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Connor ReedUNH Student Puts Research into Good Hands

If you ever suffer a hand injury, Amy Ma wants to know the best way to get you back to working, golfing, cooking—or doing any of the other countless tasks of daily life that rely on healthy hands.

And the research she's undertaking at UNH this summer may offer clues on how well occupational therapy works for some patients.

"Basically, I'm trying to figure out the most effective way to help people return to their occupations and the meaningful activities that make up their daily lives," says Ma, of Dover.

Ma, a senior, is a McNair Scholar, a distinction awarded through a federal program that encourages under-represented groups to pursue graduate studies. She is also one of 38 UNH students who are pursuing research this summer with a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).

Ma hopes to pursue graduate studies in occupational therapy, with a focus on the hands and upper extremities. Her research is already showing her not only how critical hands are to the daily quality of life, but also how complex it is to show how treatments work for individual patients.

"Amy is asking, 'How well is the treatment you're receiving aligned with your actual lifestyle and goals?' " explains Barbara Prudhomme White, as associate professor of occupational therapy at UNH and Ma's research mentor.

Ideally, White says, an occupational therapist will create a treatment plan that's tailor-made for each client's unique lifestyle. An avid downhill skier who's suffered a thumb injury, for instance, may benefit more from one treatment (and get back to skiing faster) than a carpenter with an identical injury might benefit from the same treatment.

Ma's research looks at how therapists design—and how clients perceive—their treatment. With detailed online surveys, Ma is asking therapists to describe their approach and clients to rate how effective their treatment was in helping them to resume their normal activities.

The results of her research, titled "A Comparative Analysis on Occupational Therapy Following Hand Injuries," have the potential to contribute to improving our approach to hand therapy, Ma says.

"I want to know how involved clients have been in the decision-making process that goes into their treatment," Ma says. Her research investigates whether clients who receive treatment that's tailor-made to their individual lifestyles are more satisfied with the results.

"I want to impact the field of hand therapy in a positive way, and I want to be part of its growth and evolution for years to come," says Ma, who has been volunteering at a local hand clinic.

Ma hopes to include the results of her research in her honors-in-major project thesis, and create a poster to present at research conferences.

Jim Graham


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