Duana Russell-Thomas

Duana Russell-Thomas

Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy and Medicine; CELC Director; Leads the St. Louis Regional Arthritis Center (RAC); WashU Alumna

Throughout her career, Dr. Duana Russell-Thomas has gone above and beyond her professional responsibilities by actively encouraging and supporting all individuals with whom she interacts. She actively engages the health of St. Louis residents and intentionally creates spaces that are accessible and inclusive to all.  

Through her role as an occupational therapist and assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine, Duana has consistently exhibited a deep sense of compassion. As the Director of the Center for Experiential Learning in the Program of Occupational Therapy, she oversees various operations including community-led research, project development, and program evaluation. Duana works collaboratively with faculty members to design innovative educational experiences for students, as well as with the community to create critical partnerships for the center’s success.  

Duana is an ardent advocate for all students on the Washington University campus and beyond. One of her nominators attested, “Duana makes it a consistent practice to put aside her tasks and take time out of her day to listen to students, support their needs and help in any way she can.”  

One of Duana’s students described her as “a beacon of light” and shared a story of her impact. At a time when the student considered dropping out of the program, “[Duana] recognized my potential as a therapist and truly believed that I had something unique to offer the field… She flatly refused to let the program continue to break me down and promised that she would fight beside me every step of the way. As a Black student, her mentorship in a profession lacking diversity and representation reverberates deeper than many realize.” 

In addition to being an excellent advocate for students, Duana is an advocate in the St. Louis community. She serves as president of the National Black Occupational Therapy Caucus and actively participates in the American Occupational Therapy Association. She is also an ambassador and trainer for the Alive and Well STL Trauma Informed Care initiative with the St. Louis Regional Health Commission. This program is a community-wide effort focused on reducing the impact of toxic stress and trauma on health and well-being.  

Duana also serves as the Coordinator for the Eastern Missouri Regional Arthritis Center and is an educator with the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program. The program provides a free opportunity for community members to participate in 6 sessions for individuals dealing with a chronic or limiting health condition. The program’s success has been so significant that it is now also offered to graduate students in occupational therapy 

As stated by nominator Sarah Nash, “Dr. Russell-Thomas never turns down an opportunity to help her community.” Her dedication to the Washington University student body and the St. Louis community is truly significant.