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Dr. Amy DarraghAs she nears completion of her first year as director of The Ohio State University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (HRS), and after serving as interim director almost a year prior, Amy Darragh, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, sees the school on a trajectory to lead in preparing students for transformative careers in the health and rehabilitation sciences, and as a growing environment for innovative research.

And if 2023 is any indicator, all signs point toward a continued bright future. Among the highlights, according to Darragh:

  • The HRS Health Sciences undergraduate program ranks among the top 10 majors at Ohio State, and the school continues to grow its 23 academic programs with innovative initiatives, such as interprofessional educational experiences.
  • In May 2023, the school celebrated its largest graduating class — 572 students — and welcomed the largest incoming class in August with 667 new students. 
  • Undergraduate student enrollment in 2023 increased by almost four percent over 2022; graduate student enrollment increased by four percent.
  • HRS research funding continues to grow, with $11.3 million in grants and contracts in fiscal year 2023, up from $9.1 million in fiscal year 2022.

According to Darragh, who is also vice dean of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences for the College of Medicine, all these developments show that “HRS can be the preeminent space for educating and training the next generation of health care providers, health science experts and research scientists in health and rehabilitation.

“We’re on track to become a leader in knowledge, discovery, innovation and research as well as in the scholarship of teaching and learning,” she says. 

Advancing innovative education

"The students in our programs are among the best at Ohio State,” Darragh says. “They are talented, innovative and ethical, and they’re bringing a diversity of life experiences to the classroom. When you have that kind of educational environment, it enhances the quality of care those students are practicing once they graduate.”

Darragh expects each program to grow, given that the school has over 1,000 pre-majors, undergraduate students who have indicated an interest in pursuing a health profession or a health sciences undergraduate major. 

“Our responsibility is to connect with them and to provide them with the support and guidance they may need to make their decision,” Darragh says. “That’s an opportunity for us and it’s exciting to see so many students interested in health and health science.”

What makes HRS distinctive for students, she says, is being located on a vibrant health sciences campus that prioritizes excellence in interprofessional education and in a college of medicine and academic medical center that partners to provide quality clinical experiences to students. 

“Our students are able to participate in multiple interprofessional education (IPE) experiences throughout their time with us,” she says.

Among those IPE experiences is the ECLIPSE (Education for Clinical Interprofessional Simulation Excellence) program, a rounding case-based simulation event with HRS and students from across the Ohio State health sciences colleges.

Clinical simulation spaces include the new simulation lab in Atwell Hall, complete with ICU beds and an apartment to help students learn how to provide care in the home environment, and the Clinical Skills Education and Assessment Center in Prior Hall. Interprofessional learning experiences are embedded in this space and new opportunities abound in the new Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Center.

Another priority of HRS is the health and wellbeing of students. One exciting example is HRS CARES, a program launched several years ago to support students. This program provides outreach activities throughout the year. A Welcome Day event for new students — complete with a plant to nurture and grow — allows new students to meet faculty and staff, who welcome them to a culture of care and compassion.

Moving research ahead

On the research front, Darragh says that HRS research portfolio continues to expand as talented research faculty engage in groundbreaking research, in particular with regard to interprofessional and convergent science.

Convergent science, she says, is a scientific approach that embraces multiple professions and expertise to the table in order to solve a complex health problem. An example, she notes, is autism research, which involves multiple systems — family and community partners, scientists and educators — interacting to support the health and quality of life of autistic adults and children. 

“This may entail bringing teams together that involve families, individuals who have autism, experts in accessibility, health services and participation, and experts with an understanding of brain behavior relationships, sensory motor intervention, communication and learning.”

HRS has two strategic research priorities in research and innovation, Darragh says. The first priority is to increase the number of undergraduate students who participate in research. John Bolte, PhD, professor and Assistant Dean of Research in HRS, is working with his team on how to attract students into research and connect them with HRS research faculty, Darragh says.

The second priority is to organize faculty coming together around research-focused centers. “We are hoping to put structures together that help faculty put large center grant applications in these multidisciplinary convergent spaces,” she says.

A licensed occupational therapist and funded researcher, Darragh draws her insights from her extensive experience as a faculty leader within HRS and Ohio State. In 2008, she joined Ohio State as an assistant professor of Occupational Therapy; in 2015, she was associate professor and in 2021, she rose to full professor. Darragh served as director of the Division of Occupational Therapy beginning in 2014, until she was named interim director and interim associate director of HRS in July 2022. In April 2023, she was named HRS director.

Darragh’s research areas encompass clinical trials in intensive pediatric neurorehabilitation and interventions involving virtual and digital technologies. A principal investigator for the NIH-funded National Pediatric Rehabilitation Resources center, Darragh is also a core investigator for I-ACQUIRE, the nation’s first phase III clinical trial in pediatric stroke recovery and rehabilitation.

Next steps

The way forward for HRS is exciting for everyone, Darragh says. She and HRS faculty leaders just completed first draft of an enrollment management plan, which entails the full scope of the student journey called the alignment model.

“The alignment model allows us to consider enrollment from the perspective of student academic journey from the moment they first connect with us — before they even apply — all the way through to graduation and employment,” she says.

The model provides a plan to help the team consider what more is needed to support students, including, for example, student advisors, recruiters, faculty, marketing expertise and technology. “Using that model has allowed us to plan in a way that I don’t think we’ve done before,” Darragh says. 

After a final review with the provost’s office before the end of the year, HRS plans to launch it at the start of 2024. It’s a big step and an exciting one, she says.

“We’ve only just begun.”