Waldron College hosts eighth annual Interprofessional Symposium

Radford University First Lady Kay Danilowicz presents the keynote address at the Waldron College Interprofessional Symposium.

Virtual sessions added a new opportunity for distance-learning students to participate in the eighth annual Interprofessional Symposium on April 13 organized by Waldron College of Health and Human Services. Students and faculty gathered in Heth Hall for the in-person sessions and to view the virtual presentations.

In addition to poster presentations showcasing research conducted by students and faculty throughout the year, the symposium also offered a variety of panel discussions and presentations on topics like sensory processing approaches to improving sleep in children, rural health opportunities and obstacles, coping with chaos and stress to improve mental health and treating substance abuse with a multidisciplinary approach. Training in treating opioid overdoses and the administration of Naloxone was also offered, as well as a session with Radford University first dog Bainne focusing on animal-assisted therapy and activities.

“This event allows us to celebrate the scholarship and service of faculty and students in Waldron College and in related health professions,” said Kerry Vandergrift, Ph.D., Radford’s associate dean of interprofessional education, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and chief organizer of the event. “We also have community partners on panels and as part of our poster session. We have over 80 posters and over 100 presenters today. I love seeing first-year students discussing their research right next to a doctoral student.”

Vandergrift said that the innovations added to this year’s event will help distance-learning students and those with schedule conflicts preventing them from participating in the symposium.

“For the first time, we have a hybrid virtual and in-person track,” Vandergrift said. “We have some people who will be presenting posters virtually because they can’t be here. We have some who will be presenting via recorded sessions. That virtual track has two different sessions with about 20 posters, as well as two presentations.”

Vandergrift said the idea for the virtual sessions came from the recognition that Radford has some programs offered completely online, like those in public health and healthcare leadership. She said that those areas of virtual learning are growing and that Waldron College students are expected to be part of the online community. These sessions allow students and faculty to experience and engage with that community.


Physician Assistant student Karah Roach explains her groups’ research conclusions.


Lucas Finet, a student in the Master of Social Work program, speaks about his poster on restorative justice.


Nursing student Kacie Mulligan speaks about her poster on injustices within the foster care system.

The keynote address was delivered by Radford University First Lady Kay Danilowicz. The session, “My Therapy Journey,” recounted not only her career path in several locations as her family moved based on job obligations but also her growing exploration of animal-assisted therapies. Danilowicz spoke about how her family’s pets have been trained as therapy dogs to help those in need, including college students who often experience stress but don’t often seek help.

Following the address, the symposium moved into the poster presentation part of the day.

Near one back corner of the room, four physician assistant (PA) students from Radford University Carilion were presenting their research on “Cephalosporins compared to penicillin in the treatment of group A streptococcal pharyngitis.” Karah Roach, Riley Hoch, Alyssa Choo and Sidney Raymond each took turns explaining the complicated medical research to people who approached them. Simply put, they compared types of medications used to treat patients with strep to determine which was more effective based on case studies, co-existing conditions and other factors, including how each affected those patients who often forget to take medications.

“Being able to present this today means a lot,” said Roach, a second-year PA student. “Now that we’re all out in clinicals, we see patients with strep and these types of conditions. It's nice to be able to present our research on things we actually see in the field and then apply our conclusions to help people improve their health.”

Lucas Finet, a student in the Master of Social Work program who expects to graduate in May, spoke about his research into restorative justice, which examines the harmful impact of a crime and then determines what can be done to repair that harm while holding accountable the person who caused it.

“I had heard about the concept and understood it as successful but wanted to know why,” Finet said. “I found that it lowered rates of recidivism and is cheaper than the current kind of punitive justice we use as a society.”

Finet added that success often comes from a human-centered approach, or seeing the people who commit crimes as human beings and working to understand what in their lives led them to commit those crimes. That I followed by working with the people to address the underlying causes, putting them on a more positive path in life.

“I find an event like this invigorating,” said Finet. “I love spending time in the library and learning new things, so having the chance to experience this today and hear about this research is great.”

Kayla Thrasher, a junior in the social work program, explored the topic of gun violence in the United States.

“Specifically within the last 10 to 20 years, gun violence has become a major issue in this country,” Thrasher said. “There is sadly a lot of information for research on it because it is such a common occurrence. For people in my generation, it’s inescapable. We experience it every day, and it’s a topic I’m very interested in.”

Thrasher said that she learned that there are more guns than people in the U.S. and that firearms are the leading cause of death for children. Yet, Thrasher supports Second Amendment rights with the addition of background checks for someone to own a weapon and limits on the types of guns available to the public.

“Automatic weapons aren’t necessary for civilians to own, in my opinion,” Thrasher said.

Chase Poulsen, Ph.D., the chair of the Department of Clinical Health Professions and associate professor in the respiratory therapy program at RUC, presented research from his dissertation on clinical simulation and how it benefits healthcare students.


Chase Poulsen, chair of the Department of Clinical Health Professions and associate professor in respiratory therapy, talks about his research results on clinical simulations.


Physician Assistant students (from left) Riley Hoch, Karah Roach, Alyssa Choo and Sidney Raymond.


Master of Social Work student Mary Beth Sutphin presents her poster to symposium organizer Kerry Vandergrift.

Specifically, Poulsen and his collaborators – respiratory therapy program director of clinical education and instructor Kathy Pellant and assistant professor Douglas Wright – looked at both quantitative and qualitative data collected from 77 nursing and respiratory therapy students during a two-week period around a clinical simulation exercise. In these simulations, students worked together in teams during a mock disaster event like a natural disaster or large-scale accident to assess patients and develop collaboration skills.

“We found that the students had a better understanding of what each person does in those kinds of scenarios after the simulation,” Poulsen said. “It proved that being able to participate in a hands-on activity like this one gives them insight and understanding that they wouldn’t otherwise have as they learn together and then enter their professions.”

Pellant added both sets of students commented that they were surprised at the level of skills the other had.

“Both the respiratory therapists and nurses said they are trained beyond what they had previously thought and, more importantly, trained to see things I don’t see,” she said. “That helps not only to enhance the communication and understanding between different kinds of healthcare professionals, but it also ends up improving the care they provide to the patient.”

Social Work program student Kayla Thrasher with her poster on gun violence in the United States.

Master of Social Work student Mary Beth Sutphin interviewed social workers to better understand their views on court-mandated clients who needed substance abuse treatment. She expected to find mostly non-biased clinicians but instead found the opposite.

“I found there was a lot of negative stigma toward that population among the clinicians,” Sutphin said. “That was not what I thought I would find. So, I decided to look into how we can break stigma to better help people who need support.”

Sutphin said she recommends using policy advocacy that employs non-biased language and has already been speaking to many social workers about how they can break the stigma through their everyday practices. She said she was excited to share her findings at the symposium with her fellow students and the faculty in hopes of seeing their own biases and working to counter them. That kind of interaction is a key component in interprofessionalism, or working together across disciplines to improve care and outcomes for patients and clients.

“We really focus on the interprofessional piece where we’re learning from and with each other across disciplines, “said Vandergrift. “We don’t have a lot of time to socialize, especially at different sites that include RUC, the Higher Education Center and main campus. So, to just be able to come together at an event like this and talk about our research and socially is really important.”

Apr 17, 2023
Mark Lambert