Alumni Profile: Stephanie Rouch University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Stephanie Rouch (MOT '17)


PhD Student, Rehabilitation Science - Occupational Therapy, Pitt SHRS

SHRS Program Attended:

Occupational Therapy

Q: How did you originally decide to pursue Occupational Therapy?

Stephanie: I started in special education knowing that I wanted to work with individuals with special needs, but not necessarily in the classroom. Then I went into the Peace Corps as a special education volunteer and had a few different responsibilities -- one was working at a medical facility with people who had a range of ages and different ability levels. The staff was just incredible at keeping everybody well-fed and bathed, but there was a huge need for programming and so I started leading dance, music, and yoga activities.

While I was there we had a request for an occupational therapy response volunteer. It's a little bit more of a specific niche in the Peace Corps so I worked with this site to do that and I learned about OT. Then the OT came to our site and on the days that I was there, we worked together very closely and I saw what she was doing and thought that this is an area of expertise that I'm missing. That experience drove me to start taking the prerequisites and applying to OT programs.

Q: What was your time in the Pitt OT program like?

Stephanie: At school I was involved in a handful of different activities because I was so excited about everything. I over-committed myself slightly but ended up learning so much from the extracurriculars that I was doing. I worked in Dr. Elizabeth Skidmore's lab as a research assistant and loved my time there. I really looked forward to our 7 a.m. meetings on Wednesdays -- it was the time that we got to apply everything that we were learning in class and it felt so relevant. And there was this energy in the lab -- everybody was inspired and excited about the work we were doing. I also got a lot of observation time with OT. I would get to observe what was going on and then report back to the team and we got to discuss it, so that was a very valuable experience.

I was also able to do an independent project where I was mentored by Drs. Nancy Baker and Juleen Rodakowski. That was looking at a partner dance program that was developed by Yes, You Can Dance and it was looking at some preimposed outcome measures to see if there was any effect on physical and psychosocial measures. Ultimately, we didn't find anything, because I had no idea how lengthy this process was and just how much manpower you needed to do a research study. More than anything it was an awesome way for me to get my feet wet learning about research and the whole process. It was also so cool to have this one-on-one time with really talented professors.

Q: Can you tell me about your volunteer and service work?

Stephanie: In the OT program, I was involved with Yes, You Can Dance. That was actually a job, but it was very complementary to what I was learning. One of my fieldwork sites was the Birmingham Free Clinic, which is a primary clinic for people without insurance on the South Side. When I was starting my fieldwork, Dr. Jennifer White, who had just completed her Clinical Doctorate at Pitt, was starting an OT program there and she wanted to take on some students. Another student and I got to be a part of that. I stayed there for both my level one and two fieldwork placements and I loved it. Our work there was all about developing OT’s presence at the clinic and figuring out how OT fits into primary care; and what are the OT needs of the people who are coming in. After I completed my fieldwork placements I stayed in touch with Dr. White and had the opportunity to take over OT responsibilities at the Clinic. So now I represent OT on Monday nights at the primary care level, where I get to collaborate with colleagues, advocate for OT, and treat patients.

Q: What have you done professionally as an OT?

Stephanie: I've had the privilege of working in a variety of settings as an OT, including pediatrics, acute and inpatient care, primary care, and research. I was an intervention therapist for Graduate Student Researcher Emily Kringle's study. She is looking at using activity monitoring and scheduling for people who are six months or more post-stroke and how to reduce their sedentary behavior.

Q: Do you have an area that you're particularly interested in?

Stephanie: Absolutely. I just started a PhD program in the OT Department at Pitt under the mentorship of Dr. Natalie Leland. I am most interested in health and wellness at the primary care level. As a health services researcher, I will have the opportunity to examine health policy, anthropology, health equity, and rehabilitation to determine what works and what steps we can take to become a healthier population.

Q: Do you have any advice for current SHRS students?

Stephanie: I do! Don’t worry so much about grades. It’s important to do well in your classes, but grades are not everything. Try to focus on the content rather than your performance. There can be a nice balance between finding excellence in yourself by doing well in classes, but then also recognizing that every one of us is representing the profession of occupational therapy and it's an important opportunity to be a part of people's lives and make a positive change.

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Photos provided by Stephanie Rouch

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