MCPHS Associate Professor Michelle Dowling, OTD, shows one of her many occupational therapy tools to students

The Quest For Knowledge with Michelle Dowling

MCPHS Associate Professor Michelle Dowling, OTD, shows one of her many occupational therapy tools to students

Assistant Professor Michelle Dowling completed her Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree concurrently with a Low Vision Certificate Program to better serve patients and show students that they can always keep learning.

Behind the desk of Assistant Professor Michelle Dowling, OTD, OTR/L, CHT, is a scattering of different props and tools that she has used in her 31-year career as an occupational therapist.

“I share these with my students so that I can make their educational experience come alive,” said Dr. Dowling, pointing proudly to a collection of splints designed for patients with upper extremity injuries.

Dr. Dowling describes herself as a continuous learner and passionate educator on a quest for knowledge. She completed a Doctor of Occupational Therapy program in 2021 at age 52 and recently passed her certification exam for low vision therapy.

She found her calling as an occupational therapist early in life. She has specialized expertise in multiple areas, including mental health, chronic pain, neurological disorders, orthopedics, and, now, low vision.

“I have helped people with pretty challenging injuries and conditions throughout the years and it has been very rewarding,” she said.

A continuous learner

She fell into teaching unexpectedly. “I put in my resume for an adjunct faculty position at MCPHS on a whim, and after a short time I realized I loved the academic experience,” she said. “Learning from the faculty in Manchester inspired me to return to school to get my doctorate and continue on my teaching journey.”

With her children in college, she enrolled in the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

“I wanted to show my kids and my students that it’s OK, even after 50, to keep learning,” she said. “It is good to take a little harder road and get the training that promotes growth. It helps to provide an elevated level of care in our profession.”

She aspired to become a Certified Low Vision Therapist (CLVT), which was an option as part of her doctoral program.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3.4 million people in the United States age 40 and older meet the definition of “legal blindness” (visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better-seeing eye or visual field of 20 degrees or less). Vision loss is among the top 10 causes of disability in adults and one of the most common disabling conditions in children.

“It is important to understand how to modify a low vision client’s environment to help them thrive,” said Dr. Dowling.

As a CLVT, she helps patients use their remaining vision effectively. Dr. Dowling has even been able to incorporate her experience as a fitness instructor into her current work by designing and running a yoga class for low vision patients.

Sharing knowledge

Dr. Dowling teaches the Practice Engagement: Mental Health class at MCPHS to first-year occupational therapy students. The students learn the valuable role of occupational therapy to support their client’s mental health journey. Students focus on skill development, establishing positive habits and routines, setting therapy goals, understanding cognitive theories, identifying ways to improve function, and understanding underlying physiological influences on mental health.

Dr. Dowling also teaches a class called Practice Engagement: Environments and Technology. Students learn to modify the environment or provide adaptive equipment to enable patients to live in their environment safely and thrive safely in their own home.

During the summer, she teaches Practice Engagement: Adult Rehab where the students learn about conditions that impact adult health from the orthopedic and neurological perspective.

She will soon be teaching Practice Engagement: Cognitive and Visual Challenges Across the Lifespan to second-year occupational therapy students.

"It will be my first year teaching this, but I’m confident because I have had wonderful faculty mentors, and my CLVT certification under my belt,” said Dr. Dowling.

Learn more about the School of Occupational Therapy at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.