The top occupational therapy programs in the country
The diverse field of occupational therapy continues to be one of the fastest growing and most sought-after positions in the United States for a variety of reasons. By working with patients that suffer from mental, physical, emotional or developmental conditions, people performing occupational therapist jobs can cover a range of different demands and flexibilities. These therapists can perform their duties at large hospitals, small rehabilitation centers, schools, athletic facilities and even in their clients' homes, working on patients who range from toddlers to the elderly.
In fact, the expected increase of the elderly population is one of the primary factors that's driving the occupational therapy industry. The senior citizen population - defined as those age 65 and older - is projected to grow by 104.3 percent between 2012 and 2050, according to SeniorJournal.com. The study estimates that by 2050, there will be 80.5 million Americans under 15 and 86.8 million seniors over 64. This represents a dramatic 180-degree turnaround from the demographic makeup of generations past.
As healthcare options become more affordable and accessible, elderly citizens will continue to seek out therapeutic options to improve their quality of life, putting the work of occupational therapists at the forefront of healthcare. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in the field will grow by 33.5 percent between 2010 and 2020, which would add 36,400 jobs to the 108,800 already-existing in the industry. With such growth potential, now is an exciting time to enter the fray, and the programs below are some of the top occupational therapy programs in the country.
Certification is one of the most important steps to becoming an occupational therapist. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) certifies and accredits schools. According to Professional Development Path, accreditation is reviewed regularly, putting the onus on schools to constantly upgrade their facilities and curriculums and hire the best professors. There are currently 150 accredited master's degree programs and four doctoral degree programs, in the country, according to Professional Development Path.
According to the U.S. News and World Report, the top two occupational therapy programs in the country reside on opposite coasts of the country. The University of Southern California (USC), which has traditionally been at the forefront of innovating occupational therapy education, comes in at number one, while the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Boston University (BU) is ranked second. The third-ranked university was the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.
USC's occupational therapy program was founded in 1942, and has been paving paths in the field ever since. According to the program's website, the school initiated the nation's first Post-Professional Master's program in 1947 and followed with the world's first PhD program in Occupational Science in 1989. Since then, the school has built up its name, reputation and network, accruing contacts with over 700 academic fieldwork education sites in over 35 states and 5 countries. Additionally, four USC alumni have been presidents at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), while another two served as Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) presidents.
Meanwhile, the second-ranked Boston University program prides itself on being a hotbed for innovative research activities. Its presence and location in the vibrant medical hub of Boston grants students tremendous opportunities within the field, in terms of both research and clinical placements. The school is particularly proud of its faculty, according to its website. The program can boast of department chair Dr. Wendy Coster, who was recently recognized with the highest academic honor from the AOTA, and an author, Dr. Ellen Cohn, whose textbook is used by 97% of occupational therapy programs in the country.
The program at Washington University was established in 1918 and was the first such program created west of the Mississippi River, according to the school's website. It is the only program in the country that offers a master's degree in occupational therapy (MSOT), a doctoral degree in occupational therapy (OTD) and a PhD in rehabilitation and participation science. Its low faculty-to-student ratio, reputation for world-class research and top-notch teaching facilities are among the factors that led to the program's high ranking. Additionally, one key asset of the program's mission is in promoting community service, a commitment that jibes particularly well with the healthcare-driven industry.
Other universities with occupational therapy programs that ranked well include the University of Illinois - Chicago, the University of Kansas, Colorado State University, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, the Tufts University - Boston School of Occupational Therapy, and the University of Pittsburgh. The rankings were based solely on the results of peer assessment surveys sent out by the U.S. News and World Report to deans, administrators and faculty members at the various accredited degree programs around the country. Respondents were asked to grade various qualities of the academic programs on a 5-point scale, with the rankings derived from the highest average scores.
Since the minimum level of education required for practicing occupational therapists is a master's degree in their respective field, many schools focus their efforts on advanced degree programs and staying up to date with all certifications and innovations. Additionally, candidates must all pass a national certification test before obtaining their licenses. Universities often tout these strong passing statistics as proof of the strength of their programs. Finally, occupational therapists often cite the diversity of their field as one of the main attractions to the industry. Schools offering a wide variety of programs tend to be more popular with students, as aspiring therapists seek specialized skills that fit with their specific passions.
With the growth within the industry, the increased demand for occupational therapist jobs and a wealth of strong university programs, the occupational therapist field appears poised for bigger and better things in the near future.
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