It was while treating physical therapy patients in occupational health and orthopedic clinics that Carisa Harris-Adamson became convinced of the critical role musculoskeletal injuries played in worker health. “I really felt I wanted to learn more about preventing injuries in the workplace,” says Harris-Adamson. She fortunately followed her instincts and in 2011 added a PhD in Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) from UC Berkeley to her academic degrees of Master of Science, Physical Therapy, and Master of Arts, Kinesiology.
Now, as an assistant professor of physical therapy at Samuel Merritt University, Harris-Adamson teaches biomechanics, kinesiology, and research methods to doctoral students. She believes physical therapists (PTs) have a lot to offer in the multidisciplinary field of occupational health. Currently, her students are conducting a movement analysis project to assess work-related risks in different occupations. “It’s my way of opening their eyes to workplace exposures,” notes Harris-Adamson.
“Although PT students are taught to ask about people’s work, they don’t always think of how the biomechanical risk factors that people are exposed to may contribute to their condition. That’s what I’m really passionate about,” adds Harris-Adamson. “Regardless if they are going into occupational health or not, they are going to be treating people who have exposures in the workplace, so hopefully they will be more adept at helping them.”
Harris-Adamson sees her career in two lights – one teaching and the other research. A half-time post-doc appointment in UC Berkeley at EHS allows her to pursue her award-winning contributions to science. As a PhD student, Harris-Adamson’s San Francisco study of blue-collar workers with wrist tendinosis earned her first place for Best Paper at the international conference on the Prevention of Work-related Musculo-Skeletal Disorders, or PREMUS. In 2013, Harris-Adamson received Honorable Mention for the M. Donald Whorton Writing Award from COEH. Previously, she won Best Student Paper at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Conference in 2011.
Next on her research agenda is a project examining biomechanical exposures affecting hotel room cleaners. Also in the works is a paper on the risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome with COEH colleagues David Rempel and Ellen Eisen, which follows their findings from a pooled analysis of six U.S. prospective studies published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and Ergonomics, among others.
“I can’t say enough good things about Ergonomics and EHS at UC Berkeley,” says Harris-Adamson. Taking classes such as exposure assessment and epidemiology, she says, complemented her existing skills. “When I started, I had experience in PT and consulting but was narrowly focused. The program helped broaden my horizon and perspective.”
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