PhD Student Awarded Grant to Elucidate Neonatal Therapist Team Care in NICU Settings
Sarah Elkington, a third-year student in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences PhD program, was recently awarded a competitive $5,000 grant through the Texas Occupational Therapy Foundation.
Elkington began her studies in the IHS PhD program in Fall 2018 and has since managed her full-time studies along with an active career as a neonatal intensive care (NICU) occupational therapist. Elkington also serves as one of two student representatives to the program’s advisory committee.
Elkington’s foray into grant writing began through a grant-writing course at UTEP and her activity as a member of the Texas Occupational Therapy Association (TOTA). She says that she approached a faculty member who was on the grant committee for the Texas Occupational Therapy Foundation (TOTF) – the philanthropic branch of TOTA – and was encouraged to submit the grant after speaking to him about her idea – a strategy she says any student wanting to submit a grant should consider.
“I would encourage other students to reach out to the grant contacts and ask questions,” she said. “Getting early feedback if and how my idea fit the values and mission of the grant source helped to target the wording of my proposal.”
Under the direction of her mentor, Dr. Celia Pechak, and committee members, Drs. William Roberts and Jacob Martinez (School of Nursing), Elkington wrote several drafts of her request, a process she calls “both challenging and empowering.” As part of the review process, she also responded to questions posed by the TOTF grant reviewers regarding her proposal.
The final product, a project that will begin this June, aims to define integrated collaborative care from the perspective of neonatal therapists (NTs) working in the NICU – a team that often includes occupational and physical therapists or speech-language pathologists. Elkington is targeting a gap in the literature surrounding these professionals, specifically how NTs work together among themselves and with other professionals in the NICU in their daily work. She plans to use a multi-case study design, studying teams of NTs across the country and using individual interviews to gather data about each case or worksite.
Elkington plans to submit her findings for publication, targeting both the American Journal of Occupational Therapy and the Journal of Perinatology. Additionally, as a condition of the grant, she will present her findings at the TOTA annual conference, and also plans to present at the annual conferences of the American Occupational Therapy Association and the National Association of Neonatal Therapists.
Elkington says the experience will hopefully open doors to future collaborations with other researchers. “I understand that establishing early that my research line is meaningfully filling a gap in literature and is fundable is important to develop respect by peers and other researchers in my field.”
After defending her dissertation and completing her degree, Elkington plans to keep her options open and says she hopes to find “unique ways to continue applying [her] clinical and academic talents.”
For more information about the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences PhD Program, please visit: www.utep.edu/chs/ihs.