At first glance, it might seem it was Elizabeth "Bizzie" Braun's good fortune that in the midst of her undergraduate career at St. Ambrose University, the SAU Institute for Person-Centered Care (IPCC) was founded and the Occupational Therapy Department transitioned from a master's to a doctoral degree program with a capstone requirement.
That coincidental confluence helped Elizabeth build on an innate passion for person-centeredness and addressing the needs and wants of those around her that she'd brought to St. Ambrose in 2015.
"I think that's something that has always been there in terms of how I embraced my Catholic faith and how I try to live that out," she said of her desire to serve and assist people in myriad ways. "It has definitely been amplified at St. Ambrose, even as an undergrad, by being able to be involved in Campus Ministry, join social justice groups, working in the community and, then, with the OT program.
"We talk a lot about occupational justice in the program, this concept of advocating for others, working for others so they can have access to all these occupations that can bring meaning to their lives. That's where my doctoral focus on person-centered care really blossomed into a great project and this great experience I have been able to have here at St. Ambrose."
So, yeah. Lucky Bizzie? Sure.
Still, the more you listen and learn about this bright, capable and caring young woman from Hartland, Wisconsin, the more you realize it also was SAU's good fortune to have Elizabeth Braun as an Ambrosian.
On May 14, 2021, Elizabeth added a Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree to the SAU Bachelor of Arts in Psychology she earned in 2018.
She also left St. Ambrose with another impressive credential in the essential Ambrosian work of enriching lives. Earlier this spring, Elizabeth became the first full-time student anywhere to be awarded a credential as a Planetree Fellow in Person-Centered Care.
The prestigious honor was awarded based on Elizabeth's impressive record of work on behalf of St. Ambrose and the IPCC throughout her time in the OTD program. This includes her capstone project, through which she assisted the SAU College of Health and Human Services progress toward becoming one of five schools in North America accredited by Planetree International, an organization that has advocated for person-centered health care since 1971.
Elizabeth also led efforts to build a SAU Student Advisory Group for the IPCC, one consisting of representatives from graduate programs in occupational therapy, physical therapy, social work, physician assistant studies, speech-language pathology, exercise physiology and public health, as well as undergraduates in nursing. Elizabeth also served as a founding chair of the group.
She also had the opportunity to observe how person-centeredness is practiced in Planetree-certified organizations, has spoken about person-centered care in the community and as a participant in the IPCC podcast series, and had the opportunity to lecture second-year OT students on the topic.
"Bizzie has been a champion for the person-centered movement here at SAU," said IPCC Director Ann Garton, a clinical professor of nursing. "Early on, she recognized the idea that one person can make a profound difference in the lives of others through the tenets of person-centered care. We are proud of her accomplishments throughout her journey at SAU. The programs she helped create support our students in gaining the necessary competencies of the important tenets of person-centered care, which will improve the health and wellness of our communities in which they practice."
Creating ambassadors such as Elizabeth to spread the gospel of person-centered care was among the outcomes St. Ambrose Trustee Tom Higgins '67 foresaw when he helped create the IPCC through a seven-figure donation in 2017.
The concept of empowering individuals and their families to direct the work of integrated, interprofessional teams of health and human service providers fit seamlessly, after all, with the value-driven and highly collaborative work of the health science programs at SAU.
"Elizabeth Braun embodies the spirit of person-centered care, which means to enrich every aspect of healthcare with a style of practice that reflects the dignity of the individual," he said. "She and our other graduates will take this philosophy into the broader community and, through their commitment, make a better place for us to thrive."
Elizabeth is eager to put the person-centered concepts into practice as she prepares for the next chapter.
"It's something I really plan to continue in my career as an occupational therapist," she said. "As I am job-hunting, I'm looking at organizations to see if their values match up with person-centeredness."
Between commencement and launching her career, meanwhile, Bizzie ("As a kid, I couldn't say Elizabeth and it stuck," she explained) is looking forward to being a little less busy.
Her do-it-all St. Ambrose career included being named Graduate Student of the Year in 2019; her selection as SAU representative to Assembly of Student Delegates for the American Occupational Therapy Association; earning Kokjohn Grant as a leader of Ambrosians for Peace and Justice; and induction into the Phi Theta Epsilon Honor Society.
"Honestly, it feels very surreal after six years at St. Ambrose to know I'm moving on," she said. "I wouldn't say that it's scary though. It feels like I'm ready. I have been very well-prepared, not only in how to practice my profession but in how to live a good life. How to make connections. How to really embrace the people and the situations around me. I'm excited about that."
"I have been very well-prepared, not only in how to practice my profession but in how to live a good life. How to make connections. How to really embrace the people and the situations around me. I'm excited about that."
Elizabeth Braun '18, '21 OTD