Alumni Profile - Tara McCaghey-Delaney

OT student doing research with child


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MS-TS Gave OT Grad a New Direction 

The Texas Hill Country is a very attractive place, and anyone who has lived there sighs longingly at the thought of returning. Tara McCaghey-Delaney (1997 MS-TS) actually did return – but not as soon as she thought.

Delaney, who received a BS in OT from the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, planned to return to the Hill Country for grad school at UT-Austin after her fieldwork internship at UW-Madison’s Waisman Center.

But she found herself fascinated by Professor Mary Schneider’s research and the Therapeutic Science program and stayed in Madison.

“I was really excited about Mary’s research and I wanted to be part of it,” said Delaney, who received a 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Occupational Therapy Association of California.

Delaney founded BabySteps, a pediatric contract company for schools, in Austin with two employees and eventually renamed the company Steps Therapy and moved the operation to Sacramento, Calif. where she now employs a staff of 30.

Delaney credits her success to her mentors – Schneider and Waisman Center Clinical Professor Rita Hohlstein – and the learning style she experienced at UW, where she participated in small group philosophical discussions and applied them to modern day health care and therapy, she said.

“I thought it was grueling at the time, but I know that really helped me with problem solving in this business… with employees and clients,” she said. “The faculty there taught me how to think and ask questions… and to seek answers. Now, I’m seeking answers about child a who is a year old and figuring out why he won’t let his mother hold him.”

Delaney took a primates class with Psychology Professor Christopher Coe before starting grad school, and was hooked. “I was convinced that this was the place I wanted to be,” she said.

UW-Madison’s MS in Therapeutic Science, a degree track for students who have graduated from an accredited occupational therapy program, emphasizes theories underlying occupational therapy. MS-TS students conduct research and develop advanced knowledge in a specific area of concentration within therapeutic science.

The program’s philosophical and theoretical approach to healthcare appealed to Delaney, who said she learned a lot about research and the educational aspects of occupational therapy in the MS-TS program that surpassed the standard clinical preparation for a BS or MSOT.

“I really had a narrower view of OT (before starting the MS-TS)… I hadn’t had the kind of expanse I got when I was in the therapeutic science program,” she said.

Delaney found great value in relating research to people’s lives and how therapists can be active in different areas in the community beyond traditional therapy.

She especially enjoyed working with Schneider on cortisol levels in primates exposed to alcohol and stress and then visiting schools for young, unwed mothers and talking to them about the effects of stress on infants and unborn babies.

“Educating the community was pretty eye-opening,” Delaney said.

Delaney also focused on families of children with developmental disabilities on a leadership grant she received through the Waisman Center and the OT Program.

“I didn’t realize how profoundly my stint in Madison would change my career,” said Delaney, who has been expanding her private practice ever since.

“You soak it all up, but you don’t know you’re doing it,” she said. “It took a while, but I believe it made me a leader in my field.”

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