Associate Professor and Interim Graduate Occupational Therapy (OT) Program Director Paula Rabaey ’92, PhD, OTR/L, visiting residents in Kanyama, Zambia.
When Associate Professor and Interim Graduate Occupational Therapy (OT) Program Director Paula Rabaey ’92, PhD, OTR/L, was studying for her post-professional master’s degree at Boston University, she was surprised and delighted to see that one of her courses was facilitated by St. Catherine University’s Professor of Occupational Therapy Karen Sames, OTD, OTR/L, FAOTA. Rabaey graduated from St. Kate’s in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. Even though Rabaey had not been taught by Sames — who started at St. Kate’s in 1995 — during her undergraduate years, it was a great way to reconnect with her alma mater. “At the end of the course, Karen put the bug in my ear about teaching and said I would be great,” recalls Rabaey. Sames was the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA) president at the time, so when the two women met at the next MOTA conference, Sames told Rabaey that St. Kate’s had an OT faculty opening and Rabaey applied. “Coming back to campus and going through the interview process was exhilarating. The social justice mission of the University and the Sisters of St. Joseph was always an important value for me as well,” says Rabaey. She was offered the job and started as a faculty member in 2007.
One of the many reasons that Rabaey decided to return to St. Kate’s OT program was their incorporation of occupational science — the study of human occupation, or meaningful activities. Occupational science was a relatively new discipline, and St. Kate’s OT program was infusing its concepts into their traditional OT curriculum. “By studying what people do and why, occupational therapists can understand the whole person and their goals, which gives us context and perspective for our recommended therapy treatments,” she says.
Rabaey also appreciates St. Kate’s OT program’s focus on community engagement and global experiences for students, faculty, and staff. As leaders in areas of emerging OT practice— providing care opportunities to communities that have traditionally been underserved due to inequities or insurance reimbursement regulations — St. Kate’s OT program partners with local and international organizations to provide occupational therapy and relate their work to social determinants of health and equity. “The University’s social justice values are evident in our emerging practice work,” says Rabaey.
Before Rabaey came back to St. Kate’s, she worked for 15 years in all areas of pediatric OT, including early intervention, outpatient, school-based, and home health. Her specialty is feeding, eating, and swallowing, and she often worked with children from birth to 5 years old — and with their families in their homes. “Becoming a faculty member at St. Kate’s opened up a new world of opportunities for professional collaboration and involvement in low- to middle-income countries and marginalized communities here in Minnesota,” she says. Through Professor of Public Health Mary Hearst, PhD, Rabaey became part of SPOON Foundation — a nonprofit organization that empowers caregivers, creates tools, and strengthens systems to bring critical nutrition and feeding practices to children without family care, and children with disabilities. Rabaey is a feeding technical expert with SPOON and helped them design curriculum for caregivers feeding children with disabilities living in orphanages around the world.
Rabaey’s numerous academic publications focus on her international research. “The work I have been able to publish — both independently and with my colleagues — is the culmination of interprofessional work involving the most vulnerable children with disabilities living in low- to middle-income countries,” she says. Her publications range from a feeding assessment, which is now copywritten and used in Russia, to her most recent co-authored study of “Caring for a child with a disability in a Zambian community: A study using photo‐elicitation.” As Rabaey reflects, “This work is important to OTs as it illustrates community work in emerging practice areas and demonstrates how OTs are an important partner in interdisciplinary work. It goes beyond traditional 1:1 service provision to working at a community level with the community members and serves to empower persons with disability.”
As Rabaey continues her important work at home and abroad, she is dedicated to teaching the next generation of occupational therapists and St. Kate’s mission and values. Interestingly enough, her family has a long and ongoing history at the University, starting with her husband’s mother Katherine Feldman ’53, who received her BS in nursing, and continuing with her daughter Dominique Rabaey ’18, MPAS’21, who graduated in February 2021 with her physician assistant master’s degree. Rabaey says, “St. Kate’s is a very supportive environment where people want to collaborate across professions and value the viewpoints of all persons. I love being a Katie because St. Kate’s education focuses on empowering students to lead and influence.”
Read more about Rabaey’s interdisciplinary research