OT department making changes to reflect and accommodate spike in program enrollment

Elizabeth Gipe November 9, 2017 0

Elizabethtown College has a good reputation regarding its occupational therapy (OT) program, and as a result, the College attracts many prospective OT majors each fall. Not only is the College capable of attracting prospective OT students, but the College can also retain returning students in the program at an impressive rate.

The OT program has grown considerably because of the statistics in these areas, and in order to manage these large cohorts of students, the program has to undergo numerous changes.

One solution for handling the larger cohorts of students that the OT program is currently looking into is increasing the amount of OT faculty. The program was given approval by the College to search for new faculty members. In addition to adding new professors, the program is looking to increase the amount of adjunct faculty members for OT who are currently working in the field but come to Etown to teach a class or two for a semester.

The focus is on implementing solutions that both tackle immediate concerns for the OT program but also remain in effect for a longer period of time as parts of five-year plans.

Another concern caused by the large cohorts of students is securing fieldwork placements for OT students further along in the major.

Since there is such a large amount of students, it can be difficult to find placements for each student in the field that fit the needs of the program. There are many variables that factor into finding suitable fieldwork for the students. These variables are out of the program’s control, but the OT program continues to build relationships and partnerships with potential companies to secure these placements for students.

However, despite the higher than average amount of people in the OT major, OT students do not feel as if they are being looked over or ignored in classes. Part of this is because of how the OT program strives to provide the best learning environment for the students.

“Over the course of the last five years we have tried to maximize our teaching approaches,” associate professor of occupational therapy and Department Chairperson Dr. Tamera Humbert said.

For example, the OT program decided to maximize faculty resources by having only one lecture session, but split the lab session up into three or so separate sections to allow for smaller classes. In addition to that, the program has tried to offer more flexibility by staggering class times so that students have the option to take a wider variety of other classes in their schedules.

These efforts have not been lost on the students. “We’ve only had one semester of class, but still, I feel like I’m getting personal attention from all of the professors,” first-year Lauren Griffiths said.

In addition to the larger class sizes that the OT program has to manage, the new mandate of the OT profession requiring a doctorate is another change within the program.

According to the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), after July 1, 2027, graduates will need a doctorate degree in occupational therapy in order to practice. This new mandate, while not entirely a surprise, is something that the program and the students need to consider for the future.

As for the College’s OT program’s plans to adapt to the new mandate, the program anticipated the change and as such had drafted a new curriculum that has been approved by the College.

The curriculum will be implemented in fall 2018. The program expects to add students into the program by 2019 or 2020 at the absolute latest, but there are multiple approval processes that still need to be completed.

Students that join the master’s curriculum in fall 2018 may potentially switch to the doctorate program, but the OT program is still trying to figure out when the final transition to a doctorate program will take place.

Student reactions to this new mandate are mixed.

“I’m a little frustrated that I cannot keep going so I can get my doctorate at Etown,” junior Becca Coder said. “I have to go back to school and enroll in a different program and go through admissions again.”

Griffiths shared a similar sentiment. “I understand why we can’t get the doctorate [at Etown], but it’s still disappointing,” she said.

Overall, even if the general reaction was disappointment, students are still grateful for the current master’s program and for the OT program’s plans for the future. Sophomore Hannah Paymer was quite supportive of the new program.

“I’m glad Etown is doing the six-year program,” Paymer stated. “Students can get all their schooling done in one place, and that’s great.”

Coder does not feel worried about her current situation given the new mandate either.

“I’m not worried that I will lose out on opportunities…You learn by being put into the field, and that’s what matters,” she said.

The OT department feels successful despite the current obstacles, citing the fantastic pass rate of the students as something to be admired. Lists showing student and faculty scholarship hang on the wall on the third floor of Esbenshade. OT students are graduating and getting good jobs and moving on to bigger and better things after graduating from the College.


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