The path to commencement is littered with challenges for Salus University graduate students. But considering the landmines along the way for Brianna Brim, the fact that she’s walking with the Class of 2022 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts on May 26, 2022, is nothing short of miraculous.
 
Brim, MOT, OTR/L, CPAM, CLIPP, the director of the Occupational Therapy Institute (OTI) ofBrianna Brim Salus, will receive her PhD from the University’s Biomedicine program.
 
She started pursuing her doctorate in 2016, and all that’s happened to her since then in its pursuit is: she secured a job working as the Occupational Therapy (OT) department’s fieldwork coordinator; transitioned to full-time teaching and then OTI director; had five surgeries, including two for an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction and three gastrointestinal operations; all during a worldwide pandemic that required her to revamp her teaching approach to accommodate online instruction.
 
Oh, and while still recovering from the last of those gastrointestinal surgeries, she and her husband Tyler found out she was pregnant with their first child.
 
“It’s been particularly challenging to try and manage all of that,” deadpanned Brim.
 
But really, how does any student manage to take on challenges like those and still emerge on the other side, ready to receive her diploma and move on to the next stage in life?
 
It wasn’t easy, Brim admits. But it’s doable.
 
The health issues did back up the PhD schedule a bit, adding an extra year to the deadline Brim had given herself to complete the doctorate. But the combination of a strong support system and the skills she’s learned as an OT — those same skills she teaches her patients — helped her to the finish line at this stage of her life.
 
Her support system includes her husband and family; members of the OT department; Mitchell Scheiman, OD, PhD ‘16, FAAO, dean of research and director of graduate programs in Biomedicine; and her mentor, Sinclair Smith, ScD, dean of the Samson College of Health Sciences at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. “I have a very supportive spouse and a fantastic friend group,” said Brim. “And, our OT department is incredibly supportive of each other.”Brianna and patient with pegs
 
But it was her OT skills that did some of the heavy lifting to get through the tough times.
 
“I was able to do a lot of the stuff that we do with our patients. I did a lot of positive reframing, I used a lot of positive behavioral therapy techniques to revisit how I was thinking about things,” she said. “I started implementing a lot of that into my own life and it was really helpful. It helped to take some of the weight off.”
 
Brim calls the spring graduation ceremony the cherry on top of the cake.
 
“I really felt a sense of accomplishment at my dissertation,” said Brim, whose area of study was investigating how the shoulder blade is positioned and moved and how it can affect the elbow. “At the end when they first said ‘Dr. Brim,’ I could barely contain myself. I knew I had done it. So, by the time I had actually gotten to the defense, I was really proud of what I had already accomplished.”
 
Brim said the commencement ceremony will be “a beautiful representation” of what she has accomplished.
 
“But honestly, the background is what I’m really proud of and what’s happened to this point. I feel like I accomplished the best part and I’ve mentally celebrated that after so much of what we’ve gone through.”Brianna & boy on balance board
 
Admittedly, the addition of the pregnancy to her already full plate, was unexpected. She was still recovering from her third GI surgery in October 2021 when she discovered she was pregnant in January 2022.
 
“That was quite a surprise, with all the medical things that had happened,” said Brim, who is due in September 2022. “It had been suggested to me years ago that I was not going to be able to have children so it’s a happy surprise.”
 
She’s also happy for the Class of 2022 who will also be receiving their diplomas. “I think everybody has a lot to be proud of. I’m happy for everyone who has gotten to the other side because I definitely know how that feels,” she said.