School of Health Sciences hosts fourth annual Global Engagement and Research Forum

Students from the Doctor of Physical Therapy, Master of Physician Assistant Studies and Nursing programs shared their research during the annual forum at McKinnon Hall inside Moseley Center on Tuesday.

Sporting a pair of black virtual reality goggles, Doctor of Physical Therapy student Alex Japit G’24 shared how the research he’s conducting with fellow DPT students Chris Go, Matthew Lawler and Alicia Wilson will investigate obstacle clearance for older people using virtual and mixed realities on Tuesday in McKinnon Hall.

Alex Japit G’24, left, with goggles, and his co-researchers Matthew Lawler G’24, second from left, and Alicia Wilson G’24 during the 2022 School of Health Sciences Global Engagement and Research Forum.

The goggles displayed a virtual obstacle projected on the actual environment. The team’s research challenged people to clear a virtual obstacle that stood about 15 inches tall, the average distance of stepping onto a bus. The results gathered from research participants offered the team insight into what clearing strategies the elderly use and how to use mixed reality in low-stakes physical therapy.

“With VR and mixed reality, we are trying to integrate that into physical therapy as a way to have someone improve their gait training, and then go into the physical reality because it’s less of a risk,” Wilson said.

Theirs was one of many innovative projects focused on improving the world on display Tuesday during the fourth annual Global Engagement and Research Forum hosted by the Elon University School of Health Sciences. Dozens of future physician assistants, physical therapists and nurses presented their research on a variety of topics.

The forum was an opportunity to showcase the results of collaborations across Elon’s campus, as well as the engaging experiences students have learned from while studying abroad.

Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies Alexis Moore with Johanna Dauray G’23 during the 2022 School of Health Sciences Global Engagement and Research Forum.

Johanna Dauray G’22 will receive her master of science in physician assistant studies on Friday, Dec. 9 at the School of Health Sciences Commencement. Before seeking her PA degree at Elon, Dauray spent a year working at a maximum security prison in Rhode Island where she learned about the state’s medication program for addiction treatment. During her work at the prison, she realized Rhode Island is the only state that gives inmates with opioid use disorder three FDA-approved treatment options — methadone, Suboxone and depot naltrexone. Rhode Island inmates are also provided access to psychiatrists and Narcotics Anonymous.

Thanks in part to this treatment, the state of Rhode Island saw a 60.5% reduction in opioid-related deaths after incarceration as well as a decrease in re-incarceration. Dauray presented the case for why this treatment should be implemented nationwide to help ensure rehabilitation for those who need it.

“There isn’t any evidence against it,” she said. “This treatment gives people hope. I’m very passionate about them getting this medication because not everyone in prison is bad, a lot are there for drug-related crimes … and this is a nice bridge to help them get to the life that they deserve.”

Niamh Sutherburg G’23 explaining her research on community-based doulas to Associate Professor Kim Stokes during the 2022 School of Health Sciences Global Engagement and Research Forum.

Niamh Sutherburg’s research focused on whether community-based doula organizations could play a major role in mitigating pregnancy and birth disparities for Black women in the U.S. by improving prenatal care.

Sutherburg, a member of the Physician Assistant Studies Class of 2022, found that women have more trust and feel more respected by their OBGYN and the birthing process as a whole when accompanied by a doula. Sutherburg entered Elon’s PA program with a heightened interest in women’s health and during her clinical rotations, noticed a significant lack of diversity.

“I recognize my pitfalls as a white woman going into this field. So for my patients to have these services offered and for them to feel more respected is a win-win for everyone,” Sutherburg said. “The push with this research is trying to get Medicare to start covering the services a little more and hopefully, it can promote more equity and decrease some of the health disparities.”

School of Health Sciences faculty Associate Professors of Physical Therapy Education Paula DiBiasio and Srikant Vallabhajosula, Chair of the Department of Nursing Tiffany Morris, Associate Professor of Physician Assistant Studies Antoinette Polito and Associate Professor of Nursing Elizabeth Van Horn were involved in organizing the event.

“The forum gives a chance for students in the School of Health Sciences to showcase their high-quality hard work in the areas of global engagement and research to a wider community. It is a festive time of the year when the whole of SHS gets together to celebrate the fantastic achievements of the students and their faculty mentors,” Vallabhajosula said.

“For those that presented their work,” he added, “I hope that they got to engage in meaningful and thought-provoking conversations that they can use for future work as need be. I am hopeful that those who attended found the presentations educational and informative and got a sense of the high-quality work put in by the students.”