Occupational therapist receives highest honor in the profession

Susan L. Garber, occupational therapist and professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine, has been selected to receive the Eleanor Clark Slagle Lectureship Award from the American Occupational Therapy Association.

The award is an academic honor established as a memorial to Eleanor Clarke Slagle, one of the outstanding pioneers in the profession of occupational therapy. It honors a member of the association who has creatively contributed to the development of the body of knowledge of the profession through research, education and clinical practice. Garber will be recognized for her work in advancing the management and education of pressure ulcers, or bedsores. She will receive the award at the 2015 Annual Conference and Expo in April.

Susan Garber

Susan Garber

“I am overwhelmed to receive the highest award within the profession of occupational therapy,” said Garber. “This is the culmination of years of passionate work in this area.”

Garber has committed her career to researching prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers in people with spinal cord injuries and has made significant contributions to the field. It began in 1975, when she was hired to work with engineers at the Rehabilitation Engineering Center (REC), a federally funded project that linked Baylor College of Medicine, TIRR and Texas A&M to address the effects of pressure on tissue, the Texas REC’s core area. She joined the faculty at Baylor in 1980 after working as a full-time clinical occupational therapist. She spent 19 years conducting research at The Institute of Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) as assistant director for research and education in the department of occupational therapy and then 10 years conducting research through the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She has published numerous papers in this area of research.

“Persons with spinal cord injury lack mobility, and they also lack sensation below the level of the injury and they are at great risk for the development of pressure ulcers,” Garber said. “My research focuses on how to develop prevention and treatment interventions that would reduce the risk that they would get pressure ulcers, which are completely debilitating.”

“When I first started, it was a learning experience for me because I did not have any research experience. I had a great mentor in my husband, who is also on the Baylor faculty,” said Garber, whose husband, Dr. Alan J. Garber, is professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology at Baylor.

In 1990, she was selected by the American Occupational Therapy Association to participate as a member of a federal panel, created by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (now the Agency for Health Research and Quality) to develop clinical practice guidelines for prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers, a significant health care issue. In 1996, she also chaired a clinical practice guideline panel for the Paralyzed Veterans of American to develop the clinical practice guidelines specifically for spinal cord injury in the area of prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers. This has been updated and the new edition just published.

While at TIRR, Garber encouraged research among students and worked with patients on prevention of pressure ulcers. She developed patient and family educational programs and measures of knowledge about pressure ulcers.

Currently, she is a consultant for extramural grants and maintains her appointment as professor at Baylor.

Garber will receive the award in 2015, which will mark 50 years of her work in the field of occupational therapy.

“I am very grateful that Baylor has supported me in many areas throughout this career,” she said.

Garber looks forward to working closely with the new chair of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor, Dr. James McDeavitt.

“There is so much for Baylor to celebrate in Susan’s award,” said McDeavitt. “As a health sciences university, it is gratifying to see an allied health leader receive recognition for her life’s work. As a research institution, it is inspiring to step back and admire a body of academic work that has directly improved the lives of our patients. Susan is a real role model in our field.”