OT Grad Student Thrives In Healthy Aging Program Partnership

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Inspired by an opportunity to partner with San Rafael’s Vivalon on its Healthy Aging Program, Vitality@Vivalon, Ashley Moffett, a graduate student studying Occupational Therapy at Dominican University of California, now has more career options beyond her aspiration to be involved in pediatric care.

“I definitely still want to work with children, but I’m also really interested in healthy aging and preventive health care. I think our country does not focus on that enough and there really is a lack of resources in that area,” Ashley says. “I would love to – even just on the side – create my own healthy aging course in the future or facilitate some other preventative health care or wellness course for a certain population.”

Ashley was hired in February to be the course facilitator for Vitality@Vivalon. For more than 65 years, Vivalon has served as Marin County’s resource hub for older adults and people with disabilities. Ashley had 12 participants during the eight-week course and delved into a variety of topics each week, offering individual health coaching sessions if desired. Ashley helped set the curriculum in the course, which was previously created in partnership with master’s students in Occupational Therapy Program Development in the Community, a course taught by Dr. Gina Tucker-Roghi, chair of Dominican’s OT Department.

“I adapted it as I needed as I got to know all the participants in my class. I tailored it to them a little bit more,” Ashley says. “There was definitely flexibility there.”

There was also some positive feedback. Participants surveyed at the end of the course gave Ashley high marks for her empathy and for making the experience enjoyable. Ashley worked to further develop the program with follow-up sessions to reengage with the participants on their healthy aging journey, measure health-related outcomes, and continuously improve the program.

“Ashley is thoughtful, organized, compassionate, and collaborative,” says Stephanie McNally, Director of Healthy Aging at Vivalon.

Ashley is also humble.

“The clients themselves really made the class what it was, and I felt I was more like a path for them to get to that place of building those connections and sharing resources with each other,” she says. “I really was a facilitator, and I loved being able to help weave those relationships together to enrich the participants’ experience in the course.”

Dominican has a longstanding partnership with Vivalon (formerly known as Whistlestop) who launched its free Healthy Aging Program – with Dominican’s help – in 2021. Branded as Vitality@Vivalon, it is designed to give older adults a baseline understanding of their current health, then provide information, tools, and support to encourage a shift toward new skills, habits, and routines that can improve overall health and promote healthy aging.

The collaboration on the creation of this program was led by Dr. Tucker-Roghi, who was awarded a Geriatric Academic Career Award from the Health Resource Service Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That four-year grant supports Dr. Tucker-Roghi’s work to improve the quality of life and health care for older adults by expanding the reach of OT services and by providing educational resources for older adults and the healthcare workforce.

Ashley, a graduate of Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, enrolled in Dominican’s OT graduate program (now advanced to Doctor of Occupational Therapy program) after taking prerequisite classes at College of Marin. She had earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and neuroscience at the University of San Francisco prior to that.

“I didn’t realize I wanted to pursue OT until pretty late in my behavioral therapy career after USF,” Ashley says. “I applied to a variety of schools, about a half dozen, but I have a soft spot for the Bay Area. It’s such a beautiful place and has a lot of rich opportunities in health care as well as community work.”

The deciding factor for Ashley to come to Dominican was an admissions interview with Dr. Karen McCarthy and Dr. Caroline Umeda in December of 2019 in the School of Health and Natural Sciences.

“There is a role play scenario in the interview. It’s not your standard interview where you sit down and they ask you questions, and you answer.  You actually get to partner with another applicant and then you role-play with a ‘client,’ ” Ashley recalls. “I thought that was a really unique experience because it highlights your skills and brings out your personality. You have the opportunity to show your client skills, ability to build rapport, and ability to collaborate with another person. Dominican was the only school that did anything remotely like that and that really stood out to me. Everyone was so welcoming here and the professors seemed wonderful, and I was right about that.”

The fact that Ashley has a degree in psychology also has helped her transition into the world of Occupational Therapy. She has four years of experience as a behavioral therapist at ACES in Santa Rosa.

“It helps being able to relate to people and open your eyes to other people’s realities,” she says. “We all interact with the world in a unique way, and I think having that in your mind when working with a client is just the baseline of what we should be doing in OT.”

Overall, Ashley feels she has a variety of skills and experiences and is anxious to join the workforce when she walks at Commencement at Dominican in May 2023. She will continue her involvement in developing programming for Vitality@Vivalon with an eye on the future.

“I’m hoping to delve into multiple practice areas throughout my career. I want to work with many populations,” she says. “I love pediatrics, but I’m also passionate about mental health and preventative care. I can see myself working in a few part-time positions, maybe school-based OT with summer work in a clinic or preventative care and wellness work on the side. I just want to make a positive impact in as many people’s lives as I can and truly be the best OT I can be. That’s the end goal.”

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