Elsa Oliva is a 2016 LE&RN/LymphNotes Therapist Scholarship Award winner. We asked Elsa to share some thoughts with us and with LE&RN Supporting Members on receiving the award and her plans for the future.
"Thank you, with all my gratitude, to LE&RN/LymphNotes for providing clinicians with this wonderful scholarship opportunity. It truly helps to fund a necessary increase in lymphedema awareness, treatment, and support through continued education for both myself and others." Elsa Oliva
What made you choose a career in therapy?
I chose the path of occupational therapy because it is a professional outlet that allows me to interact face-to-face with a variety of people, while being able to contribute a hands-on approach through holistic knowledge of human beings and their environment to make a difference in the patients’ lives. As a lifelong learner, I have become dedicated to training for this career beyond earning my masters degree.
Why have you chosen to make lymphedema therapy a focus in your work?
The lymphatic system is integral to the health of each individual; thus, I find it highly relevant. My awareness of this unique therapy was initiated during the short lymphedema section of a hand therapy course in graduate school, after which I took it upon myself to research the steps for Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), watch patient stories online, and speak to other therapists about their experiences with lymphedema patients. It was at this point that I realized I had a connection to the specialty, as each of the systemized portions of treatment included individual methods (i.e. bandaging, manual lymphatic drainage, remedial exercise, etc.) that I was already seeking to learn more about before I knew of CDT. Within a month of my first job in a skilled nursing facility, I could sense there was a need for evidence-based edema management and wanted to be the one to fulfill that; yet I didn’t feel equipped to do so, especially with lymphedema. I also noted that some CDT techniques may also be applicable for chronic venous insufficiency, post-orthopedic surgery and wound care. With a current focus in preventative care and decreasing re-admission rates, it is logical that lymphedema therapy would be a crucial component to increasing success.
How will this LE&RN scholarship help you to help your patients?
This LE&RN scholarship will provide me with the chance to expand my skill-set as a therapist, and therefore improve the capacity for which I am able to help my patients with lymphedema and other conditions. Attending a full certification course on behalf of this scholarship allows me to provide patients with proper care using gold standard techniques. After personally experiencing an extensive orthopedic injury, I am aware of how any deficit has the potential to impact physical and emotional participation in life, if not effectively managed. I can only imagine how it must feel, for example, to learn that even after finally beating cancer, you now must take charge of a lifelong condition called lymphedema. Or, to find that after seeking medical assistance for many years to little avail, you now finally have a diagnosis and treatment (but not cure) for your condition. These are the patients I want to serve in the best way I can, and this LE&RN scholarship plays a large role in achieving that goal. I am proud to say with the help of this $1,000 scholarship, I am becoming a fully certified lymphedema therapist, trained in the Vodder method through the Norton School of Lymphatic Therapy.
What are your hopes for the future, for yourself, your patients, and for the field of lymphedema and lymphatic disease treatment?
I plan to continue studying specialties within occupational therapy and obtaining advanced certifications including, but not limited to, lymphedema therapy. Furthermore, I aim to to transition to an outpatient center, or any additional settings for which there is a need for this therapy. I feel encouraged to market myself and spread the word about lymphedema to both an existing and upcoming network of medical professionals, in order to increase the amount of patients seen at the prevention or beginning stages for better outcomes. I plan to encourage my patients to engage in their own health care, since self-advocacy fosters participation and promotes quality of life. Some aspects of lymphedema treatment correlate with my other interests in alternative/complementary therapies; in such, I’d like to someday provide a blend of these “top-down” and “bottom-up” therapeutic approaches in a creative, effective way from which clients can benefit. It is my hope that medical schools and allied health programs begin to cover lymphedema in greater depth, as I feel this could get to the "root" of the issue. I also hope to witness an increase in proactive, educational measures across healthcare settings for patients with increased risk. Lastly, I'm curious to see what other treatments evolve in the medical community and how they compare to the current standard of therapy.
To sum up…
While I do not have significant experience in providing care to underserved populations, lymphedema therapy is the catalyst for which I have been greatly inspired to reach this sector of clients. A certification in lymphedema will allow me to extend my new knowledge base to assist in lifting the classification of lymphedema as an underserved population, so that the best level of care may be imparted. With a background in occupational therapy, I can employ multiple approaches to assist patients in the healing process as they return to their lives. Thank you again for granting me this scholarship award, and I will consistently strive to honor this opportunity through my education, treatments, and advocacy for lymphedema patients.