Written by Mary Anne Schoenhardt
The Doctor of Science in Rehabilitation and Health Leadership (D.Sc. RHL) program is one that’s unique to Queen’s University. A current candidate in the program, Shannon Gravelle, describes it as something that allows “students to target research goals, leadership goals, academia, or all of the above”. The three-year program is offered in a blended-learning format that includes short, intensive on-campus components (3-5 days), twice per year, complemented by online learning. The program is designed for professionals working in fields related to rehabilitation and health to be able to continue their practice while completing the program. Despite a large part of the program being conducted online, Shannon says that her cohort is incredibly tight knit. “It’s a really great group of people with such breadth of experience, clinically, professionally, and with research” she says. “I find our group really supportive.”
Shannon is an occupational therapist (OT) with 8 years of experience, primarily working in pediatrics and with adults with developmental disabilities. She loves her career as an OT, but after 8 years of working in day-to-day practice, “you really get that firsthand experience of where the gaps in healthcare are, and what those barriers that exist are,” she says. “Sometimes we need to stop and really address those gaps and come up with solutions, rather than just accepting ‘this is how it is’.”
It was this experience that led Shannon to the DSc RHL program. While working as a community OT she applied for a grant to allow her and a co-worker to better incorporate assistive technologies (AT) into their practice. AT can be any technology that allows an individual to fully participate in their occupation, and when working with children, early access to AT is crucial for their development. Through the process of writing the grant application, she realized she needed more education in the areas of grant writing and research.
Shannon is continuing with this research as a DSc RHL candidate. She wants to understand what the barriers are for introducing AT in pediatric occupational therapy. Through the DSc RHL applied dissertation, students identify a real-world problem in a rehabilitation or health setting, and design, implement and evaluate a process, program or system to address this problem. This means not just aiming to present or publish their research, but also to propose solutions and bring this knowledge forward to other professionals. For Shannon, this means communicating her work with accredited OT education programs across Canada to ensure that lack of education isn’t one of these barriers. She also wants to be able to incorporate her research into her practice, to become the best OT she can be and to help kids to reach their full potential.
“If I could have the dream career, it would include clinical practice, it would include teaching or academia, and it would include research… having the whole picture, and I do genuinely think that this program is preparing me for that in my career,” Shannon says. “[With the doctoral program], I feel like I’m getting to build even more, still, as an OT. That’s primarily who I am, but then we’re focusing on the research part, the grant funding proposals, advocacy work and health communication, leadership development, and so it’s that much more and becoming the best OT, and leader, and scholar that I can be.”