CSU’s OT department celebrates its first Ph.D. graduate

Beth Fields
Beth Fields, OT’s first Ph.D graduate

Colorado State University’s nationally ranked Department of Occupational Therapy has reached a milestone this summer with its first Ph.D. graduate to come out of the program. Beth Fields earned her M.S. in 2014 and Ph.D. in 2017.

Fields’ interest in occupational therapy can be traced back to her time as an undergraduate student. Before coming to CSU, Fields attended the University of Wisconsin as a rehabilitation psychology major. Upon receiving her bachelor’s degree, she decided to take her education one step further.

“I always knew I wanted to do something in health care, but I did not know where to start,” Fields said. “So, I started shadowing health care professionals and immediately connected with occupational therapy. I really appreciate how occupational therapists help their patients participate in everyday activities, no matter their health condition, disability or risk factors.”

Fields decided to continue her education in pursuit of a master’s degree and doctorate in CSU’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

Research opportunities in OT

Fields moved to Fort Collins and dove head-first into CSU’s challenging OT program. For guidance and mentoring, she turned to Wendy Wood, professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy.

“Beth contacted me early on about research opportunities,” Wood said. “She was on an accelerated track for her master’s and Ph.D., which is an incredibly difficult workload.”

Fields’ thesis work contributed to and expanded upon a conceptual practice model for occupational therapists working with older adults with dementia residing in institutional settings. This research training, coupled with her own observations of her grandmother’s experience with dementia, instilled a passion in her to help optimize the quality of life of older adults with dementia. This became a foundation for what would eventually be her dissertation.

Fields’ dissertation

In partnership with Hearts & Horses, a therapeutic riding center and Seven Lakes Memory Care, an assisted living facility in Loveland, Colorado, Fields conducted her dissertation study. This study, which was supported by the Carl and Caroline Swanson Foundation, explored the influence of a promising and unique environmental approach, an equine-assisted intervention called “Riding in the Moment.”

“We collected data by observing the residents’ interactions with the horses and the larger equine environment as well as through conducting interviews with staff at Hearts & Horses and Seven Lakes,” Fields said. “While interacting with the horses, residents appeared more engaged with their environment, more active, less agitated, and seemed to be in an overall happier state.” Her findings yielded positive results, showing a natural and healthy way for improving the quality of life for older adults with dementia residing in an institutional setting.

Post-doctoral research

Fields currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she works as a post-doctoral researcher for the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Supported by the nonprofit Pittsburgh Foundation, Fields’ current work focuses on examining systemwide implications of including caregivers in health care processes with the goal to improve outcomes for older adults with complex care needs such as dementia.

“She is an incredibly hard worker, a very kind and compassionate individual and grew enormously these past five years,” Wood said. “It has been a pleasure working with her. She is someone I could not be more proud of.”

The Department of Occupational Therapy is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.