In an effort to provide more learning opportunities and further education for students at Ithaca College, the Department of Occupational Therapy (OTD) has implemented a new six-year undergraduate-plus doctoral degree program that will begin in Fall 2023.
The program will be the college’s second doctoral program, the first being Doctor of Physical Therapy, which has existed since 1948, and is offered by the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance (HSHP).
Students that enter the OTD doctoral program will earn a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational science after four years and a doctor of occupational therapy degree at the end of their sixth year. This doctorate program will replace the combined Bachelor of Science and Master of Science program that was only five years.
However, students that are currently enrolled in the five-year program are not able to apply to the six-year program because it is an entry-level program, which means students have to apply before their first year at the college. There are significant differences in the curriculum, which means there is not a pathway for current students to move into the new program. The rollout of applications for the program started Aug.1 and will continue until Feb.1, 2023. Students can apply in the Common App and select the doctorate program when applying to the college.
Many colleges across the United States, like Old Dominion University, Duke University School of Medicine and the University of Vermont, have implemented doctorate-level programs in 2022. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), which accredits occupational therapy programs, mandated the doctorate in 2017 and then rescinded that decision for a variety of factors.
Julie Dorsey, professor, chair and program director of the Department of Occupational Therapy, said the faculty in the department worked hard to develop the curriculum for the doctorate program so that it is efficient for students. Additionally, Dorsey said only 50 students will be admitted to the OTD doctorate program.
“We wanted to control what the curriculum looked like and have a lot of time to develop it,” Dorsey said. “It was not an easy process and we had a lot of conversations about what the right thing to do was. In the national conversations around higher education, cost and the length of time to graduate are really important.”
Linda Petrosino, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance (HSHP), said via email that she will continue to play a role as dean in strategically aligning HSHP programs with the market.
“The students will learn how to become advocates of inclusive policies and environments to support occupational justice,” Petrosino said. “I am particularly pleased that the curriculum has a focus on occupational justice which sets us apart from many other programs. I look forward to welcoming the first OTD cohort targeted to enter Fall 2023.”
According to Ithaca College’s website, some of the benefits of joining the doctoral program include having a chance to participate in hands-on learning opportunities on and off campus, clinical experiences that will be supervised by faculty members, and the eligibility to sit for the National Board for Certificate in Therapy competency exam.
Once students pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy certification exam, they are eligible to be licensed in all 50 states. However, each state has its licensure process and Occupational Therapists need to be licensed in each state that they practice.
During the final year of the doctoral program, students will participate in a capstone project in which students will pick a topic area in occupational therapy that they are interested in and do in-depth research. Afterward, students will have a chance to design a project that addresses that topic and focus on ways to improve the occupational profession based on their research and findings.
Dorsey said she is most excited about the course curriculum in the doctorate program because it will address occupational justice, which focuses on providing individuals with tools to be able to meet basic needs along with equal opportunities and life chances.
“Our work is to address bigger issues surrounding what is limiting people,” Dorsey said. “We really did some intentional work in our curriculum, which is really important because students can learn the skills that are necessary in order to go out and be the change in the profession and help improve the way we view disability.”
Junior Avery White said she is excited about the program because students will have the opportunity to get more depth in their occupational therapy careers. Additionally, White said she is unsure if she would join the doctorate program if there was an entryway for current students. However, White said she would not entirely turn down the offer to join the program.
“The OT department here at Ithaca is incredible,” White said. “I always say that to anyone who’s interested in OT because the professors are so supportive and they love OT, so then that makes you love OT.”
Senior Aliana Zabel said she is grateful for all of the opportunities the department has given and is glad that the department is implementing a doctorate program.
“A lot of things are changing and we don’t really know the state of things and decisions that are being made,” Zabel said. “I think that it makes sense as a school [that] is very forward thinking and kind of progressive in our program. The fact that the college is already prepared and already has all of their pre-approved curriculum is really exciting.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that students in the master’s program would be overqualified for the doctorate program. They would not be overqualified. The programs have different curriculum, so there is not a pathway for current students to move into the doctorate program.