Monmouth University’s new Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program will launch in May 2021 with a class of 30 students. The three-year, full-time program received approval from the Faculty Council in January 2020, becoming the second OT program in New Jersey to offer an entry-level doctoral degree after Kean University, according to John Patro, OTD, OTR/L Chair and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy.
Monmouth University’s new Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program will launch in May 2021, becoming the second OT program in New Jersey to offer an entry-level doctoral degree after Kean University, according to John Patro, OTD, OTR/L, Chair and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy. The three-year, full-time program received approval from the Faculty Council in January 2020 and has since accepted a class size of 30 students.
“Under the leadership of [President] Leahy, Monmouth has made a commitment to offer high quality academic programs that are in high demand,” Patro said. “OT is a very hot field. It’s very well-paying field, and a lot of jobs are available. …It’s really smart of Monmouth to offer OT at the doctoral level because you’re going to prepare students at the highest entry-level edu-cation that our field has to offer.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program will be running on a hybrid schedule as the first class of students matriculate this May. Instruction will include online lectures and two in-person labs. The program has dedicated space in the Monmouth University Graduate Center for classrooms and six labs—a pediatric lab, media-based lab, Activities of Daily Living (ADL) suite, a telehealth lab, a sensory room, and a pace lab. Students will also have access to the Linda Grunin Simulation Lab and Learning Center inside the graduate center, a joint partnership be-tween Monmouth University and Monmouth Medical Center.
“Something I love about the curriculum here is that we’re really committed to those smaller group sizes,” said Andrea Garcia, OTD, MSW, OTR/L, Doctoral Capstone Coordinator and Specialist Professor of Occupational Therapy. “It’s really important to be able to have that one-on-one time with your faculty as you’re learning. As an occupational therapist (OT), you might help move someone out of their bed and into a wheelchair. Those are skills that you want to learn when you’re closely working with a faculty member.”
“The lab space we’re offering is pretty unique,” Patro said. “Something we’re committed to doing is making sure that we prepare students to be therapists of the future; that we’re looking at areas of practice that are emerging and giving students those opportunities.”
Jessica Gershenow, a senior health studies student and president and founder of the undergraduate OT club, is one of the 30 students accepted into the program. “I’m really looking forward to working hands-on in the labs, meeting new people, and meeting the faculty,” Gershenow said. “That’s the reason why I chose to go here, because all the [other] schools I applied to don’t really have as many hands-on labs like that. This has been my dream for so long. When I heard about Monmouth’s program, I knew that was going to be my top school.”
Gershenow attributes the OT club with strengthening her leadership skills, preparing her to become a better student, and therefore paving the way for her acceptance into the OTD pro-gram.
Students can also enroll in a 3+3 Program in B.S. in Health Studies/Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD), which allows them to obtain both their health studies degree and OTD in six years.
The program has established a partnership with other departments across the University such as the School of Social Work, according to Gabrielle Hackenberg, OTD, MS, OTR/L, Academic Fieldwork Coordinator and Specialist Professor of Occupational Therapy. Their partner-ship with the School of Social work includes an accessibility space at the University’s community garden for adults or children with accessibility needs, as well as the Social Community Activity Network (SCAN), a sustainable virtual programming for seniors. These projects came into fruition as a result of a $10,000 grant to create the Monmouth University Collaborative on Aging, a partnership with other University departments to garner community participation for seniors.
“We’re not only interprofessional within the School of Nursing and Health Studies, but we can also do interprofessional education with the School of Social Work, School of Education, and the School of Business since the doctoral capstone has a facet where students can explore entrepreneurship,” Patro explained. “We are looking at a lot of unique partnerships for this particular program that the School of Nursing and Health Studies hasn’t been able to tap into.”
Patro said that organizations outside the community have also shown an interest in working with Monmouth’s OTD students, such as administrators from a wellness program and super-intendents from school districts.
Garcia and Patro also highlighted the geographical location of the university, another component that helps Monmouth’s program stand out from the other OT schools in New Jersey such as Kean University, Rutgers University, Stockton University, and Seton Hall University. “Monmouth University is positioned in a very fortunate location,” Garcia said. “We’re in an area of New Jersey that has many opportunities for community partnership that is essential for our fieldwork learning experiences and our capstone learning experiences. Geography is really important in the experiential learning component.”
Patro said that pandemic has faced a challenge in opening a new program. “In March 2020 the University shut down, and we were just getting our work started,” he said. “But it hasn’t kept us from moving forward. We’ve hit every target and every goal that we’ve set for ourselves.” Four staff members were hired during the pandemic, and the program is looking to hire two additional faculty members in August.
“We’re very much a growing program,” Patro said. “It’s thriving. There’s lots of exciting things, and in a pandemic when there’s so much uncertainty, we’ve accomplished so much as a group and we have so much to be proud of.”
PHOTOS COURTESY of Monmouth University