OT student group photo

Samantha Powell ‘23OT was feeling stressed out as finals approached and after talking with her classmates, she discovered — not unsurprisingly — that many of them were feeling the same way.

Powell, of South Jersey, had grown up working in a preschool for several years before deciding to pursue her graduate degree in Occupational Therapy (OT) at Salus University. And, at that preschool, it was common to participate in something called “Pajama Day,” where students would come to school in their pajamas as a way to feel more comfortable while trying to relieve some stress.

“I went around asking people if we had a Pajama Day here would that be like totally kiddish or would that be a nice break? And, 100 percent of people wanted to do it,” she said.

OT students at Pajama DayWith the students on board, Powell approached faculty members Andrea Carr Tyszka, OTD ‘18, MS, OTR/L, SIPT, associate professor in the OT department, and Sharon Marcy, MSOT ‘16, MS, OTR/L, an OT instructor, to ask if the students could incorporate Pajama Day into the department’s annual Teach and Learn presentations.

Teach and Learn is a day where the students are able to highlight their newly acquired knowledge of learning theory by teaching a short, fun activity or craft to their classmates.

With approval from on high, the instructors were completely onboard with the idea. “The fall semester is a hard one for our students, so we thought this was an easy day to incorporate some mental wellness,” said Tyszka.

Even before the pandemic, the OT curriculum had always focused on the topic since mental health is a practice area for many OTs, according to Tyszka.

“We also embed mini-lessons into the curriculum that center around the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills that are needed to successfully navigate our difficult jobs,” she said. “Graduate students tend to have a lot of perfectionist tendencies which can create both stress and anxiety. Some of them tend to be very hard on themselves when they are learning something new.”

In that context, Tyszka said the OT administration and faculty believe it’s important to let the students know that the need for small amounts of self-care don’t end when they graduate.

popsicle snowflakes“Grad school is tough but so is being a clinician. As care providers, it's important that we make sure we are periodically filling our own buckets so that we have the mental and emotional energy to care for others,” said Tyszka. “For the rest of their careers our students, across all of the Salus programs, will need to find creative ways to address their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.”

And, both Tyszka and Marcy couldn’t think of a better way to set that example than by joining their students in wearing their pajamas to school for the day.

Bridgid Harkin ‘23OT was excited to learn Pajama Day was going to be incorporated into Teach and Learn.

“Our Teach and Learn is actually our final project and typically we would dress in business casual for our presentations,” said Harkin, also from South Jersey. “To be able to wear pajamas definitely gave me a relief. It was a totally fun day even though it was our final project.”

Harkin’s Teach and Learn project was making snowflakes out of popsicle sticks. Her deficit was low vision, so she used a lot on contrasting colors, big letters and larger popsicle sticks.

Teach and Learn is different in that the students apply their knowledge to certain projects. It’s more practical than taking a final exam in that it encourages the students to choose an activity that has therapeutic aspects to it, an everyday activity, and gear it toward people with certain deficits.

Powell’s deficit was impulsivity, so she had to design her project for those who are impulsive. “Pajama Day took the pressure off a little bit. Mentally, when in you’re in pajamas, you’re more comfortable,” she said.

According to Tyszka, since the pandemic began, the healthcare industry has lost more than a half million workers, some to their own COVID-19 illness, but many to the burnout associated with providing care during a pandemic. OT faculty and students want to make sure that doesn’t overwhelm the students at Salus.

“We need to arm our students with the skills they need to succeed in their practice settings, and that includes the skills they need to prevent burnout,” said Tyszka. 

snowman craft