KELSEY WATTERS, OTR/L, BCPR

Clinical Practice Leader for Occupational Therapy & Senior Occupational Therapist, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
Location: Illinois
Certified in 2012

2020 NBCOT Impact Award Winner

Elevating the Importance of Occupational Therapy in Health Care

The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab defines itself as a hospital designed to treat the whole patient, physically and mentally, as well as their caregivers. Multidisciplinary care teams, which include occupational therapists, help patients with complex conditions—spinal cord injury, stroke, and traumatic brain injury—and common conditions—arthritis, chronic pain, and sports injuries.

OTR Kelsey Watters is the clinical practice leader for occupational therapy and a senior occupational therapist at the AbilityLab. She is responsible for guiding a group of 150 OTs across three levels of care: inpatient, outpatient, and day rehabilitation. Through her leadership and mentorship, Kelsey has an impact not only with her direct clients, but also with clients receiving services from OTs across the organization.

“Kelsey dives in fully to topics that she feels will meaningfully benefit the patients we serve. She is passionate about empowering occupational therapists to establish their impactful role in the multidisciplinary team, and has truly made an impact in our organization in the role of occupational therapy.”

-Jennifer Richert, OTR/L
Associate Director, Internal Staff Development, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Kelsey has led a charge to have OTs take a greater role in addressing patients’ cognitive impairments, rather than deferring to speech therapy, as happens in many organizations. Kelsey has helped demonstrate the effectiveness of occupational therapy’s functional approach based on her research on integrating best practice interventions to address cognitive impairments. Through her work, a greater number of OTs within the organization are more confident in incorporating principles of the Cognitive Orientation to daily Occupational Performance (CO-OP) and using strategy training in their daily practice.

In her role at the AbilityLab, Kelsey guides best practice, ensures evidence-based care, provides mentoring opportunities, coordinates formal education/trainings, and challenges therapists to elevate their practice. She encourages therapists to look critically at their typical evaluations, goals, and treatment interventions and then determine whether these are truly reflective of best practice based on the available evidence. She has been a strong leader guiding OTs to conduct occupation-based and occupation-focused care and staying true to the roots of the profession and the unique value OTs provide.

Making an Impact Through Everyday Practice

In her work as a functional cognition specialist within the inpatient setting, Kelsey has a direct impact on clients with cognitive impairments, not only through conducting comprehensive evaluations focused on functional cognition, but also through implementing treatment goals and a plan of care for functional cognition. She follows the patient throughout their stay and simultaneously provides mentoring and guidance to the primary therapist working with each client.

As a direct result of Kelsey’s work, OTs are involved in dynamic sessions with their clients, challenging them in real-life activities such as cooking, household tasks, work-related activities, or unique hobbies.

Kelsey also has a direct impact in the area of vision, both in her current practice and organization-wide. She oversees the AbilityLab’s vision clinic, where an OT works with patients in conjunction with a rehabilitation optometrist. Along with another OT, Kelsey consults on many cases of patients with impaired vision in the inpatient setting. She established a more comprehensive vision screening that OTs can conduct with their patients, and she modified the organization’s electronic medical record to permit OTs to convey the findings of this screening efficiently and effectively. She provides direct guidance not only to the primary OT but also to the whole treatment team about how to best support a patient’s visual needs (whether through glasses, prisms, patching, taping, or other compensatory strategies). Kelsey lectures extensively on this topic at the AbilityLab and also at universities, other hospital organizations, and national conferences, where her impact is felt far beyond the organization’s staff and patients.

“Curiosity is the driving force in my life and career. Though it seemed daunting at first to embrace curiosity wholeheartedly, my practice constantly grows thanks to my curious mind geared toward innovation and creativity.”

-Kelsey Watters, OTR/L, BCPR
2020 NBCOT Impact Award Winner

The NBCOT Impact Award recognizes practitioners who demonstrate exceptional professional commitment through dedication, hard work, and outstanding OT skills to improve their clients’ overall life satisfaction.

Learn more about the 2021 award winners.

Learn more about NBCOT’s Innovation and Impact Awards.