GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions has received approval from the Florida Board of Governors to offer a Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree beginning in fall 2018. It will be the first such degree program offered by a Florida public institution.
The new degree will replace the current master’s degree in occupational therapy offered by the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of occupational therapy. The move toward offering the Doctor of Occupational Therapy as the entry-level degree for OT clinical practice follows a national trend among the top universities and is supported by professional organizations, including the American Occupational Therapy Association’s board of directors.
“Approval to offer the doctorate represents a major milestone for the department of occupational therapy and for the College of Public Health and Health Professions,” said Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “The doctoral program will provide our students with a greater breadth and depth of knowledge that will enhance the care they provide to clients and will prepare them well for leadership roles in the health care arena.”
Occupational therapists work with clients of all ages who have disabilities or are recovering from injury or illness. The therapist’s goal is to help clients be able to participate in activities of daily living at school, work, home or in the community.
Employment for occupational therapists is expected to grow by 33 percent over the next several years as therapists meet the needs of clients across the lifespan. In particular, Florida leads the nation in a growing population of mature adults who will require integrated services to ensure they age in place and in the community, said Sherrilene Classen, Ph.D., M.P.H., OTR/L, a professor and chair of the UF department of occupational therapy.
“Students completing the Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree will enter the workforce as highly qualified personnel ready to address complex care needs of aging populations and to positively affect the health care system,” Classen said. “We need clinicians who can excel at thinking and implementing best practices and research and who are able to adequately respond to the emerging health care needs of the 21st century.
“We are indebted to Dr. Stephanie Hanson, the executive associate dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions, and Dr. Joanne Foss, a professor emerita and previous interim chair of the OT department, for their planning and organizational work related to the doctoral degree in occupational therapy,” Classen said.
Like the master’s degree, the Doctor of Occupational Therapy prepares students for entry-level practice, but the curriculum includes enhanced training in evidence-based practice, leadership and advocacy as well as interprofessional education and an advanced clinical capstone experience, said Christine T. Myers, Ph.D., OTR/L, a clinical associate professor in the department of occupational therapy and the director of the master’s program.
“Students will be trained to use data-driven decisions for client-centered occupational therapy, which will result in high-quality care and improved health outcomes,” Myers said.
As the first public institution in Florida to offer the degree, UF continues a tradition of educational leadership. When UF first launched an occupational therapy degree in 1958, it was the only program of its kind in the Southeast. The UF OT program is currently ranked No. 17 in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of 189 U.S. OT programs, and is the highest-ranking occupational therapy degree program in Florida.