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OTR’s Pioneering Diversity Research in Health Care Leads to Innovative Theater-Based Interventions

Dr. Sally Wasmuth, an OTR from Indiana, focused her research on racial disparities among clinicians and ways to diversify the health care field.

Sally Wasmuth

Sally Wasmuth, PhD, OTR

Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy, School of Health and Human Services, Indiana University

Location: Indiana

Certified in 2011

2021 NBCOT Innovation Award Winner

An Innovation That Resonates Across the Health Care Field

Now, more than ever, the importance of diversity in the health care setting needs to be seen, heard, and felt throughout the field. Dr. Sally Wasmuth, an OTR from Indiana, recognized the racial and gender disparities in health care and wanted to do something that would make an impression and bring these experiences into better focus.

Dr. Wasmuth focused her research on racial disparities among clinicians and ways to diversify the health care field. In doing so, she pioneered the development and use of theater-based interventions to address implicit bias among health care providers. Her program, Identity Development Evolution and Sharing (IDEAS), aims to reduce stigma and bias that health care providers may have when providing client care in order to promote occupational justice for all clients.

IDEAS has been used to share the authentic experiences, through theater performances, of people who have experienced discrimination and racism in health care, such as Black women, Black occupational therapists, transgender and gender-diverse individuals, and people with substance use disorders. Dr. Wasmuth’s theater-based approach has given participants and audiences opportunities to connect in different ways and start conversations that lead to personal reflection. Participants are encouraged to think more critically about experiences that they may not have recognized in the moment as being discriminatory or that they may not completely understand.

Dr. Wasmuth’s preliminary research is showing that the authentic storytelling approach positively influences audience members and community stakeholders. Those who participate in IDEAS interventions demonstrate changes in attitudes. Results also indicate that participants feel less stigma around accessing health care, allowing them to participate in health care service delivery and society with an increased sense of justice and an overall increase in quality of life.

Sally Wasmuth sits with a group of women of color on a stage.
Dr. Sally Wasmuth works with actors, community members, and researchers to develop and implement theater-based interventions to address implicit bias among health care providers.
Photo by Jill Sheridan/IPB News

Broadening the Reach and Making an Impression

At its core, IDEAS demonstrates the use of occupation-based storytelling, acting, social participation, writing, and leisure as a means and an end to occupational participation. The program is a novel, innovative approach to enable health, well-being, and quality of life for marginalized individuals. This approach advances client care by addressing underserved populations and using a culturally universal method that is adaptable to a variety of contexts and populations. IDEAS has advanced professional practice by reducing stigma in health care professionals, including occupational therapists, leading to a reduction in health disparities and discriminatory health practices for marginalized individuals.

“Dr. Wasmuth’s research has profound implications for our clients, colleagues, allied health professions, and justice in the healthcare system and the world at large… IDEAS demonstrates the power of storytelling as a therapeutic intervention to tackle critical individual and population-level needs: justice, healing, reduction of stigma and health disparities, and connection.”

Leah Van Antwerp, OTD, MS, OTR, CAS

Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy

Indiana University

Recently, Dr. Wasmuth was awarded an Implementation Research Grant from the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) to aid in further dissemination of IDEAS. So far, IDEAS has been delivered to more than 1,000 people in 10 U.S. states and three countries. Dr. Wasmuth hopes to continue expanding the program so this model can be implemented in health care facilities throughout the U.S.

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