Since childhood, recent graduate Abigail LaVerdure has always known she wanted to go into the medical field. But it wasn’t until after the pandemic hit that she started to consider a different avenue for helping people: occupational therapy. Now, after graduating with a degree in biology and a certificate in medical humanities, LaVerdure has moved to Henderson, Nevada, to begin her doctorate in occupational therapy (OT) at Touro University.
She first developed her passion for accessibility and adaptability following her experience at Camp Attitude, a summer camp for disabled children. The camp’s mission is to provide a traditional summer camp experience for children and their families who would not be able to attend a typical camp due to more involved special needs.
“Occupational therapy is very patient centered and allows me to develop unique interventions to treat unique clients,” she said. “I highly recommend that all students interested in medical careers give OT a closer look — it’s a somewhat underrepresented field, but the work is so rewarding.”
“I wanted the experience of a well-funded university that values its science programs. I had visited the university many times and seen its programs and research labs in action, so I knew I wanted a chance at getting a lab position.”
Originally from Salem, Oregon, LaVerdure felt drawn to attend Oregon State University for its unique opportunities in undergraduate research. “I wanted the experience of a well-funded university that values its science programs,” she said. “I had visited the university many times and seen its programs and research labs in action, so I knew I wanted a chance at getting a lab position.”
During her sophomore year, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, LaVerdure decided to reach out to Michael Blouin, an evolutionary and population geneticist widely acclaimed for his work on aquatic snails. “Funnily enough, at the time I applied I actually had a couple of aquatic snails in a personal fish tank of mine and had been intrigued by the prospect of working with snails as a profession,” she said.
In Blouin’s lab, LaVerdure studied the transmission of schistosomiasis, a serious parasitic disease affecting humans in tropical regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Since the parasite relies on aquatic snails as an intermediate host, the Blouin lab has employed a wide variety of methods to determine which genes control resistance to infection in snails. “I gained so much experience working with the snails and understanding genetics, which actually ended up helping me better understand concepts in my own courses,” said LaVerdure.
Reflecting back, LaVerdure is thankful for the two-and-a-half years she spent doing research with Blouin. “Being able to work in his lab as an undergraduate has given me an immense amount of experience, something I will forever be grateful for.”
“[Biology] allowed me to explore all aspects of life, learning first about plants and animals before making my way through human anatomy. This type of broad experience is why I chose this department.”
Of course, research wasn’t the only learning experience LaVerdure enjoyed at OSU. As an integrative biology major, she took courses that exposed her to a wide variety of scientific disciplines. “It allowed me to explore all aspects of life, learning first about plants and animals before making my way through human anatomy,” she said. “This type of broad experience is why I chose this department.”
Her human anatomy class taught by Senior Instructor Devon Quick particularly stood out. “Devon has such a passion for human anatomy, which shines through during her lectures,” LaVerdure said. “I had gone into the class really scared about trying to learn so much material but I can honestly say that Devon is the best professor I’ve ever had.” [See interview with Quick discussing her anatomy and physiology class on YouTube]
One of LaVerdure's fondest memories takes her back to her freshman year, when she took the Honors series of general biology. “In one of the lab terms we got to go out to Peavy Arboretum to identify different phyla, which was one of the best experiences I’ve had,” said LaVerdure. “Getting to experience so much nature practically in our own backyard was really awesome and the arboretum has become a new favorite place of mine over the past four years.”
Still in the process of unpacking her bags after her move to Nevada, LaVerdure eagerly awaits the next steps in her journey. “In three short years, I will be a practicing occupational therapist, and I couldn’t be more excited to begin working with unique communities in healthcare.”