Occupational Therapy: New Master’s Program Builds Needed Workforce
by:Joanie Harmon - University Communications & Public Affairs

 

Although Claudia Peyton’s father became blind at the age of 22 due to a hunting accident, he went on to marry and raise a family that he never saw and also became a successful businessman. Throughout his 90 years of life, he was diligent in working to overcome his limitations or adapt to them.

“It made me realize how much people can do, even with a fairly serious sensory loss,” Peyton says. “As a child, when my friends came over to play, they often didn’t know that my dad was blind. I had never mentioned his loss of vision because he had very few limitations. I never really thought of him as having a disability. He managed to get around our home and yard and do all of the things that most dads do. I guess I’ve had the wonderful advantage of living with a parent who had a significant sensory loss but was very capable and who didn’t allow his loss of vision to destroy his life. He was quite amazing in that he was able to see new opportunities to overcome the challenges of everyday adaptations necessary to be a successful father and businessman.”

Such a personal inspiration influenced her career choices, most recently as coordinator of the Occupational Therapy (OT) Program. Currently, according to Peyton, there is a 35 percent shortage of occupational therapy personnel nationwide, which implies many employment opportunities for graduates.

“The demand for certified occupational therapists far outpaces the supply and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a deficit in this field through 2020,” she says. “The main reason for the increased need for trained professionals in OT is that we have a large population of aging baby boomers who will need more services to remain active and age in their own homes and in their communities and less often in facilities. Another area of high need is in pediatrics. Now more than at any other time in history, medical care allows fragile babies to survive, yet many will need early intervention services. Some will require occupational therapy for the remainder of their lives.”

“The faculty and I worked very hard to develop an entry level master’s program, which allows students to enter the profession after completing a bachelor’s degree in any major,” she continues. “It was a very big project. The faculty met several times each month and developed the entry level master’s curriculum. This new curriculum will provide students with the educational experiences necessary to practice occupational therapy.”

Students who have completed bachelor’s degrees in any major are eligible to apply after taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). They must also complete the prerequisite courses, including anatomy with lab, physiology with lab, abnormal personality, developmental psychology, and statistics. In addition, applicants are required to complete 80 hours of supervised volunteer experience with an occupational therapist. During the volunteer experience, students are given the opportunity to see the types of treatments that occupational therapists provide. Applicants are then screened and interviewed before acceptance into the program.

“Our mission is to assist students in moving through their educational experiences quickly,” says Peyton, referring to the seven consecutive semesters required for graduation. “Students come into the program with a strong interest in moving forward toward graduation so they can re-enter the workforce and begin practice as soon as possible.”

Students are admitted to the program once each year in the spring semester. Clustering them in classes that are only offered once a year provides an efficient way to maximize resources and make certain that students stay on track. While in the program, students complete five semesters of didactic coursework and two semesters of clinical internships. During four semesters, students are assigned to work eight hours each week in a clinical setting. Finally, students complete six months of full-time clinical internships in hospital and community settings in California and surrounding states.

“Students may be assigned to OT clinics in school settings providing services to children with disabilities or to a local hospital or rehabilitation center, where people
who are recovering from stroke or spinal cord injury are receiving treatment,” says Peyton. “Our students go out to major medical centers, school systems, adult
day centers, hospitals, or community mental health settings to complete the internship requirements for the degree.”

Career options abound for graduates. According to Peyton, work injuries, the war in Iraq and the ability to save children who are born with disabilities are all factors in a job market where an occupational therapy graduate is in demand. There is also substantial growth in areas such as substance abuse recovery, low vision rehabilitation and hippotherapy, which helps children with cerebral palsy and other developmental disorders gain a level of mobility through horseback riding.

“Children who are in wheelchairs don’t have opportunities to do some of the things that most children love to do, like play on swing sets or go down slides,” she says. “Riding on a horse provides them with the feeling of moving through space. It’s not only pleasurable and meaningful, but it also provides a neuromuscular form of treatment.”

San Jose State University is the only other school in the CSU system with an occupational therapy program. Peyton underscores several factors that make the CSUDH program unique with its perspective on the field and unparalleled support for its students.

“Our curriculum focus is on the relationship of the person, the environment and occupation, and how occupational therapists can advocate for and enable people who have disabilities to become equal participants in society,” she states. “In order to advocate for people in overcoming disabilities, we have to consider justice and equality at the level of their ability to first successfully participate in basic daily living skills.

“Funding is essential to enhance rehabilitation efforts that will assist people to optimize their life goals and provide opportunities for them to fully participate in all aspects of work and play,” she says. “The focus on occupational justice fits well with the diversity of clients served in Los Angeles and surrounding areas and promotes the value of advocacy and enablement. We’re helping students consider occupational justice as it relates to disability and cultural, socioeconomic, and other variations that occur in this environment.”

Peyton credits the concept of a student cohort with retention and success. During the seven semester curriculum, the students study and socialize together, forming
a bond that helps them to grow academically and professionally.

“We like to think of our faculty and students as a small community of scholars,” she says. “They get to know each other very well. The students have a road map when they enter the program and know exactly which courses they will take each semester. The class cohort takes all courses together each semester. Students are assigned a faculty advisor and have close interactions with the program faculty who are mentors to the students’ professional growth. The OT faculty really nurtures the growth of the students and spends a lot of time preparing them for successful entry into the work world.”

Peyton emphasizes the importance of peer support and cooperative learning to student cohorts in this demanding major.

“The new class has a terrific spirit. They seem to enjoy each other’s company and plan activities to support each other because they are under a fair amount of pressure. Very few students leave the program once they enter as a cohort, because forming a community of support helps them succeed. I think the formula is working in the students’ favor.”

The representative assembly of the American Occupational Therapy Association voted in 1999 to require an entry level master’s degree of graduates entering the profession.

“This was a decision made at the national level by the Assembly that represents the constituency of the profession,” says Peyton. “In order to comply with educational essentials, which are necessary for accreditation of the program at CSUDH, we were obligated to transition from the Bachelor of Science to the new Master of Science in Occupational Therapy, which we have now successfully done.”

The final class of bachelor’s students is currently completing its clinical internship rotations and will graduate in December 2005 or May 2006; after this time the
Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy (BSOT) Program in OT will end.

“Students who have completed the BSOT program will be required to take the National Board Examination for Certification in Occupational Therapy before Dec. 31, 2006 to qualify to begin practice,” says Peyton. “However, anyone who wants to enter the field after Dec. 31, 2006, will need to have a master’s degree.”

After completing the program, students will be able to help others as qualified occupational therapists, a responsibility that Peyton believes is one that will always need to be met.

“I believe that people can overcome disability and have a wonderful life with the right assistance,” she says. “It is my personal mission to make sure that we have an adequate supply of occupational therapy personnel to serve the public. As long as people experience the losses associated with war, the aging process, trauma,
disease and disability, there will be a need for occupational therapy.”

Joanie Harmon, Web Editor - University Communications & Public Affairs
California State University, Dominguez Hills Dateline


 

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