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Research Stories: Amy Nwora, PhD

Research Stories: Amy Nwora, PhD

Nwora, who served as chair of Occupational Therapy for 6 years, wrote the curriculum for the college’s planned health professions educator doctorate program

Buffalo, New York – February 11, 2015 –

Making sure the world has enough occupational therapists in the future comes with a few trade-offs, and at D’Youville College, Amy Nwora is in charge of designing how those trades will happen.

In mid-December, she could be found exhaling because the proposed curriculum for the college’s planned health professions educator doctorate program had just been submitted to New York state for review, and she hoped, approval.

Dr. Nwora, chairwoman of the D’Youville occupational therapy (OT) department for six years, wrote the curriculum. Consider it a case of, if you want something done, give it to a busy person. “I was ready for a new challenge,” she said. “I always have a million things going on, but I knew how much this is needed, and how much greater the need is forecast to be far into the future.”

The new doctorate will turn health care clinicians into health care researchers and instructors, transitioning at least some out of the medical office in favor of a classroom, or, more specifically, a virtual classroom. The program will be fully online.

She wasn’t flying solo on writing the curriculum. “It has been a process,” she says. “It has taken years. Fortunately, at the college we have the ability to talk to each other and bounce ideas off each other.” The result is a carefully crafted curriculum containing the material healthcare professionals will need in their repertoire to be able to do their jobs as faculty. If all goes according to schedule, the new doctorate could launch in fall 2015 or spring 2016.

The rest of her campus and community involvement takes up another two pages of Dr. Nwora’s CV, and that is before the reader even reaches the one special line that mentions a subject far, far removed from campus but dear to her heart: the foundation she and her husband started to bring sports training and education to children in Africa. Global Sports Advantage is inspired by the life story of Dr. Nwora’s husband, Alex, who came from Nigeria to play basketball on a sports scholarship at Daemen College.

Today the couple sponsor sports camps for impoverished children in Africa and train coaches there.

Dr. Nwora describes coming to D’Youville as a “fluke,” albeit a good one. She was finishing her dissertation for her doctorate in educational psychology when a friend saw a D’Youville ad for an instructor and suggested she apply.

“I had expected I would go into research,” she said. Instead, she began teaching practically minutes after she was done being a student. Her memory of those first weeks helped inform the new curriculum. “It was all new to me, so I can relate to the feeling of not knowing exactly what to do.”

Specializing in pediatrics was another unexpected twist in her career. “I always expected to work with adult OT patients, always,” she said, “but as it turns out I have NEVER worked with an adult in OT. I started in ‘peds’ and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”

When treating such young patients, the goal is to help them become as functional as possible with the everyday activities in their lives. She has worked in hospitals, where much of the dialogue is with parents, and in schools, where her conversations are more often with the child’s teachers.

For her, everyone is an individual. “I don’t want to call people by their disease or disability. I want to help people fulfill themselves.”

That desire caused her to take on what could be an impossible project: to bring the advances of Western medicine to the invisible disabled population of West Africa. “When we visited (Nigeria) I was shocked by the conditions of people with disabilities. They would be on scooter boards—like a child would ride—pushing themselves through the streets filled with cars, you couldn’t see them; they were so low. They wear flip-flops on their hands so they can push,” she said. “I needed to do something.”

She only speaks one of the country’s many languages, Igbo, but her husband is fluent in eight languages, so he acted as interpreter as she interviewed disabled people about how they were perceived in their culture, how they were treated and how they coped. She presented her paper at universities in Nigeria and sees it as a start.

“It is hard to change a culture. Do the people even have access to medical professionals? Some don’t even know what is causing their disability,” she said. “They aren’t shunned. People just don’t see them.”

For Amy Nwora, however, obstacles seem to be no more than another thing to handle. Almost unbelievably, she is not overwhelmed.

“You’ve got to do what’s in your heart,” she says, “and then you hope it works out.”

Story by Melinda Miller

Photo by Bob Kirkham