Kayla Jones didn’t fit neatly into any of the typical social groupings when she was in high school at Chicago’s St. Ignatius College Prep. She was an athlete who participated in three sports —cross country, basketball and softball — but she was also really good at math and science. “One time in a science class I had a test on thermodynamics and I scored 100 on it. It really clicked for me,” she remembers. “I always liked math because it had a solution at the end.”
Jones combined her love of sports and science at the University of Iowa where she majored in biomedical engineering and graduated in 2015. She quickly landed a job with a firm that tested medical devices like inhalers and infusion pumps for approval by the Food & Drug Administration. There was only one hitch: The job was isolating and not as interesting as she had hoped. “I thought, ‘Oh no, I need some people interaction.’”
With the idea that she might want to become a physical therapist, Jones began volunteering in the spinal cord injury unit at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in 2016. Sometimes that meant fetching equipment, sitting with patients while they were exercising, or pushing someone’s wheelchair to a therapy session. The experience changed her way of thinking about spinal cord injuries. “There’s this misconception that you’ll never recover but some people with incomplete injuries do,” she says.
That experience led her to apply for a research assistant post at the Center for Rehabilitation Outcomes Research, part of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab that studies rehabilitation methods to find out which ones provide the best quality of care for people with a wide range of disabilities. “In the interview I learned that CROR’s main focus areas were quality of life and patient care improvement, which interested me,” Jones remembers.
In the interview I learned that CROR’s main focus areas were quality of life and patient care improvement, which interested me.Kayla Jones, Project Coordinator
She began working as a CROR project coordinator in February 2017 and is currently involved with several studies, including one looking at ways to help people with spinal cord injuries manage their weight. Jones, 26, is also working on a study of aphasia, the communication problem that many people experience after a stroke. “The goal is to create a trajectory of aphasia recovery, starting with being an inpatient here to 18 months after injury.” Jones will be recruiting patients by visiting them in their hospital rooms, administering assessments and then following up with them on a weekly basis to track their progress.
“Kayla is a super-organized, responsible individual,” says CROR research scientist Linda Ehrlich Jones, Ph.D., RN. “She is not afraid to take on new responsibilities and is eager to learn new skills.”
Like many previous project coordinators at CROR, Jones is planning to go back to school for an advanced degree. She reconsidered physical therapy but ultimately decided to go in a different direction. She is now applying to master’s programs in genetic counseling. “I really liked genetics in high school and found it fascinating,” she says. “I don’t want to be in a lab trying to find new genetic markers. I want to be educating patients about their conditions and how they can have their best possible outcomes. To me, that’s very powerful.”
Kayla is a super-organized, responsible individual. The is not afraid to take on new responsibilities and is eager to learn new skills.CROR Assistant Director Linda Ehrlich-Jones, Ph.D., RN