Newswise — Occupational therapists at the University of Illinois at Chicago have set up a new clinical practice to help Chicagoans improve their ability to perform everyday tasks, such as cooking, dressing, navigating stores or being present in class.

The new Occupational Therapy Faculty Practice, which is part of the university’s College of Applied Health Sciences, is focused on working with adults experiencing chronic health conditions whose ability to participate in these daily activities is limited and with children who need extra support to develop new skills.

UIC’s Mary Keehn, associate dean of clinical affairs at the college, said opening the practice aligns with the university’s mission to serve the Chicago community and the university’s health care enterprise.

“By opening this clinical service, we are providing the communities around UIC with increased access to highly experienced clinical experts in the field of occupational therapy and opening up opportunities for our OT students to gain experience and serve the community,” Keehn said.

The new faculty practice works in partnership with UI Health’s Diabetes Center and Endocrinology Clinic and its Family Medicine Center to help adults with chronic conditions.

“Our practice is unique because we start with self-management,” said Heidi Fischer, clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy and director of the faculty practice’s self-management service. “We listen to what our clients want to work on and make an action plan to achieve that goal. We help them develop skills, like problem-solving or action planning, which will carry over to many aspects of their life. We focus on what is meaningful to them and this increases confidence and eventually improves their ability to manage their chronic conditions.”

The new OT faculty practice also has a service designed for children and families. These services are often performed in the child’s natural settings, like homes or parks, and focus on developing skills needed to participate in daily life.

“We recognize that best practice is to see children and families where they live, learn and play,” said Ashley Stoffel, clinical associate professor of occupational therapy and director of the practice’s children, youth and families service. “We want to serve under-resourced areas in Chicago, so we drive to those communities. We look at each family’s environment and assess for strengths and barriers that could affect the occupations — or daily activities — of the child. At every step, the families are involved and we strategize ways they can go throughout their week to reach goals that are meaningful to them and the child in those settings.” 

In addition to providing needed health care services, the new practice is committed to adding value to UIC’s academic community and students.

“Our department has a strong dedication to our scholarship of practice model,” Stoffel said. “Being part of an academic institution is a great way to bring modern evidence, best practices and theory-guided practice to clinical work. We also are able to bring clinical experiences to the classroom to help our students understand real practice. Some of our students also help with administration of the clinic, like developing patient and family satisfaction surveys and e-learning courses for practitioners working in our practice. This training builds a nice partnership between practice and the academic world.”

“Research, scholarship and the educational focus emphasized in this faculty practice makes it very unique compared to traditional practices,” Keehn said. “I believe this faculty practice is the next level in thinking about how to improve the system of care and the way patients and their families are engaged in care.”

For more information about services, referrals or appointments at the UIC Occupational Therapy Faculty Practice, contact Ashley Stoffel at astoffel@uic.edu or Heidi Fischer at hwaldi1@uic.edu.