Hooding ceremony

Occupational therapy doctoral program granted candidacy status

Apr 21, 2020
Kathryne Davis

Student working with baby.Brenau University is on its way to adding to its growing list of doctoral degree offerings with Georgia’s first entry-level occupational therapy doctoral program.

The Accreditation Council of Occupational Therapy Education has granted candidacy status for the three-year program at Brenau’s Norcross campus, and students can be admitted beginning August 2020. This is the first of three steps in the accreditation process, which will be finished by the time the first cohort of 20-25 students graduates.

Graduates of the entry-level OTD program are allowed to sit for the national certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy — which they otherwise would have done while earning a master’s degree in OT.

Gale Starich, dean of the Ivester College of Health Sciences, said the new program not only supports Brenau’s mission to expand its health care offerings, but it also fills a critical need in an era of major shortages in all health fields.

“It has long been a goal of Brenau University to grow graduate education, but it requires an enormous financial and intellectual investment by the university,” Starich said. “I couldn’t be prouder to be part of what this university has built over the past 20 years.”

Professor Emeritus Barbara Schell, who helped found Brenau’s School of Occupational Therapy, started the process of developing the doctoral program after getting approval through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

“She always thought the education would move to a doctorate down the road,” said Kathleen Foley, director of the School of Occupational Therapy. “We were getting students requesting this program so we decided we would go forward with it.”

Brenau’s Ivester College of Health Sciences offers many opportunities for students to work toward becoming occupational therapists and prepares graduates to excel in practice, inquiry and advocacy. Brenau continues to offer a post-professional occupational therapist doctorate, which Foley said is for occupational therapy practitioners that wish to enhance their knowledge and skills while continuing their education. In addition, the Gainesville campus offers a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT). The School of Occupational Therapy’s mission is “to improve the profession by engaging in practice scholarship, and to provide leadership and advocacy ranging from local to international levels.”

Students working on hand splints.The new doctoral program offers additional semesters of study focusing on clinical practice skills, research skills, administration, leadership, advocacy and theory development. In addition, Brenau will require students to take a global health and community needs course, which emphasizes diverse and underserved communities. Foley said the students do fieldwork in the United States and Mexico, often in areas of need. The hope is that students will be able to go to other underserved locations in the U.S. and abroad in the future.

While there are 36 occupational therapy doctoral programs and 46 currently being developed in the United States, Foley said Brenau’s program — which already attracts students from all over the country — has several factors that set it apart from the others.

“We already offer accredited occupational programs at Brenau so we have the knowledge and skills to develop this program,” she said. “We also have good community-based relationships that are helpful to get students out and working with the different populations early in the curriculum.

“This program will continue to solidify our role in producing graduates who are highly qualified to work in the health-related field.”