The St. Ambrose Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program has received full accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
One of just 54 doctoral degree programs from among 251 ACOTE-accredited occupational therapy programs, the SAU OTD program is at the forefront of an industry transformation. ACOTE has mandated that all entry-level occupational therapy programs transition from master's to doctorate curricula by 2027.
The St. Ambrose program, which launched in the fall of 2016 with ACOTE candidacy status, is now fully accredited for the next seven years.
As such, graduates of the program will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapist administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of this exam, the individual will be an Occupational Therapist, Registered (OTR). In addition, all states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination.
St. Ambrose will celebrate its first Doctor of Occupational Therapy degrees during the commencement ceremony in May of 2019. Program Director Lynn Kilburg '91, DHSc, MBA, OTR/L, predicted the graduates will build on a long history of success for SAU OT students stepping out into the workforce.
"We have had 100 percent job placement for many years now, and 80 percent of our master's graduates selected their job in their first choice of practice and/or geographical location within six weeks of graduation," Kilburg said. "We anticipate that with the doctoral students' focused emphasis in a doctoral project, they will further pinpoint the jobs they're interested in and impact the clients they serve."
The "focused emphasis" is what has added doctoral rigor to the OTD curriculum. After completing fieldwork this fall, the inaugural OTD cohort will spend the final semester of the three-year program completing individualized capstone projects focused on supporting health while also serving in clinical placements associated with their projects.
Sandra Cassady, PhD, vice president for strategic initiatives at St. Ambrose and dean of the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), said careful planning and years of preparation for the OTD program launch were responsible for high commendation the program earned from an ACOTE committee that assessed the program over a three-day on-site visit in July.
That group cited six major strengths in its report. Comments included:
- "Service initiatives and outreach activities (that) promote awareness for the need to develop caring and compassionate practitioners with occupational justice for all individuals."
- "The faculty has a tremendous depth and breadth of expertise in both areas of clinical practice and educational experience. The team-teaching approach adopted by faculty strengthens the ties between didactic learning and the clinical experience and allows the faculty to capitalize on their areas of expertise demonstrating collegiality and collaboration mimicking the consultancy model and often gray areas of practice."
- "The administration has adopted an open-door policy, from faculty to the dean, to the president's office, facilitating collaboration and innovative program that have resulted in robust opportunities for inter-professional education with the physical therapy, speech therapy and physician assistant programs."
There was one suggestion related to exploring process and distribution of workload. No areas of non-compliance were noted.
Much of the visiting group's high praise for the program related to the collaborative nature of graduate programs in the College of Health and Human Services, where OTD students learn the team approach to health care alongside students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy, Master of Physician Assistant Studies, Master of Social Work and Master of Speech-Language Pathology programs. Students in the undergraduate nursing degree programs also participate in this collaborative learning approach.
The Institute for Person-Centered Care at St. Ambrose, a community resource introduced in October of 2017, adds to the innovative and collaborative approach to learning, Kilburg said.
"Occupational therapists would say we have been person-centered for a long time but the Institute really offers us an opportunity for communicating that delivery model to our area clinical sites and to the community," she said.
Cassady said the accreditation process affirms the OTD department's commitment to excellence.
"We are proud of the OTD faculty and staff and congratulate them on this important accomplishment," she said. "The conversion of this professional program from a master's to a doctoral degree was accomplished through a significant curriculum revision that relied on much integration and teamwork. I am so pleased that ACOTE's careful evaluation and decision resulted in program accreditation for seven years and compliance with all standards."
Occupational Therapy debuted as an undergraduate degree major program at St. Ambrose in the late 1980s and produced its first graduates in 1991. It is the longest-standing occupational therapy program in the state of Iowa and currently offers the state's only accredited doctoral degree in the discipline. The first Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degrees were awarded in 2000. The final MOT cohort graduated in August 2018. The program enrolled its first class of doctoral students in fall 2016 and the class will graduate in August 2019. Since 1991, the program has produced 908 graduates - with an estimated 40 to 50 percent of those graduates having worked as health professionals in the Quad-Cities region.