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Oakland University offers unique certificate in Oncology Rehabilitation

Fri Sep 18, 2020 at 01:19 PM

Deb Doherty said oncology rehabilitation is in its infancy in the United States, and even earlier stages in other countries around the world. However, Oakland University is helping to advance the specialty through its graduate certificate in Oncology Rehabilitation--the first of its kind in the country. Through the program, students are learning not only treatment techniques but also how to work with doctors, advocate for their patients and even build a program from scratch. And they are doing it all online.

What is Oncology Rehabilitation?

“Often physical therapists are not considered as those who would treat patients with cancer,” said Deb Doherty, coordinator of the graduate certificate in Oncology Rehabilitation program. She said the surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and all of the other treatments cancer patients receive can cause many adverse  effects. “We treat the adverse effects caused from the treatment from cancer.”

Physical therapists who specialize in oncology rehabilitation can help with pain management, the effects of neuropathy and balance issues. They can also provide treatment for cardiotoxicity, which causes the heart to function improperly as a result of the chemotherapy.

“We are improving quality of life,” said Doherty. “We can prevent adverse effects, decrease intensity of adverse effects and manage the adverse effects.”

What makes Oakland University’s program unique?

“Not only do students learn what oncology rehab is, and how to treat the different types of cancer treatments’ adverse effects, but we also teach people how to build an oncology rehab program. They learn how to market the position and inform others in oncology programs why their patients should be referred to a rehabilitation expert,” said Doherty.

The oncology rehabilitation certificate program is completely online, making it available to students world-wide.

“We’re not trying to teach someone how to be a physical therapist. Instead, our students learn about treating people with cancer. I don’t have to go into a lab and teach the students how to move an arm,” said Doherty. “I need to teach them to understand oncology rehab, which is built on evidence-based research.”

As part of the program, students find medical oncologists and interview them. They find nurse navigators and talk to them. They talk to pathologists and learn to read pathology reports. That networking is important to physical therapists working in oncology rehabilitation. No one can treat a cancer patient alone,” said Doherty.

She said students will also work with patients, attend support groups and talk to social workers. All of it is designed, said Doherty, to get the students out of their comfort zones and it will open doors.

Students from around the world apply and succeed

Doherty said students from around the world have participated in the program since it began at Oakland University in 2013.

“Sometimes our students are the first in their country to study oncology rehabilitation. We are helping them literally start their programs,” said Doherty.

 One of those students is Shara Creary-Yan. A physical therapist based in Jamaica, Creary-Yan said she found OU’s program while browsing online for specialty programs for physical therapists. She said she emailed Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Jacqueline Drouin, who introduced her to Doherty and she applied to the program right away.

Creary-Yan has been a physical therapist for 10 years and graduated from the School of Physical Therapy at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. She works at the Bustamante Hospital for Children and at the university’s physical therapy clinic.

Creary-Yan said she was drawn to OU’s oncology rehabilitation program because of the comprehensive courses and because it would help her advance professionally.

 “I also found solace in that I would be studying among peers from across the world who shared my interest in this field,” said Creary-Yan. “Equally important was the fact that the professors in the program readily responded and were interested in my journey and aspirations.”

And, of course, the program was online — allowing her to study while she worked.

“Taking the classes online was probably the only way I could have successfully completed this course at this point in my life. I was able to pace myself, pause when life demanded it and excel,” said Creary-Yan.

Creary-Yan said she made connections with her program group as well as her professors. She said the program coursework was engaging and useful.

 “I am now equipped with knowledge, resources, efficacy and confidence to treat individuals and venture into research opportunities in the field of oncology. My personal goal has been achieved and my professional scope has broadened and keeps increasing as I navigate new areas of certifications such as lymphedema and wound management, that will further complement my professional oncology rehab skills,” said Creary-Yan.

From classroom to real life

Creary-Yan said the program provided her with information and knowledge that she was able to apply to her professional life immediately working in the clinic and with children at the hospital.

Doherty said the oncology rehabilitation program is useful for the treatment of patients of all ages.

“We even see children in oncology. It’s one thing to have our bodies already grown up and go through treatment, but their bodies are still growing,” said Doherty. “All aspects of the children’s lives are impacted for the rest of their lives. The researchers are doing a great job at curing the cancer and stopping the cancer, but the children often have problems with their bodies later.”

 Doherty said 42 percent of the population is going to be diagnosed with cancer at some time in their life and physical therapists need to be prepared to help them. For all OU’s students, that might not be in the same way. She said in some areas of the world, physical therapists are not able to see everyone who needs help, or get to them in remote areas. The oncology rehab program also addresses tele-rehabilitation to teach the students to treat the patients remotely with a computer or smartphone.

Learn more about OU’s oncology rehabilitation program

Oakland University’s graduate certificate in oncology rehabilitation program is a 17-credit program that takes about two years to complete. It is designed so the students are taking one class per semester. Students can begin the program at any time and it is completely online.

The program also helps the students to prepare for the national oncology rehabilitation exam.

To learn more about the specifics at OU’s program, visit the Graduate Certificate in Oncology Rehabilitation program website.