Occupational Therapy

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Meet Danyelle Sutton.

Danyelle is a third-year student in Drake's Occupational Therpay Doctorate (OTD) program and will graduate in 2023! In her last year of the OTD program, Danyelle has had the opportunity to complete a Doctoral Capstone Experience with Gretchen Kingma, an occupational therapist and realtor for her business Empowered Homes, located in St. Louis, Missouri.

Name: Danyelle Sutton
Hometown: Cameron, Missouri
Capstone Organization: Empowered Homes
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Tell us about your capstone experience at Empowered Homes. What were your responsibilities and what did a typical day/week look like?

I am conducting a research study in conjunction with Gretchen Kingma, an occupational therapist and realtor at her business Empowered Homes, located in St. Louis, Missouri. The focus of the study is to understand the lived experience of older adults that want to remain in their homes as they age and identify the barriers that prevent them from completing the process. Along with conducting research, I have the opportunity to view how Gretchen is utilizing her OT lens in the real estate realm.

As a researcher and shadowing a realtor, my days at the capstone project are far from typical. Yesterday, for instance, I had a packed schedule that started with a meeting at Chesterfield Mall for the Breakthrough Coalition. The group is made up of community practitioners and partners who provide services to seniors. During the meeting, Gretchen gave a presentation on universal design and accessibility features for seniors looking to downsize. I took the opportunity to network with therapists, social workers, senior living managers, nurse practitioners, and estate sales managers, among others, and shared a summary of my research project with them, asking for their help in disseminating it to their network of older adults. After the meeting, Gretchen and I headed to a coffee shop where I researched online platforms to share my research project before attending a realtor's event. The event was a recap of a conference and Gretchen was a speaker on two panels, sharing her expertise with over 50 realtors. After the event, I had the chance to attend a happy hour with realtors that attended the event, where I continued to network and pitch my survey. Finally, I headed home to respond to emails and messages from senior-focused groups, following up on my efforts to distribute the survey to their network of older adults.

What is your favorite thing about the Doctoral Capstone?

My favorite thing about my doctoral capstone is that it provides me with a rare opportunity to witness the transformative impact that Occupational Therapy can have outside of a clinical setting. Each day, I have the privilege of collaborating with Gretchen, who is a remarkable advocate for the field and showcases the real-world applications of OT in the realm of real estate. She possesses a unique set of skills that allow her to help people find, modify, or build homes that promote happiness, health, and a sense of community. It is truly inspiring to see how she is making a difference in people's lives.

What attracted you to Drake's OTD program?

What attracted me to Drake's OTD program was its focus on innovation and the abundance of opportunities it offers. During my interview, I asked the interviewers what set Drake apart from the other four OT programs I had applied to, and each one cited Drake's commitment to pushing the boundaries of the field and its willingness to provide students with the opportunity to be at the forefront of groundbreaking experiences. Since starting the program, I've been able to take part in two research projects, numerous community engagement programs, and had the chance to advocate for the value of OT to representatives on Hill Day. I'm also gaining the foundational knowledge that will enable me to be a successful OT while being part of a program that prioritizes innovation and growth.

How has Drake helped you prepare for your future career as an occupational therapy professional?

Drake has equipped me with the necessary tools and knowledge to excel in my future career as an Occupational Therapist. The program has provided me with a strong foundation that I can apply to any setting and population, which has been evident through my fieldwork and capstone experiences. During these opportunities, I have worked with individuals from various age groups and cultures, including pediatrics to geriatrics, and individuals with diverse diagnoses such as orthopedic conditions, neurodegenerative diseases, CVA, developmental delays, and congenital diseases, to name a few. This diverse range of experiences, from Texas to Iowa to Missouri, has given me a well-rounded perspective and has prepared me for the challenges I may encounter in the field.

What are your career goals? Have they changed at all since you started Drake's OTD program?

When I first enrolled at Drake, I approached the program with an open mind, determined to not limit myself to a specific area of practice within Occupational Therapy. Despite my fondness for working with both children and older adults, I still had uncertainty about what area of OT I wanted to specialize in. As I near graduation, I remain uncertain, but I have come to realize that my ultimate goal as an OT is to empower individuals to be as independent as possible in pursuing their meaningful occupations. Whether I eventually choose to work with children, adults, or both, I am confident that my career will be centered around this core principle. My hope is that at the end of my journey, I will be able to look back and see the positive impact I have made in the lives of the people I have helped along the way.

What is one piece of advice you would give to future occupational therapy students?

As an OTD student about to graduate, I would encourage future students to embrace new experiences and step outside of their comfort zone. It can be easy to stick to what you know and what feels familiar, but taking the leap to try something new can lead to incredibly valuable growth both professionally and personally. For example, I personally was not the most confident or outgoing individual, but I pushed myself to take on new challenges by selecting diverse fieldwork sites and a unique capstone project. This decision took me out of my comfort zone, but I am so glad that I took the risk. Through these experiences, I was able to try new foods and immerse myself in different cultures, all while gaining valuable skills and knowledge in my field.

Return to the OTD Capstone Spotlight home page here.

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