral thesis will focus on developing and evaluating a symptom management resource for YOPD utilizing occupational therapy interventions to promote function and quality of life.
Outside of my research, I am a newlywed to my wonderful and supportive husband Max, and proud dog mom to my 5-year-old German shepherd, Klaus!
Please tell me a little about your background and what got you involved with awareness.
I am a Doctor of Occupational Therapy student at Russell Sage College and my clinical experience consists of acute care hospitals and acute inpatient rehabilitation.
In 2022, I began dedicating my doctoral thesis to YOPD. During my coursework, I was connected with Dr. Kristi LaMonica, who is my site mentor for my project and experience, by my professors Dr. Becky Bernhardt and Dr. Debra Collette.
Dr. LaMonica is the department chair of the Biology and Health Sciences department at Russell Sage College, she is also a person with Parkinson’s (PWP). Dr. LaMonica is involved in a variety of advocacy efforts, and I am so grateful that she has invited me along as a student and is willing to share her expertise with me.
Can you tell me more about your advocacy?
My advocacy for PD lies within the scope of occupational therapy. My mission is to provide individuals globally with YOPD access to free evidence-based occupational therapy interventions and connect them directly with relevant healthcare and health promotion resources.
I advocate for individuals to engage in tasks meaningful to them, increasing activity, and healthy behaviors, and ensuring safe and functional independence for individuals with YOPD.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I worked as a home health aide, primarily for individuals with neurological conditions. I had the unique opportunity to witness the daily struggles people with neurological conditions face in their homes, physically, emotionally, and cognitively.
I became involved in Parkinson’s awareness during my research series at Russell Sage College and my advocacy efforts were inspired through my time working closely with Dr. Kristi LaMonica.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s awareness have when working with you?
As an occupational therapy student, I have the unique opportunity to discuss research and best practice with other clinicians. Recently during my clinical experience in an acute hospital in upstate New York, I conducted an educational presentation to physical and occupational therapists on the common motor and non-motor symptoms of PD, evidence based interventions within our scope that can be provided to persons with PD, and reputable resources to provide directly to patients with PD. Attendees reported the information was beneficial, and would optimize their ability to provide care to their patients with PD.
What effect can your advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s awareness?
Occupational therapy is a unique profession in the sense we can address physical dysfunction, cognitive difficulties, and social-emotional considerations. Individuals with PD face a variety of challenges, and the symptoms are unique to everyone. My advocacy pertains to educating allied health professionals on the nuanced needs of individuals with YOPD and PD, and educating individuals with PD on the occupational therapy interventions and benefits available to them.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your advocacy?
Recent data has indicated that approximately 20% of individuals with PD receive physical therapy, 9% received occupational therapy and 7% have speech therapy (Pearson et al., 2023). As less than 10% of individuals with PD are receiving Medicare access occupational therapy, a future goal for my advocacy efforts is to increase the percentage of individuals with PD and YOPD that are receiving occupational therapy services. I intend to advocate for the utilization of occupational therapy in interdisciplinary care for persons with PD, and to educate both clinicians and patients on the benefits OT can bring to their plan of care.
What events do you participate in?
This October I will be presenting results from my study, An Exploration of Functional Impact in Young-onset Parkinson’s Disease, at the American Occupational Therapy Association Adult Rehabilitation Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Additionally, I will be presenting my project at the New York State Occupational Therapy Association (NYSOTA) conference in upstate New York this October to occupational therapists and occupational therapy students in New York.
I recently became an ambassador for the Parkinson’s foundation. In this role I intend to participate in multiple volunteer opportunities within the upstate New York area to promote awareness.
This spring, I participated in a volunteer opportunity at the Davis Phinney Foundation at their conference in Clifton Park, New York alongside other students from Russell Sage College. Volunteering at this event included setting up and organizing vendor tables, assembling resources and education bags, and assisting attendees and caregivers as needed. This opportunity for volunteering was coordinated by Dr. Kristi LaMonica.
As a part of my clinical fieldwork rotations, students are expected to produce and conduct an educational presentation. I delivered an in-service presentation at a local hospital to occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy clinicians about the needs of individuals with PD in acute and outpatient settings. I also created a resource booklet that was provided to attendees.
How does this also assist the caregivers?
Occupational therapy practitioners look at the individual holistically when planning treatments and interventions. It is impossible to isolate a person from their roles, routines, values, and social connections. Within my project, I have curated resources for caregivers and patients into one document to increase ease and accessibility to support the wellbeing and independence of the person with PD.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
I am happy to speak with others about my experience as a student researcher and being a student in an occupational therapy program. I can be contacted through LinkedIn under the name Emily Peters. Anyone who has clinical questions should consult with their doctor and, if they wish, request a referral to a licensed occupational therapist. Any additional questions in regard to Russell Sage College can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson community, what would it be?
First, I would like to thank the Parkinson’s community for welcoming me, and their willingness to help me learn as a student. This community is strong, connected, and persevering. The PD community helps each other and will continue to even after a cure.
How can others become advocates?
Advocacy begins with simply talking to others and being open about your experiences, connecting with others, and listening to their stories.
I have volunteered through the Parkinson’s Foundation and the Davis Phinney Foundation, specifically and many foundation sites will have a tab on their website to sign up to volunteer.
What are your next steps in your advocacy?
I will be creating a symptom management resource for YOPD containing occupational therapy interventions during the final months of my doctoral thesis. This symptom management resource will be produced in a PDF and booklet format to increase accessibility to occupational therapy interventions that can be utilized within your own home. The symptom management resource can be anticipated in May 2024.
Pearson, C., Hartzman, A., Munevar, D. et al. (2023). Care access and utilization among Medicare beneficiaries living with Parkinson’s disease. npj Parkinsons Dis. 9, 108. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41531-023-00523-y