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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!

*See http://ge.southuniversity.edu/programoffering/4532 for program duration, tuition, fees and other costs, median debt, alumni success, and other important info.

by South University
January 11, 2019
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Where can a pharmacy degree take you?

by South University
December 17, 2018
A photo of two South University physical therapist assistant students.

The role of pharmacists in the healthcare system is evolving to meet the demands of the profession and society. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 60% of pharmacists work in independent or chain pharmacies, while about 25% work in hospital systems. However, a Doctor of Pharmacy degree can also lead to careers you’re less familiar with. Here are some of the other interesting ways you can use your professional pharmacy training.

Nuclear pharmacy

Nuclear pharmacists compound, measure, and deliver the radioactive materials used in diagnostic imaging (MRI, CT, etc.) and other procedures. Preparing radioactive materials is done in specialized containment rooms. The materials are then transported to hospitals and medical offices. Instead of working with patients, nuclear pharmacists interact primarily with healthcare technologists and physicians.

Primary care practice settings

Many clinical pharmacists are now embedded in primary care practice settings. These pharmacists manage the medication therapy for the practice. Embedded clinical pharmacists are more involved in drug therapy initiation and management than pharmacists in other community-based settings.

Government

Government agencies at the local, state, and federal level employ pharmacists in organizations such as the Food & Drug Administration, National Institute of Health, Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Veterans Administration, and even NASA. Pharmacists are also integral to the military.

Within these organizations, a pharmacist may conduct many tasks, including dispensing medications, counseling on medication usage and side effects, managing medication storage and procurement, conducting research, developing drug policies, and reviewing new drug applications.

Long-term care and consulting

Long-term care facilities are places where the elderly or individuals unable to care for themselves receive ongoing care from others. These facilities include nursing homes, mental institutions, correctional institutions, rehabilitation centers, and adult day care centers.

Often working as consultants, pharmacists review the medications of long-term care patients and provide recommendations and information to the other members of the healthcare team. In many cases, pharmacists provide specialized compliance packaging and medication administration training to care givers.

Home health care

Pharmacists who work in home health care serve patients in their home, preparing intravenous medications for people who require such products as antibiotics, parenteral nutrition, pain management, and chemotherapy. These pharmacists may monitor the patient’s reactions and progress and adjust treatment as necessary. In their work, they collaborate with home health nurses, hospice organizations, and social services team members.

Higher education

Working in higher education can also be a rewarding opportunity that allows you to help mentor future pharmacists. Pharmacy faculty teach in the classroom and also serve as preceptors for students completing experiential rotations. These pharmacists conduct research and publish scholarly literature as well.

Pharmaceutical industry

Pharmacists perform vital roles in the development, testing, sales, and marketing of new and existing drugs. They conduct clinical research, educate other professionals, and advise prescribers on the appropriate use of drug products.

Entrepreneurship

Pharmacists have a long history of entrepreneurship. They have developed products and businesses in a variety of industries including soft drinks, software, online and brick and mortar stores, medical devices, and much more. There really is no limit on how you can utilize your professional pharmacy training to create valuable products and services in the marketplace.

Planning Your Pharmacy Career

As you can see, the pharmacy world has a wealth of career opportunities. Even beyond the eight areas, pharmacists may be involved in pharmaceutical benefit management, regulatory affairs, poison control, medical writing, managed care, and more. No matter what your pharmaceutical interests, the right position can be out there for you!

Get started on pursuing your goals with South University’s 3-year accelerated Doctor of Pharmacy program offered at our campuses in Savannah, GA, and Columbia, SC. To speak with an admissions representative, request information or call 1.888.444.3404 today.

by South University
December 17, 2018
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Why Choose a Medical Assisting Career

by South University
November 28, 2018
A photo of a woman talking with a healthcare professional, perhaps a medical assistant.

If you're considering pursuing a career in healthcare, medical assisting can allow you to do meaningful work that matters in your community. Medical assistants play an essential role in the day-to-day operations of healthcare facilities and are often among the first and last people a patient sees at a check-up or doctor's appointment. If you are compassionate, detailed-oriented, and are interested in working in the healthcare field, here are four reasons why medical assisting is a great place to start.

Medical assistant employment is growing faster than average.

Medical assistant employment growth follows the general growth of the healthcare industry and the increasing need for support workers at healthcare facilities.

An image of a bar graph.

According to the BLS, employment of medical assistants in the US is expected to increase 29% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the 7% average across all occupations.

By 2026, the BLS projects that 818,400 medical assistants will be employed in the US, compared to the 634,400 medical assistants counted in 2016. Such an increase in demand can provider workers with increased career stability and the knowledge that, no matter where they are in the country, medical assistants will be needed.

Medical assisting is more than just a job. It’s a rewarding healthcare career.

As a medical assistant, you’ll have the chance to contribute directly to patient health and medical care. You may interact often with patients and, with an upbeat attitude and positive demeanor, you can help to keep patients feeling at ease and smiling during a physician’s visit that might otherwise be stressful.

An image of a blue cross representing the medical field.

Medical assistants are valued members of the health care team who support physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals.

As a medical assistant, you'll also be learning a lot about the healthcare field. With experience and continued education, you may find opportunities for advancement into roles like medical office or records manager, healthcare administrator, or other related jobs.

Medical assisting encompasses diverse and engaging responsibilities.

As a medical assistant, you may perform a wide mix of administrative and clinical duties, so that you’re always busy and never bored.

On the administrative side, you might:

  • schedule appointments
  • greet patients
  • update electronics
  • manage health records
  • handle billing and insurance.

Clinical duties can include:

  • recording patient information and history
  • instructing patients on medications
  • checking vital signs
  • preparing blood samples
  • conducting basic lab tests
  • assisting the doctor before and during a patient exam.

In some states, medical assistants may also give patients injections or medications as instructed by the physician.

Many healthcare facilities need medical assistants.

Medical assistants can work in a variety of care facilities.  Most medical assistants have full-time schedules while others have the option to work part-time instead. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2016, physicians’ offices (at 57% of medical assistants), hospitals (at 15%), outpatient care centers (10%) and chiropractors’ offices (4%) were the biggest employers.

If you work in a physician’s or other health care practitioner’s office, you may work a relatively predictable schedule since most clinics and offices open during standard business hours, making it easier for you to plan and schedule time with family and friends.

How to Prepare for Your Medical Assisting Career

At South University, our Associate of Science in Medical Assisting degree program can prepare you with the technical training, interpersonal skills, and medical knowledge needed to begin working as a medical assistant in as little as 2 years. Your program will cover topics such as:

  • Medical terminology
  • Clinical competencies
  • Clinical laboratory competencies
  • Medical office procedures
  • Medical insurance and coding
  • Computers in the medical office
  • Human pathophysiology
  • Business communications
  • Medical assisting certification
  • And more
An image that reads 100%
South University's medical assisting program curriculum can prepare you well to start your career, and when South University checked in with our 2015 and 2016 Associate of Science in Medical Assisting graduates, 100% reported high satisfaction.*

In addition to hands-on coursework and one-on-one faculty attention, our program includes the opportunity to gain on-site experience and practice performing supervised medical assistant duties in a local medical organization.

Learn more today about South University’s medical assisting program available at our Columbia, Montgomery, and Savannah campuses.

*See program outcomes pages for more details: Columbia, Montgomery, and Savannah.

See suprograms.info for program duration, tuition, fees and other costs, median debt, alumni success, and other important info.

Note: This post was originally published on August 30, 2017 and was updated with new information in November 2018.

by South University
November 28, 2018
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The Mobile Medical Technology Boom

by South University
February 29, 2012

Smartphones, iPhones, and tablet computers have changed health care.

Healthcare professionals use mobile devices to look up drug and treatment reference material; help choose treatment plans for patients; and help make diagnoses. Mobile technology offers them the accessibility and flexibility needed to better care for their patients.

Steve Martin, AGC, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, associate professor in the Physician Assistant program at South University, Tampa, has been using mobile medical apps for many years, beginning on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and now on his Droid Bionic smartphone.

“I use Epocrates most often,” Martin says. “I use it to look up medications for my patients. It helps me to choose the correct dose and allows me to check potential interactions with other medications the patient might be taking.”

Epocrates is an app that provides information based on clinical drug referencing as well as knowledge to help manage clinical practices and patient safety. Martin also uses the Monthly Prescribing Reference (MPR) app to look up drug information, as well as Evernote, an app that allows him to keep personal notes on a variety of medical topics.

Martin also encourages his students to use apps for reference and to keep notes.

“Many physician assistant programs are now issuing students tablet PCs for use in the classroom,” he says. “Increasingly, students are using tablets in the classroom on their own to take and organize notes, communicate with instructors and classmates, and gain access to medical and other databases for information.”

This prospect of using mobile applications is beneficial in providing critical findings regarding a patient’s lab work, radiography, or other pertinent information to the healthcare provider immediately.

In medical practice, mobile phones and tablet computers are being used in many different ways to maximize patient care and efficiency.

“The ways technology is used can be broadly broken down into four main categories: clinical reference, medical calculator, accessing electronic medical records (EMR), and patient education,” says Tom Lewis, editor of iMedicalApps, an online publication for medical professionals, patients, and analysts interested in mobile medical technology and healthcare apps.

Lewis provides further details about the four main categories of medical apps:

  • Clinical Reference: This encompasses all manner of textbooks, web references, and medical literature management to ensure that clinicians have up-to-date information so they can make informed decisions about patient care.
  • Medical Calculators: Many healthcare professionals use medical calculators to accurately work out drug dosages and other formulae.
  • EMR Access: Many hospital EMR systems allow some form of web access which many doctors use to review patient notes, order tests, and arrange follow up.
  • Patient Education: This use of mobile technology is rapidly growing, Lewis says. Apps such as drawMD and the Orca Health Decide series allow physicians and surgeons to educate their patients and inform them about their procedures and pathology.

“This prospect of using mobile applications is beneficial in providing critical findings regarding a patient’s lab work, radiography, or other pertinent information to the healthcare provider immediately,” says Tricia Howard, an assistant professor at South University, Savannah and director of Academic Education, Physician Assistant program. “Should a healthcare practitioner be off site, the ability to send critical data reduces the response time between the provider and the patient’s needs, therefore improving patient care and reducing morbidity and mortality.”

Medical Technology and Patient Interaction

Mobile technology also offers great potential for patients to take greater control of their health. Many medical apps make health care a collaborative process as patients can work with practitioners to create a personalized health plan and keep track of patient information.

“I visualize the increasing use of medical apps as the Baby Boomer generation begins to age secondary to the need for immediate information in order to see numerous patients efficiently and proficiently,” Howard says.

However, Lewis says healthcare professionals must be careful when using a mobile device to reference clinical information in front of a patient.

“It may damage the trust the patient has in the doctor, especially if you are looking up actual pathology/learning about a particular topic whilst the patient is still in the room,” he says.

Security and Privacy

Martin has found the mobility and instant access of using a tablet for health care to be beneficial, but says there is room for improvement.

“Making smartphones and tablets ‘industrial strength’ is a big issue,” he says. “They are not necessarily built to last in a commercial environment, as are some laptops and PCs.”

Security and privacy are also big concerns when discussing technology in health care.

“Although we have passwords and virtual private networks to serve as protection for patient information, there is still the opportunity to view a non-patient’s electronic medical record,” Howard says. “Any advances we can make in the area of privacy would be advantageous for encouraging the use of mobile applications.”

Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to regulate medical apps. The FDA will scrutinize medical apps that act as an accessory to a medical device and those that transform the mobile device into a medical device. Some of the apps that fall under the regulatory oversight are those that allow the user to view medical images and those that allow the user to view patient-specific lab results.

“I think that the regulation of medical apps by the FDA is an important step in the pathway that results in mobile technology development with respect to health care,” Lewis says. “FDA regulation will not affect the majority of medical app developers or the apps on the market. What the FDA is very rightly concerned about are apps that interpret information and, with little oversight, drive clinical decision making.”

As medical technology evolves, patient safety must remain the principal consideration for clinicians and should always be considered.

by South University
February 29, 2012
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