UC ramps up to launch Doctor of Occupational Therapy program

The first OTD class is expected to complete the new doctoral level program in spring 2026

The UC College of Allied Health Sciences will welcome its inaugural cohort of students pursuing their Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree in May of 2023. Even though the college won’t have its site visit for accreditation until 2025, it earned candidacy to offer the program in August, which marked an integral step in establishing a program that has been years in the making.

In 2017, the Accreditation Council of Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) announced that all Master of Occupational Therapy programs must transition into an entry-level doctorate by 2027, prompting many local and national programs to begin developing doctoral programs in occupational therapy. Two years later, the mandate was overturned by the American Occupational Therapy Association, which reinstated that professionals can enter the field at either the master’s or doctoral level. Most institutions had already begun establishing a doctoral level program, however, and today roughly 60% of programs have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning.

Tina Whalen, former dean of UC's College of Allied Health Sciences, announced in 2019 that the college would work toward developing an OTD program, and despite pandemic-related delays, faculty and staff began working with an external consultant to develop the program in late 2020.

“We are excited to transition to the OTD,” says Kari Dunning, PT, PhD, a professor and chair of the college’s Department of Rehabilitation, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. “If I were a student, I would be excited to be part of this new curriculum that allows for growth and will maximize career options after graduation.”

UC’s OTD program will allow students to earn the highest level of education for an entry-level occupational therapist and support them in learning how to become occupation-based clinicians who can competently and independently evaluate, treat and consult with clients of diverse cultural backgrounds in a variety of settings.

In addition to the curriculum expanding from six semesters to nine, the OTD program will feature an innovative doctoral capstone project and advanced courses on leadership and health policy and advocacy. 

“The biggest add is the doctoral capstone, which will allow students to specialize and delve into an area they’re really interested in” says Victoria McQuiddy, PhD, MHS, OTR/L, an assistant professor and director of UC’s occupational therapy program, who helped develop the curriculum and apply for accreditation. “I’ve talked with program directors at other schools who’ve shared that students have been getting job offers at places where occupational therapy hasn’t been historically employed because of their capstone projects, so it’s helping expand the profession and also giving students skills for clinical practice and beyond.”

The OTD program is designed to prepare students for all areas of occupational therapy practice from pediatrics and rehabilitation to gerontology and mental health. McQuiddy says UC’s community partnerships and experiential learning opportunities are a strength of the program, offering students more than 150 fieldwork sites throughout the Greater Cincinnati region including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, UC Health, TriHealth, and Cincinnati VA Medical Center. UC’s OTD program is also more accessible than traditional doctoral programs because of its hybrid format. 

“Instead of being in classes five days a week, all of the didactic coursework is online, so when students come to campus, it’s for labs and hands-on learning activities in the classroom or experiential learning activities in the community,” McQuiddy says. “This allows a lot of flexibility for students in how they can access their education and meet their unique adult learning styles” McQuiddy says. Instead of being in classes five days a week, all of the didactic coursework is online, so when students come to campus, it’s for labs and hands-on learning activities in the classroom or experiential learning activities in the community.

Members from ACOTE will return to the College of Allied Health Sciences in 2025—one year before the first class of OTD students is expected to graduate—to evaluate the program before making a decision on accreditation. The fact that students are applying to and enrolling in a program that is still in the process of earning accreditation shows how much trust students have in the College of Allied Health Sciences and the university at large.  

"Instead of being in classes five days a week, all of the didactic coursework is online, so when students come to campus, it’s for labs and hands-on learning activities in the classroom or experiential learning activities in the community," McQuiddy says. "This allows a lot of flexibility for students in how they can access their education and meet their unique adult learning styles.”

The University of Cincinnati, the College of Allied Health Sciences, and the Department of Rehabilitation, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences has a long history of strong accredited professional clinical programs

Kari Dunning Department Head - Rehabiliation, Excercise and Nutrition Sciences

We have the knowledge, support, expertise, passion, dedication, and resources to achieve successful OTD accreditation as we have in our other accredited programs" Dunning says. 

Passion Meets Preparation

We're excited to train the next generation of occupational therapist. The University of Cincinnati Doctor of Occupational Therapy program application opens annually from July - October. Learn more.>>

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Katie Coburn

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