By Stacey Gish
Family. Love. Excellence. Those are some of the values held tightly by Pam Marshall and her staff at Marshall Pediatric Therapy. Putting those values into practice with each family the clinic serves is a daily goal for each member of the organization.
It was a challenge getting to this point in the life of the clinic, Marshall admits. Having a vision to help children and working toward that vision was the driver to push through the difficult times. She couldn’t see every step before she walked forward — and she still harbors many dreams for the future of the clinic — but she’s proud of where she and her company are and how Eastern Kentucky University has been an integral part of that journey.
It was a chance encounter on a sliver of sand on Myrtle Beach in 1987 that led Marshall to EKU. As Marshall and a ministry team from Athletes in Action were preparing for their day, she noticed someone in the distance walking toward her.
“This girl walked two miles to meet me. I felt like God sent a messenger to me. ‘I heard you want to go into occupational therapy (OT),’ she says. And we talked about the OT program. I was on a journey to find a school. I really wanted an excellent program to prepare me,” Marshall said.
Getting to EKU wasn’t as easy as it may seem. Marshall was an undergraduate student-athlete in the track and field program at Penn State University at the time, with part of her family in South Carolina. She had never been to Kentucky before. Convincing her parents that she was prepared to attend school in Kentucky — basically sight unseen — took some persuasive skills.
She arrived in Richmond ready to study occupational therapy and credits a couple of EKU professors for leading her in the right direction. Dr. Joy Anderson is one professor who demonstrated kindness to Marshall her entire academic career, and she resolved to pursue pediatric therapy after taking Dr. Shirley O’Brien’s class.
“I became passionate that all kids have access to the very best care,” she said. She began her career in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at a children’s hospital in Ohio, where she was able to serve not only children in need of therapeutic services but also families, which she said is crucial to creating successful outcomes.
While practicing in Ohio and Texas, her desire to support the whole family became clearer. The best way to accomplish what she felt was a calling to minister to children and families was to establish clinics of her own.
Today, Marshall Pediatric Therapy operates in four central Kentucky cities: Lexington, Nicholasville, Georgetown and Richmond. EKU students have been able to serve at each location since the opening of Marshall’s first clinic in 2013.
“We’ve had a long relationship with Pam,” said Dr. Dana Howell, chair of EKU’s Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. “This site is different because it provides a lot more access. It expands what she is already doing.”
Ensuring students are better prepared for a career in occupational therapy is a huge reason Marshall located one of her clinics in Richmond.
“We get to experience therapy firsthand, something not common at other universities,” said Jodi Collins, a graduate student studying occupational therapy from Williamsburg, Ky. “Marshall played a considerable factor in sparking my interest in pediatrics, and I am so incredibly thankful for such an outstanding clinic for students to observe and children in the community to benefit from.”
Since students represent the future of the occupational therapy profession, Marshall thought it important to provide a bit of financial support through scholarships. The Marshall Pediatric Therapy Scholarship is designed to benefit a graduate student studying occupational sciences with a preference for pediatric work.
Marshall believes that working with EKU is just the start of improved networks and resources that will only serve to better pediatric therapy services across the country. Not only would students learn from professionals during observations and internships, but faculty could also produce research that could be compiled across institutions that ultimately increases the quality of therapy services provided for children.
Being a collegiate athlete taught Marshall resolve and perseverance. It was this perseverance that helped her not quit during the challenges. And that resolve is what pushes her and her team to continue fighting on behalf of children and families in Kentucky.
As Marshall rattles off a list of future plans — establishing a nonprofit organization to help families tackle the financial burden of therapy and building an outdoor playground for children to take part in natural play are just two examples — she reflects on the hard work she and her family have put into building a business from the ground up.
“It wasn’t easy,” she admits. “But I knew it was possible. I’m really excited about our future and what’s going to happen.”