UT Health San Antonio offers first state-funded occupational therapy doctorate in Texas

SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 26, 2018) ― The School of Health Professions at UT Health San Antonio is leading the way as the first state-supported educational program in Texas to offer an entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree.

Bridgett Piernik-Yoder, Ph.D., OTR, associate professor and chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, said the doctoral degree replaces an existing Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degree and provides students with stronger clinical and practice skills and additional education in leadership and management. Students also complete a mentored doctoral capstone project in either research, advanced clinical skills, or project development and outcomes measurement.

“The health care industry is very dynamic and health care professionals need to be prepared to meet the practice demands of the future. Many of our occupational therapy graduates get their first jobs in underserved areas across the state, so we have been committed to developing this new degree to prepare them as leaders in the profession,” she said.

“Offering this degree here in San Antonio is important because it means our graduates will begin their careers at the highest level of education offered in the profession. They will have the skills and education to be very competitive for jobs not only at the beginning of their careers but throughout their career as they advance with practice and leadership experience,” Dr. Piernik-Yoder added.

The OTD curriculum at UT Health San Antonio is only one semester longer than the current master’s program, so students can complete their doctoral degree with minimal increase in time and tuition expense. Approximately half of the occupational therapy programs across the United States offer the doctoral program or are transitioning to it from a master’s degree, she said.

Diverse program

“Our first group of 42 students began the new program in the summer and they are a very diverse group,” Dr. Piernik-Yoder said. “Our cohort is comprised of 24 percent males, and 42.2 percent Hispanic students, 38.1 percent white, 7.1 percent Asian and 4.7 percent black. An American Occupational Therapy Association survey showed that nationally, 95 percent of occupational therapists are white females.

According to Piernik-Yoder, the OT program emphasizes a holistic admission review process as well as a culture of inclusion, which strengthens the program and experiences of faculty and students alike.

Occupational therapy career

Occupational therapy is a health profession that addresses an individual’s ability to perform daily activities — or occupations — they need, want or are expected to do. Depending on the age and roles of the person, this may include self-care activities such as dressing, bathing and eating; successfully taking part in required learning or work activities; and safely and successfully performing tasks such as taking care of the home, planning and preparing meals, or managing a budget and finances. “These are often familiar tasks, but they can be very difficult for someone who has an injury, illness or developmental condition because these tasks require a combination of physical, cognitive and psychosocial components,” Dr. Piernik-Yoder explained.

Being an occupational therapist requires in-depth knowledge of the biological sciences and a strong understanding of how psychology, culture, environment and community help support a person’s ability to successfully perform daily occupations. All these factors are taken into consideration when providing intervention for clients and families, as well as addressing needs in a community.

Employment outlook

Like many health professions, the employment for occupational therapists is strong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected employment growth through year 2026 is 24 percent nationally and 30 percent in Texas. Because occupational therapists work with people across the lifespan, a wide range of people need and benefit from occupational therapy services including children with autism or cerebral palsy; people who sustain injuries or medical events such as stroke, brain injury or spinal cord injuries; adults with Alzheimer’s disease; and even healthy seniors who want to reduce their risk of falls and remain in their own homes as they age.

Applications for the second cohort of students are currently being considered. The third application cycle opens in July and closes in mid-October of 2019. Visit  http://www.uthscsa.edu/academics/health-professions/departments/occupational-therapy or call (210) 567-8881 for more information.

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, now called UT Health San Antonio®, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities. With missions of teaching, research, healing and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced 35,850 alumni who are leading change, advancing their fields and renewing hope for patients and their families throughout South Texas and the world. To learn about the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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