When COVID-19 closes one door, CUW’s occupational therapy professors and students find creative ways to open another one.

When COVID-19 closes one door, CUW’s occupational therapy professors and students find creative ways to open another one.

This semester, OT professors Stacey Kukor and Stephanie Bonk went the extra mile to ensure that students in the program could fulfill their requisite clinical experiences—and in the process, they reached a population traditionally not served by occupational therapists.

Five students—Emily Orth, Alyssa Kagay, Megan Mayer, Megan Wirtz, and Rebekah Hadle—have spent the semester putting their OT experience into practice for the benefit of parishioners at two partner congregations, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Grafton and St. Paul Lutheran Church in West Allis.

In a typical semester, these students would be fulfilling their Level II fieldwork placements within a hospital, skilled nursing facility, outpatient clinic, or other clinic setting. Due to COVID-19, however, many of Concordia’s usual healthcare partners were forced to forfeit their involvement in the students’ learning experiences.

Instead, with oversight from Kukor and Bonk, the students hosted ongoing wellness initiatives such as an outdoor exercise group, an inspirational book club, and a stress relief/emotional wellness group.

“The parish wellness program was a more viable option this semester because our own faculty were supervising, and we were mixing in-person with online supervision,” Kukor said. “It was also a placement that could be adapted to a total telehealth model if needed. A lot of credit goes to our students for jumping in and tackling this revised experience with enthusiasm.”

Many of the clients who participated self-identified through a survey created by the students. Some were recommended by workers in the churches.

Kagay, who served the congregants of St. Paul in Grafton, said the experience was unexpected, but proved to be a blessing.

“I think this fieldwork experience has widened my perspective of the role of an occupational therapist, as many of the parishioners we are serving do not have formal, clinical diagnoses we are treating,” Kagay said. “Even so, many have benefitted physically and emotionally from the groups and assessments we have offered. Our professors have walked alongside us throughout the process and given us new perspectives on how we can innovatively meet the different needs of the populations while still incorporating traditional roles and treatment models we have learned in classes.”

Come rain or shine

Kagay and Orth, who also served at St. Paul in Grafton, hosted a weekly exercise class in Centennial Park that drew a handful of regulars each session. At their final session, which was held on Oct. 26, the pair handed out a packet of exercises for clients to continue using at home.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

If this story has inspired you, why not explore how you can help further Concordia's mission through giving.