Jan 28

Alumni Spotlight – Kelly Downs, MS, OTR/L (’09)

Kelly Downs in front of Univ. of Alabama building

Kelly Downs recently obtained a Graduate Certificate in Low Vision Rehab from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The online coursework took 5 year-round semesters for a total of 19 credits and included an intensive weekend in Birmingham in June 2014 for hands on experience with magnifiers, assessments, and the opportunity to finally meet and network with her online classmates.

Kelly answered a series of questions via email:

What does the certificate prepare you for?

The degree prepares me to work with individuals with low vision–specifically glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration. It provides in-depth assessments and interventions, from an OT perspective, to work with individuals with low vision. The program also provides two courses focused on changes after brain injury. The coursework provided an elective on the business side of advocating for and starting a low vision program.

 What motivated you to pursue this certificate?

eye chart with magnifying glassIn my first job, I worked on the brain injury unit of a rehab hospital. I found vision to be an area that continued to stump me! I attended a 2-day course in 2012 presented by Mary Warren. It was called Visual Processing in Brain Injury. At the course, Mary shared information regarding the certificate program at UAB. I learned a lot from the course and started to research Mary’s program at UAB. I wanted to have more in-depth and specialty knowledge in this area. I also knew Mary as a guru in addressing visual changes with a focus on the role of OT.

Would you recommend this to others?

Definitely! The coursework prepared me to work with a variety of populations: specifically individuals with brain injury (stroke, TBI, etc), as well as the elderly in general. The coursework also emphasizes OT’s role in diabetic self management, including low vision adaptations and medication management. It has helped me to “think outside the box” when treating patients. It has allowed me to see new areas to intervene and new ways to educate and advocate for patients.

 What is your current employment? 

Currently I am working in acute care at York Hospital. I am a permanent therapist in the ICU and with the trauma population. Three years ago, I remember saying, “I will never work in an ICU!” Little did I know I would move to acute care and take a permanent position there!

Kelly Downs & 3 other therapists outside in front of UAB

Kelly Downs (2nd from left) and fellow therapists at their UAB Low Vision Training

What else have you been doing since you graduated from Etown?

I have been tackling the ups and downs of home ownership for 5 years! I have enjoyed traveling in the United States and Mexico. I have kept up some great relationships with fellow OTs from Etown, as well as gathered new mentees/mentors and friends from my two jobs. I have continued my interest in volleyball by playing in a recreational league. My coursework, and working full-time, actually consumed more time than I thought! After a few months off from school, I am looking for my next professional, academic, or personal pursuit…who knows what it will be!

 Any words of wisdom to share?

Look for opportunities and continue to expand your horizons! In high school, I envisioned myself working as a pediatric OT or as an outpatient therapist. In college, I took geriatric courses and thought I would work with this population. I started my career in acute rehab and learned to love working with the TBI population. Before starting my low vision coursework, I decided to make a move to acute care. I apply the coursework in vision and low vision screening with brain injury and the general acute care population. I have used my experience with TBI to educate other acute care therapists on screening for vision deficits and high level cognitive deficits. At this point, I have interest and experience with vision, brain injury, acute rehab, acute care, early mobility in the ICU, and the list continues! Never stop learning or finding new areas of interest! Never stop trying to find new ways to work as an OT and work to the full potential of your license!

Jan 20

Calling all recent Etown graduates…

From Dr. Nancy Carlson, Associate Professorlife is a classroomYou are invited to share your experiences transitioning from student to practitioner. Please come to offer your wisdom and encouragement to the OT graduates of 2015. As you remember, this time of year, graduate students are deeply immersed in their graduate projects. Through your visit to the OT530 course, I would like to encourage our students by reminding them of the big picture… Life AFTER graduation.

When: Thursday, February 5, 8:00 – 9:00 AM

Contact:  Nancy at carlsona@etown.edu

Jan 15

Marla Peiffer – Senior OT student wins “Miss York County” Pageant and Scholarship

Marla Peiffer, Miss York CountyMarla Peiffer was recently crowned “Miss York County” – part of the Miss Pennsylvania and Miss America Organization.  The “Miss York County” pageant is open to young women who live in York County or surrounding counties.  Marla is from Quarryville, PA, in Lancaster County.

Marla’s involvement in scholarship pageants began as a senior in high school when she entered a school-based pageant and won the “Miss Solanco” scholarship.  Since then she has entered multiple scholarship pageants, including competing in the Miss Pennsylvania pageant where she was a Top Ten finalist and placed third runner up in 2014.  This most recent pageant resulted in a $4,000 scholarship, but Marla says other pageant awards have also helped with her college expenses.

The scholarship competition includes a talent component.  Marla’s talent is tap dance, and in her most recent pageant win, she danced a routine to “R.O.C.K in the USA” by John Mellencamp.  The competitions also include an interview with judges.  Marla says these interviews can be very intense with questions ranging from issues of gun control to the Affordable Care Act.  She says the interview portion forces her to think on her feet, clearly communicate her thoughts and opinions, and be prepared with knowledge and awareness of various current events and issues.

Marla, Miss York County (center) with Miss White Rose City and Miss Susquehanna Valley

Marla, Miss York County (center) with Miss White Rose City and Miss Susquehanna Valley

Contrary to stereotypes about beauty pageants, Marla reported that these competitions are really more about service and scholarship.  Her fellow contestants are nice and sweet young women who are also very ambitious, with goals of professional careers in law, medicine, and yes – Occupational Therapy.  Marla commented that the scholarship competition is a great way to promote awareness of and advocate for occupational therapy; invariably she has to explain to someone what OT is and what OTs do.

In addition, scholarship competitions require contestants to have a platform or critical issue they want to promote.  Marla’s platform is “Inclusion Revolution – Best Buddies Moving Forward.”  Best Buddies is an organization that promotes friendships and social integration for adults with intellectual and developmental disorders (IDD).  Marla has been a member of the Etown College Best Buddies club since her freshman year, and is currently serving her second year as President of the club.  As part of her critical issue platform, she promotes inclusion of adults with IDD, the use of person-first language, and the removal of the “r” word (“retard”) from language about adults with IDD.  Marla commented that being involved in a pageant competition is really about setting goals for yourself and striving to achieve the goal.  She said, “It’s neat to see the multiple challenges, even if you don’t win.  Each experience shapes you and changes you.”

So what’s next for Marla?  She will compete in the Miss Pennsylvania pageant in June, in Pittsburgh PA.  Of course, she still has to finish her senior year of college and earn her bachelor’s degree in May.  Her first level II fieldwork experience is also scheduled for this summer in Lancaster, and she has a year of graduate OT studies ahead of her next year.

Best wishes, and good luck, Marla!  Keep up the great work in and out of the classroom!

Jan 08

Domestic Violence: Women’s Perspectives on Recovery

purple ribbon against domestic violence and bullyingBy Tam Humbert, D.Ed., OTR/L, Associate Professor

Domestic violence has always been a social concern. Even though it might show up and be highlighted in the media from time to time, as it did this past fall, it is not seasonal nor an issue for only some. Domestic violence (or Intimate Partner Violence) transcends race, gender, economic status, religious orientation and sexual identification.

One in four women identify as victims of IPV, whether that be from physical, psychological or sexual abuse.  The survivors and those that work toward recovery and a life of incorporation do so through many different venues and perspectives.

A recently published article about women’s perceptions on the early recovery process highlights the intricate therapeutic approach needed for such recovery. This article was written by Dr. Tamera Keiter Humbert and alumni Katharine (Huylebroeck) Engleman (MS, ’11) and Courtney (Lang) Miller (MS, ’11).

The full citation is:

Humbert, T. K., Engleman, K., & Miller, C. E. (2014). Exploring women’s expectations of recovery from intimate partner violence: A phenomenological study.  Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 30(4), 358-380. Doi: 10.1080/0164212X.2014.970062.

Jan 02

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?

Happy New Year from the O.T. Department at Elizabethtown College!


Do you make New Year’s resolutions?  How many do you make?  Do you write them down somewhere and then revisit them to see if you achieve them?

Making a new year’s resolution is similar to setting goals for our patients/clients, right?  We set a “big picture” or long-term goal, and then we make several smaller steps or short-term goals to help reach the overarching goal.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?  

Here are some ideas to help you achieve better health and well-being in the New Year:notebook paper with a list of resolutions

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – even if you don’t achieve the recommended 5 servings/day, at least aim for this 1-2 times per week.
  • Get more physical exercise or activity – use the steps, go for a walk, take a swim, enroll in a Zumba class or other exercise class
  • Disconnect from your technology periodically so that you can fully enjoy the people and the world around you
  • Get outside for some sunshine and to interact with nature
  • Engage in a hobby or leisure activity that you enjoy at least once a week
  • Exercise your mind – read a good book, practice meditation or relaxation
  • Volunteer your time and your talents
  • Allow yourself enough time for sufficient sleep and rest

For your professional, clinical practice, how about these?

  • Learn something new about your area of practice
  • Supervise a fieldwork student
  • Volunteer for a committee or special project
  • Learn to use your electronic medical record
  • If you are not already a member, join your professional association – e.g. POTA, AOTA, or others related to your work
Dec 23

Why Traditions Matter

candle with Christmas treeDecember – a time of holiday celebrations for many, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, or other important events this month.  These holidays are often filled with traditions – lighting the menorah, decorating a Christmas tree, playing Dreidel, sending Christmas cards, special prayers, special music and favorite songs, the ugly Christmas sweater, and often – our favorite foods.  Traditions provide meaning around an event, be it a birthday, holiday, or even daily bedtime.  They are closely related to behaviors, habits and rituals.  Traditions also can provide a form of anticipation, certainty or security in their predictability, .e.g. “we always do this first and then next is…”  That sense of certainly can help people understand where they ‘fit” – what role they play, what they should do, and how to belong – to a family, to a group of friends, to a group of co-workers or teams, to a temple/synagogue/church, or any other organizations in their local community.  Traditions have always played a role in maintaining cultural values, beliefs, and practices.  Traditions strengthen our sense of history and belonging.1

wooden dreidelTraditions can be rich in their meaning.  They can invoke memories.  With our patients, do we assume that their traditions are the same as ours?  Can we assume that traditions have happy meanings?  Maybe.  For some, traditions will be helpful to stimulate memory and awareness of the holiday season and help them be present in the world around them.  For some, the holidays and traditions may invoke memories of loss, crisis, trauma, or general sadness.  Exploring the meaning of tradition will take time, and they may need assistance to create new traditions that reflect new foundations in their lives, the anticipation of moving forward and making positive changes, and making good memories for the future.

What traditions are important to you during this time of year?

How do you integrate traditions and meaning into therapy with your patients/clients and their families?

1. Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noël Piper, copyright © 2003

Dec 17

Faculty recommendations – books and toys

Have you finished your holiday shopping yet?  Are you looking for a good gift idea for a spouse, a child, a friend, or maybe even for yourself?  We have a few suggestions for you.  Our faculty recommends:


  • Toys under a Christmas treeMarble mazes or Marbleworks® (for children over 3 years)
  • Set – a card game that encourages thinking, matching, and pattern recognition
  • Yo-yo
  • Finger paint, art supplies and craft kits – to stimulate imagination, creativity, and hands-on fun
  • Building toys for children younger than 3 years old:  duplo, Lincoln Logs, or cardboard building blocks.  
  • Building toys for children older than 3 years old:  LEGO®, K’NEX, Magna-Tiles®
  • Jump ropes, balls, swing sets, jacks – to encourage unstructured, safe, outdoor and active play
  • Dolls or action figures – to encourage imaginative play
  • Robotics- for middle schoolers and high schoolers
  • Play dough, esp. homemade, for sensory play and imagination/creativity
  • Puppets – for creative and imaginary play
  • Musical instruments – slide whistles, harmonicas, xylophones, drums, bells, keyboards, etc.
  • Games – Sorry!, Candy Land, Monopoly, Uno, Mad Libs, Apples to Apples, and many others – to encourage interaction with family and/or friends
  • Books – for all children.  Ask the bookstore or your library for excellent recommendations  

Books for adults - (or what we have been reading recently):

  • The Goldfinch: A Novel, by Donna Tartt
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
  • Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, by Alexandra Horowitz
  • Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
  • Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark
  • Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, by Anne Lamott
  • The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, by T. R. Reid
  • Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More than IQ and Working with Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  • Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte
  • A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America’s Children, by Beth Lambert with Victoria Kobliner
  • Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink
  • Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation, by Sharan Merriam
Dec 03

Fieldwork Educator Certificate Program in Mechanicsburg, PA

Fieldwork Coordinator and alum, Chris Achenbach, and fellow alum, Bronwyn Keller, will present the 2-day AOTA Fieldwork Educator Certificate Program at Mechanicsburg HealthSouth on Sat/Sun Feb 7-8, 2015. If you have been waiting for this course to return to the south central PA area, here’s your opportunity! We are betting that snow will wait until another time and we can complete the 15 hour training across both these days. Please go to AOTA to register. This course will meet NBCOT Professional Development Units and PA state license (and other states’) continuing education/competency requirements. There are sections in the material that are applicable to clinical treatment, staff supervision and even personal relationships! Talk about one-stop shopping! A true value for your continuing education dollar! Join AOTA and save even more!  Don’t delay – the registration deadline is January 23rd, and we need a minimum of 20 participants. Hope to see you there!Flyer for AOTA Clinical Educators' Certificate Workshop

Nov 26

Thanksgiving – more than just a holiday?

It’s Thanksgiving break.  Last week was the college’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, and our students are already home or on the road to be with family.  Our faculty are spending the weekend with family, too.

What are the OT faculty thankful for this year?

  • Thanksgiving break with familycornacopia with fruits and nuts
  • A year of good health for my family
  • The healing power of forgiveness – of ourselves and others
  • My son, my best accomplishment – bar none
  • Family
  • Energetic, insightful students
  • An environment that supports critical thinking
  • The gift of life
  • My kind, compassionate, and giving daughter who is making a life based on helping others

But what is Thanksgiving? A day to gather with family and/or friends and stuff ourselves with turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie and other delicious foods. A holiday once a year when people take time to be thankful and focus on gratitude.

Table full of Thanksgiving foodsAh, so what is gratitude?  Why does it matter?  Is it something that we think about once a year during this upcoming Thanksgiving holiday?

Miriam-Webster’s dictionary defines gratitude as a feeling of appreciation or thanks. The freedictionary.com includes a definition as being the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.

According to psychologists who study gratitude, those who consciously engage in gratitude exercises (e.g. journals, lists, etc.) experience the following:

  • more optimism
  • higher energy
  • more alertness
  • less physical complaints or symptoms
  • more progress towards personal goals
  • better sleep duration and quality of sleep
  • positive moods
  • more likely to offer support to others
  • more social connectedness and stronger relationships
  • positive attitudes towards school (for children)
  • more resiliency

So gratitude appears to have potential to significantly improve our physical and emotional health and well-being.  Maybe it DOES mean more than stopping to be thankful once a year.  How do you incorporate gratitude into your daily life?  How can we encourage our clients/patients and even our co-workers to engage in grateful thinking?

We challenge you to incorporate gratitude into your daily occupations – for yourself and for your patients/clients. The last paragraph has some additional suggestions, so keep reading.  Happy Thanksgiving from the Etown College OT Department!

Strategies to focus on gratitude:  Consciously focus on the day-to-day world around you and look for the good or the positive. You may want to start a daily gratitude journal online or on paper – jot down three positive things from each day.  You can have a gratitude bulletin board or white board in your workplace or at home to post things for which you are grateful, or maybe write them pieces of paper and put them in a jar to review at the end the year.  Consciously focus on thinking about the positive or good aspects of a situation – no matter how small or trivial it may seem. Send thank you notes or emails to family, friends, or co-workers to acknowledge or appreciate something they have done or to acknowledge a positive trait or quality; or better yet – compliment them in person.  You can find more information and tips here.



Nov 18

Summer Healthcare Service trip in Honduras

From Rebecca Patten, (MS, class of 2016)

May 25, 2014 a group of Elizabethtown College students started their journey to Honduras for a week-long medical mission trip with C.A.R.E. (Central America Relief Efforts).The group was composed of occupational therapy majors and other allied health/pre-med students.  OT students included Adrianna Bertilino, Shelby Brown, Erin Horting, Kelly Kleindienst, Leah Newman, Rebecca Patten and Briana Vesuvio.  Allied health/pre-med students included Megan Fanelli, David Fanelli, Nate Williams, and Lindsey Zearfoss, Alexis Gerber and Taylor Santor.  With the help of our friends, family, and local businesses, students filled their checked luggage with essential vitamins, ibuprofen, Advil, toothbrushes, toothpaste, general medical supplies, children’s toys and much more, to distribute on the trip.  Our group flew from Miami to Honduras.  Upon arriving in Tegucigalpa, Honduras 3 hours later, we proceeded through customs, gathered our luggage with some help from the friendly airport staff (who spoke minimal English), and then we met with Kristi Phillips, the director of C.A.R.E. In addition to our group and the C.A.R.E. staff, a team of 5 general doctors, 2 dentists, an eye doctor and 6 assistants joined us.

Group of students in Honduras

Throughout the course of our visit to Honduras, we had the opportunity to tour a local hospital, an orphanage, and set up and assist with the operation of three medical clinics across the countryside. During the hospital visit, we observed a surgery and a baby being born! We were truly amazed to learn about the differences in health care in Honduras compared to the United States.  For example, we were told that patients who came to the hospital for an x-ray were expected to provide the hospital with the necessary film.  In addition to the lack of supplies, there was minimal radiation protection provided for the technician and patient.

O.T. students playing with children in HondurasAfter the hospital, we visited children in a local orphanage in Choluteca, Honduras where we distributed coloring books, jump ropes, bubbles, crayons, and other little toys. We were instantly welcomed with a smile and hug by each child.  We managed to communicate through the use of charades and basic Spanish and English.  Each one of us made unique bonds with a child, even though we only had a short time there. Our good-byes were by far the most difficult part of this trip, knowing that our paths would most likely never cross again, but we wished our new friends well and gave them big hugs.  We hope that our visit made a difference in their lives and that our donations helped prepare them for the upcoming school year.

You can learn more about our trip on Youtube.  

The following three days of our trip were spent opening up medical clinics in three different towns in Central and Southern Honduras.  Each day started early in order to make the journey to the clinic site.  Once we arrived, we unpacked and sorted the medicine and donations we had brought in order to set up a make-shift pharmacy.  On a typical clinic day, we would set up for about an hour while over 500 people of nearby towns lined up to be treated.  In order to start the clinic day, the Mayor of the town would introduce us to the people and thank our group for coming.  Our team served over 1440 patients in 3 days!

students wearing scrubs to help with a health clinicAll three clinic days we handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children and educated them on how to brush their teeth.  For many of them, this was their first toothbrush and they were excited to learn how to use it.  After our workshop, the kids would store their toothbrushes in their cubbies at school and every morning they would be reminded to brush their teeth by their teacher.  Programs like this have had success in reducing the amount of cavities by 75% in schoolchildren by instructing the children how to brush their teeth.  Children were also instructed to inform and educate their parents to brush and floss their teeth as well.

The people we met during the clinics were so welcoming and thankful for our presence. They were warm, appreciative and sincere people who were willing to share what they had.

Reflecting back on this trip, each one of us came away with our own unique experiences and bonds, but it came to no surprise that we all were so glad that we had this truly life-changing experience.  Volunteering abroad truly opened our eyes to how good we have it in America.  Seeing a third-world country definitely restored “purpose to our practice” and re-energized us to complete schooling in the health care and medical professions. Visiting Honduras opened our eyes to the great need in this world to help others and taught us that even though we come from a very small college in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, we have the power to make a difference!