Central Penn College in Summerdale, Pa., recently established an Occupational Therapy Assistant program and is developing a collaborative fieldwork agreement with the Occupational Therapy (OT) program at Elizabethtown College.
“Occupational Therapy is a health profession that helps to improve the well-being and functions of people with developmental delay and physical and psychological dysfunction,” according to the Etown website. Students in the program have the opportunity to integrate the humanities and the behavioral and physical sciences with professional study. A registered Occupational Therapist must have a master’s degree at the minimum.
The OT program at Etown is the only master’s degree program available in the residential setting, and is also one of the most competitive to get into for prospective students. While Etown’s OT program offers combined degrees, a Bachelor of Science in Health and Occupation and a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy, after five years of academic study and six months of clinical fieldwork, Central Penn’s OTA program offers an Associate Degree in Applied Science after the completion of 21 months of year-round training.
For Etown OT students, the program’s primary objective is to prepare them as generalist practitioners who are qualified for successful employment in hospitals, community agencies, schools, rehabilitation centers, extended-care facilities and related human services agencies. The Etown website assures, “With this foundation, the beginning therapist can progress to specialized areas of clinical practice as well as research, administration and academia.”
For Central Penn OTA students, “the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program prepares graduates to practice as an entry-level generalist occupational therapy assistant with children, adults and the elderly in a variety of practice settings, including but not limited to hospitals, schools, mental health facilities and skilled nursing facilities. A certified occupational therapy assistant helps people achieve independence and learn to live productive lives through the use of meaningful activities and life roles,” according to the Central Penn website.
The intention of a fieldwork collaboration is to help students from both programs better understand the interactions that occur between OTs and OTAs in clinical practices. Dr. Judy B. Ericksen, department chair and associate professor of OT at Etown, is working with Central Penn’s OTA program director, Susan Corby, to hopefully develop a relationship.
They plan to meet this coming summer, along with their fieldwork coordinators, to discuss how they would like to collaborate. They would like to do so in a community-based way on the first level of fieldwork, but have not yet decided if they will work at the same sites or have shared assignments.
Despite not having the details hammered out at this point, Ericksen is looking forward to the prospect of a partnership. “I think it will be exciting and a benefit to both programs, and to community agencies,” she said.
Stephanie Sherick, a student in Etown’s OT graduate class, has not had a lot of experience working with OTAs in her fieldwork. However, she noted that it depends on what facility students are placed at and how the facility prefers to mentor those students. Sherick briefly worked with one OTA during her Level 2 fieldwork and got to observe her supervising OT interact with the OTA.
“I definitely think there is a need for more interaction between OTs and OTAs. A lot of my classmates do not understand the difference between OTs and OTAs, other than what we learn in class, because we do not have much clinical experience with them,” she said.
Sherick strongly believes that it would be a smart and educational experience for students in both the Central Penn and Etown programs if collaboration occurred. “I feel that in doing this, it will allow both occupational therapy programs better understanding of the relationship that OTs and OTAs have,” she said. “I think that having programs, classes or even hands-on clinical experiences with Central Penn would be so helpful in understanding how OTAs and OTs have similar, as well as different, requirements and how they interact with one another.”