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When Animals & Occupational Therapy Meet

by South University
January 11, 2019
A photo of two South University occupational therapy assistant students.

As they approach the horse, some students are hesitant and nervous. Others are thrilled—they’ve been looking forward to this day since their pediatrics class started. Part of the Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant program South University, Richmond,* these students are visiting the Wings of Hope Ranch for a case study project. They’ve been given a description of a patient and now they need to determine how to meet the needs of that patient using animal-assisted therapy with horses.

For those unfamiliar with the field, occupational therapy helps patients to develop, recover, and maintain the skills needed for their daily lives, whether they’re at home, work, school, or in public spaces. To build these skills, occupational therapy assistants and therapists employ a number of tools and methods, and lately, more and more animals—including horses—are finding their way into therapy sessions.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

In animal-assisted therapy, healthcare professionals use trained therapy animals to help patients engaged in occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and other related practices. Their therapy goals remain the same, with the animal serving as a motivating or calming factor for the patient.

“You could use these horses, or the family's pet dog or a cat, or almost any animal. A nursing home I worked at years ago had a pot-bellied pig,” says Kimberly Alford, the Occupational Therapy Assistant program instructor who leads the South University students on their visit to Wings of Hope.

Recent research has shown that animal-assisted therapy can increase patient communication, language use, movement, play, and overall engagement in therapy. “Research shows especially individuals who've experienced trauma do much better when using animals in therapy,” notes Alford.

Animal-assisted therapy is also a common tool for working with children with autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, ADHD, cerebral palsy, and many other conditions.

Using Animal-Assisted Therapy in Occupational Therapy

The Wings of Hope Ranch outside Richmond where our students visit is home to eight rescued horses used to help a variety of children in need.

Brushing a horse can be a particularly effective means of occupational therapy, explains Alford. “If we need to increase shoulder and arm strength, reaching to the top of a horse involves a lot of repetitions of moving your arms up high, like you would in exercise. Because many patients are more motivated to brush a horse than to lift a one- or two-pound weight, we can get more repetitions with this method.”

To understand how this might help a patient, the South University students try their own hand at horse grooming. From there, they’re tasked with creating a treatment plan for the patient described in the case study. “They have to understand everything grooming the horse requires and how to teach that,” says Alford. “Things like sequencing multiple steps, bending and stooping, grasping different items, changing positions, safety awareness, attention to task, there are all of those components.”

Grooming horses can even teach and motivate children to follow personal grooming and hygiene practices. “Kids who won't allow you to fix their hair may allow it to be brushed and fixed to go into the riding helmet,” notes Alford.

Beyond grooming, the animal therapy teaches children how to interact with and build trust with the horses. By sitting on the horse, they also work on balance and their back and trunk muscles.

Many other animals are common in occupational therapy. For example, therapy dogs may be used to distract patients who are being stretched. Alternatively, therapy dogs may help motivate patients to complete activities that improve range of motion, coordination, fine motor skills, and strength. This might include a patient cutting up treats, feeding the animal, putting on a leash, or playing games with them. Tasks involving multiple steps can help patients improve cognitive functioning and memory.

Using animals for therapy can even motivate children who refuse to eat. “Kids who were fed through a tube early in life often have great difficulty eating later in life,” says Alford. “To get them to try new food, you might set it up so that if they eat their food, they're allowed to feed a bite to the dog or other therapy animal as a reward or reinforcement.

Preparing for an Occupational Therapy Career

At South University, learning about animal-assisted therapy is only one aspect of preparing to become an occupational therapy assistant. Our 2-year associate’s (AAS) degree occupational therapy assistant programs include both coursework and clinical experiences. Richmond students particularly interested in pursuing an animal-assisted therapy job may further explore that area through their fieldwork and may return to Wings of Hope for service-learning projects. However, they’ll also gain experience across settings and therapy tools.

“Animal-assisted therapy is a specialized way to use your therapy skills, but the biggest thing for us is that this experience provides another unique opportunity for our students to practice their clinical reasoning,” says Alford of her students’ time at Wings of Hope. “As a therapist, the tools you use can change a lot but that clinical reasoning remains the same.

At a pool, a therapist focuses on aquatics therapy. In the state of Virginia, occupational therapists can’t bring anything into the house with them on home visits, so they use only what’s on hand, Alford explains. “Every situation, every setting requires applying your clinical reasoning skills to use what's available to help your patient.”

To learn more about preparing for an occupational therapy career at a South University campus near you, request information or explore our Occupational Therapy programs today!

by South University
January 11, 2019
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South University Gives Back

by South University
October 30, 2018
A photo of an individual get a check-up by South University nursing students.

South University Students & Staff Serve Their Communities

At South University, we strive to instill in students not only a lifelong focus on their own personal and professional growth, but also on the improvement of the world around them. We believe that when we are all active members of our communities, together we can become stronger, smarter, and more successful than possible as individuals.

To honor and bring awareness to this mission, today, we celebrate some of the many South University students, faculty, and staff doing their part to make the world a better place.

A photo of South University, Online Programs employees working at a Back-to-School Breakfast fundraiser.Online Programs Team Raises Funds for Charity

South University, Online Programs partnered with Argosy University, Online Programs to host a Back-to-School Breakfast fundraiser this fall. Proceeds from this event benefited Pittsburgh-based non-profit organizations, Kitchen of Grace and Morrow School. By purchasing breakfasts at work, employees of South University, Online Programs and Argosy University, Online Programs raised over $850 to help members of their communities.

Nursing Students & Faculty Give Back-to-School Physicals at No Cost

South University, West Palm Beach Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students worked side-by-side with nursing faculty to provide free school physicals for 400 students at two separate sites. Their work supported the Palm Beach County Office of Community’s Back to School Bash, designed to help all children get the support and services they need before heading back to school.

The South University BSN students began the screenings with registration, height, weight, BMI, blood pressure, and vision testing. The MSN students then completed the physical examinations and provided health education for the students and their parents. In addition to benefiting the community, the event was an excellent opportunity for our students to apply their enhanced nursing skills and expertise outside of the classroom.

A photo of South University, Online program staff members who volunteered at a Dress for Success event in Pittsburgh, PA.Online Programs Staff Members Volunteer at Dress for Success Organization

Employees from South University, Online Programs recently volunteered at Dress for Success Pittsburgh. Dress for Success is an organization that assists women in achieving economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire, and developmental tools that can help women thrive in work and life. Our Online Programs staff helped to sort, stock, and organize clothing at the Dress for Success boutique that assists clients with preparing for employment interviews.

Students Provide Meals for Families of Hospital Patients

The South University, West Palm Beach National Student Nurses Association chapter recently volunteered to prepare meals for the families of patients undergoing treatment at local hospitals.

The students volunteered as part of the ‘Chef for A Day’ program at Quantum House, an organization that provides a place to stay for families of patients at West Palm Beach area hospitals. Quantum House welcomes families from around the USA and the world while their children are receiving long-term medical care for anywhere from weeks to several months. The 30 rooms stay occupied throughout the year, and volunteers, such as our students, help to care for these families by providing meals.

The student nurses and their families volunteered by planning, fundraising, shopping, and cooking a brunch full of fresh fruit, eggs, omelets, waffles, and an assortment of muffins and cookies for 60 people at the Quantum House.

Students and Faculty Volunteer with Mobile Medical Clinic

A photo of South University, Virginia Beach Occupational Therapy Assistant, BSN, and MSN Family Nurse Practitioner students who volunteered at a mobile medical clinic.South University, Virginia Beach students from the Associate of Applied Science Occupational Therapy Assistant, BSN, and MSN with a specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner programs volunteered their time and talents to provide primary medical care at no cost for homeless and uninsured individuals and families.

Overseen by faculty members, the students volunteered in partnership with Promethean Group, a primary care mobile medical clinic at Beach Fellowship Church. The group also worked with the Promethean Group this fall, using their nursing skills and healthcare knowledge to provide back-to-school physicals at no cost for homeless and underprivileged youth in Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake, VA.

Want to Join the South University Community?

Learn more about South University by exploring our site or contacting our team at 1.888.444.3404,or, if you’re interested in learning fully online, get a peek at the online classroom.

by South University
October 30, 2018
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Practical Study Tips for College Students from South University Faculty & Staff

by South University
September 7, 2018
A photo of South University medical assisting student studying at a computer.

When you start classes, it’s normal to be nervous about how to study for a test or fit coursework into your daily life. Whether you’ve been out of school for years or you’re just unsure about beginning a new program, we’re here for you. To help you build good study habits, we’ve compiled our favorite study tips for college classes provided by South University faculty and staff, including:

  • Mark Fabbri, PhD, Online Programs, Psychology Chair
  • Alexandra Young, Academic Manager
  • Rachel Mitchell, MLIS, Director of Online Library Services

A photo of South University, Online Programs student studying at a computer. 1. Carve out time for studying in your day.

Mark Fabbri, our Online Programs Psychology Chair explains, "Finding time can be the greatest challenge to studying. We all have busy lives and sometimes putting studying on top of the list is difficult."

To address this problem, use a journal to track how you spend your day, noting when you’re doing something valuable versus simply passing time—but don’t count all down time as wasted. For example, Fabbri prioritizes playing Minecraft in the evenings because it’s his way to relax.

"I also have a grandchild to watch, parents to care for, my daughter's new novel to proofread, and I need to somewhere find the time to work and exercise," says Fabbri, who is currently working on adding another degree to his extensive credentials. "By looking at what I do daily, I was able to block out 1 to 2 hours a day to read and study early in the morning when I first get up. That also seems to be when I am most alert for studying. Everyone is different, but the key is finding the best time to study for your own schedule."

2. Be smart about the places you study.

Fabbri asserts that where you study is equally as important as when. "Removing distractions so you can focus on reading your text or articles needs to be a priority," he says.

Don't study in front of the TV or somewhere your children or housemates will distract you. Quiet libraries are often among the best places to study, as are coffee shops. If you study at home, play white noise or classical music (some of the best music for studying) to drown out distracting noises.

3. Make your study habits routine.

"Consistency is critical to success," says Alexandra Young, an Academic Manager at South University. "Do your school work at the same time and in the same place every day to start forming good study habits."

To stay on track, set regular reminders through South University"s online learning platform Brightspace or mark time off for repeat tasks on a physical calendar or agenda. Just remember—creating a routine isn’t easy. If you slip up, don’t feel guilty. Recommit to your routine the very next day. “It can take months for good study habits to stick," Young says.

A photo of South University, Online Programs student studying at a computer. 4. Study in short bursts.

Cramming in all your studying at once is not effective. "You will learn the material for your assignment then forget it,” says Young. It’s also not the best way to study for a test, as you might forget what you studied by the time the test is in front of you.

Young advises studying for 20 to 30 minutes at a time and then taking a 5-minute break, repeating this process 1 to 2 hours a day. "Set a timer for studying. Stay focused and don’t check your phone. If you struggle with getting distracted, use software or apps to block extraneous websites for set times," says Young. "During your break, stand up, walk away, and give your mind a chance to rest."

5. Plan ahead and start early.

Planning ahead leaves room for surprises, says Director of Online Library Services, Rachel Mitchell. "Waiting until the last minute depletes any margin you might need due to technical issues or unexpected circumstances," she says. "It's possible you'll need clarification on an assignment or reading. When you procrastinate, there's no time left to hear back from an instructor, colleague, or tutor."

Mitchell suggests noting important course dates in your calendar and setting deadlines for yourself ahead of those dates to give yourself that extra wiggle room. She also likes psychologist Tamar Chansky's recommendation to "set up the launch pad and walk away." The idea is that if you set yourself up for a task beforehand, you're less likely to procrastinate later. "Before your study session, get out your computer, pen, paper, whatever you need," says Mitchell. "Take a quick break and then come back to everything all set up and ready to go."

6. Ask for help.

Admitting you don't know something can feel intimidating, but South University makes so many resources available to you--including tutoring, the library, instructors, and writing centers.

"As soon as you have a question, reach out! Asking saves you time and energy," says Mitchell.

"If you’re unsure about an assignment, contact your instructor right away. Anytime you need help with research, citations, or finding information on a topic, contact the library. We are here to help!"

Young agrees, adding that Admissions Representatives and Academic Counselors can also help with questions about how to study in college. "If your graduation team knows your concerns, they will be better equipped to point you in the right direction."

Get moving on your academic success!

Students can find contact information in the Campus Common for their Admissions and Academic support teams, instructors, campus or online libraries, and other resources that can help you build your college study skills.

If you’re interested in learning about South University and our programs, request information or call 1.888.444.3404 today!

by South University
September 7, 2018
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Columbia BSN Students and Faculty Publish Article Offering Advice on Nurse Bullying

by South University
July 9, 2018
A photo of two South University nursing students

While bullying in any workplace is a concern, bullying in healthcare settings can be a serious issue with the potential to impact patient care and inhibit teamwork and communication among nurses. Earlier this year, a group of South University, Columbia instructors and Bachelor of Science in Nursing students published an article in the April 2018 Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services focusing on the bullying of student nurses in clinicals.

The authors of the article include:

  • Sandra Renee Henley, PhD,MSN, RN, Assistant Professor, South University, Columbia
  • Carlos Paxtor, BSN student
  • Rodriques Perry, BSN student
  • Hillary Wren, BSN student
  • Kimberly Samuel-White, BSN student
  • Brittany Roseborough, BSN student
  • Nautika Wills-Smith, BSN Program Graduate, RN
  • Carolyn Horner, Ed.D, Assistant Program Director, General Studies

Entitled "An Opinion on Mistreatment Faced by Student Nurses During Clinical," the piece explains how bullying imposed on new nurses as an initiation to the profession—an act described in the phrase "nurses eat their young"—can lower the ability and desire of student nurses to learn as well as compromise the care received by patients. The article also offers advice for those involved and affected by nurse bullying.

Advice for Student Nurses

If bullying occurs during clinicals, student nurses should directly confront staff nurses, the authors assert. While this can be a difficult conversation to have, it is important to remain calm and base the discussion in logic and in a shared desire to provide quality care for patients. Addressing and resolving the issue, can allow you, as a student nurse, to better focus on your patients and increase your learning throughout your clinical rotations.

The authors also suggest that students notify their clinical instructors of any bullying or mistreatment, so that the clinical instructor can offer guidance and help to resolve the situation.

Advice for Staff Nurses & Clinical Instructors

Look to be part of the solution by being a good example and role model in the workplace. The responsibility of preventing bullying and improving patient care and student learning is a shared one. Identify and assess your own patterns of behavior as well as those of your colleagues, and be sure that you are helping to create an environment that encourages learning, teamwork, and communication among everyone. Ultimately, this will result in better prepared nurses and better treatment of the patients in your facility.

Moving Forward Together

Clinical rotations are a time for student nurses to discover their potential to improve patients' lives and for them to build a foundation of knowledge and experience upon which their careers will grow. It is because of the critical importance of the clinical experience that student nurses must address and overcome any obstacles—bullying and otherwise—to patient care, learning, and teamwork, while the rest of the nursing and healthcare field should work to support student nurses and prevent them from encountering unnecessary roadblocks as they begin their journey in healthcare.

View the full text of the article to learn more and educate yourself on the topic of nursing bullying.

by South University
July 9, 2018
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South University Volunteers Help to Develop IT Skills in Autism Community

by South University
June 22, 2018
A photo of an information technology professional using a computer.

Angelo E. Thalassinidis, PhD, Chair of the Department of Information Systems and Technology at South University, Tampa, first started volunteering with the MacDonald Training Center (MTC) at their Help Desk around 7 years ago, and it’s a partnership that, over the years, has kept growing.

Founded in 1953, MTC was one of the first US preschools for children with disabilities and has been a leader in serving individuals with disabilities ever since. They currently offer educational, vocational, and residential support programs to individuals with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities in Tampa and Plant City, Florida.

IT Career Opportunities for People with Autism

By 2020, the US will have nearly 3 million adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and, of the current adults with ASD, 70-90% are categorized as underemployed or unemployed.

"There is a huge question as to how we can help this community escape the barriers to employment that they face," says Dr. Thalassinidis. "So, we are asking what more can the Macdonald Training Center do, as well as what can we as a department do to be more involved in addressing this issue."

According to the National Institute for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), part of the problem is that traditional efforts to employ these adults focus largely on social deficiencies rather than cognitive strengths. Interestingly, Dr. Thalassinidis and other academics note that many people with ASD have strengths uniquely suited for careers within the information technology field, including high-demand areas like cyber security. Not only do most people with ASD have average or above average IQs, NICE reports that many of these individuals are skilled in:

  • Critical thinking
  • Rapid pattern recognition
  • Efficient quantitative analysis of data
  • Precision focus

"There are tracks within information technology where people with differences perform much better than the average person," explains Dr. Thalassinidis. "In those areas, we need people with special skills, and some of those special skills are commonly found within the disability realm."

Building a Partnership & a Solution: South University & MTC

With curriculum development support from South University and Dr. Thalassinidis, MTC has recently launched an innovative training program, Excellence in Computer Education and Learning (EXCEL), designed to help prepare youth on the autism spectrum for careers in technical industries and positions.

Currently, the South University, Tampa department has one IT instructor teaching at MTC, an experience they hope to learn from and build on. “We are starting with a course on Microsoft Office Software right now, but the dream is to expand to cybersecurity,” says Dr. Thalassinidis, explaining that their first priority is understanding the educational needs and learning styles of this population.

In the near future, Dr. Thalassinidis hopes to start having South University students volunteer at MTC under the guidance of the IT instructor. He believes doing so will not only help the instructor reach more students but will also contribute to the University’s mission of helping to shape the character of our students.

"We strive to develop our students as citizens. We try constantly to instill volunteerism into their everyday life by engaging them in community events on and off campus," says Dr. Thalassinidis.

From working with and better integrating disability communities into society to offering local organizations a helping hand, this practice of supporting each other and focusing on our strengths is what Dr. Thalassinidis believes will help us to keep up with the technology that is continually reshaping our lives.

"By looking at and working on our strengths rather than our weaknesses, by looking at and embracing diversity and change, this is how we will be able to survive all of this disruptive innovation and evolution in technology that we are experiencing."

Learn more about the MacDonald Training Center here or about South University Information Systems and Technology programs here.

by South University
June 22, 2018
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