By Susan Lin, ScD, OTR/L, FAOTA, FACRM | October 6, 2020
If you’re interested in teaching entry-level students in occupational therapy programs, you’ll have plenty of job choices. As of May 2020, there are 128 accredited master’s level and 37 entry-level clinical doctorate programs. Many more programs are in the process of seeking ACOTE accreditation and are accordingly designated developing or applicant status.1
Where do you start on your journey towards academia?
1. Choose the degree for your career goals
What do you want to be doing five years and ten years from now? If you envision a career in academia, teaching and conducting research, most universities look for qualifications, such as a research doctorate (e.g., PhD, ScD), but some will accept a clinical doctorate. If you want to practice and teach, getting a post-professional or transitional clinical doctorate (tOTD) is one option.
2. Review requirements and credentials for teaching
According to Sabrina Salvant, EdD, MPH, OTR/L Director of Accreditation for the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), as of July 31, 2020, at least 50% of full-time core faculty must have a post-professional doctorate.3 Why? ACOTE wants to ensure that the OT programs have “sufficient expertise beyond the entry-level,” reinforcing the general rule that faculty need to hold a degree higher than the level they’re teaching. Here is the specific ACOTE standard:
A.2.7. Faculty Degrees A.2.7. All full-time core faculty who are occupational therapy practitioners teaching in the program must hold a doctoral degree awarded by an institution that is accredited by a USDE-recognized regional accrediting body. The doctoral degree is not limited to a doctorate in occupational therapy. At least 50% of full-time core faculty must have a post-professional doctorate. For degrees from institutions in countries other than the United States, ACOTE will determine an alternative and equivalent external review process.4
Do you have the credentials and experience needed to teach in higher education? The standard advice for teaching is to obtain an advanced degree, preferably a terminal degree in the field in which you want to teach. For some fields like Physician Assistants, the terminal degree is a masters degree. In occupational therapy programs, terminal degrees in related fields, such as psychology and rehabilitation sciences, are commonly accepted. If you are already an occupational therapist and want to obtain a clinical doctorate in occupational therapy (OTD), you’d most likely want a post-professional OTD.
In academia, a post-professional OTD is generally preferred over an entry-level OTD, considered a professional degree, because it’s beyond the entry-level.
3. Choosing a graduate program
Everyone’s situation is unique and therefore everyone’s criteria and search process will be unique. If you know which type of degree you’re seeking, a great place to start is to search AOTA’s Find A School list (https://www.aota.org/Education-Careers/Find-School/Postprofessional/PostprofessionalOT-D.aspx) , which lists occupational therapy post-professional (masters and doctoral). One of the newest additions to the list is Marymount University’s transitional OTD program, designed for practicing occupational therapists (MS to OTD). This 95% online program usually has two online courses per semester, enabling practitioners to continue working and take courses when their schedules permit. In contrast, other OTD or PhD programs have a class schedule and may not be as flexible. Post-professional or transitional OTD (tOTD) costs and types vary widely, so you’ll want to review the features and costs of the program. If cost is a factor, look at public in-state or distance-learning programs. Some require residency so that may factor into your feasibility and costs. Some offer a generalist track and others offer specializations, so know what your goals are for getting the tOTD. Another option is to consider a transitional OTD program that’s mostly online, which can be cost-effective. For example, one can graduate from the new Marymount University post-professional OTD program for less than $14,500 (total). However, it is designed for the OT with a master’s degree who seeks a generalist degree (no specialization tracks). Alternatively, other post-professional programs offer specialization tracks, which can vary from practice areas to leadership, advocacy, or teaching. One example is the post-professional OTD offered by St. Augustine in FL, which costs between $23,000-$27,000.
4. Obtaining teaching experience
If you don’t have much experience with teaching or aren’t sure if you’d enjoy it, a great way of trying it out is to assist with a class or teach as adjunct faculty. Although the pay isn’t high, it gives you a chance to try it without strings attached. Adjunct faculty just teach their class and aren’t typically assigned students to advise or supervise for research projects. They also don’t have to serve on department and university committees. If you don’t know anyone at the university, you can mail them your curriculum vitae and request a meeting to offer your expertise to the department, whether it’s as a lab instructor or teaching assistant or adjunct faculty. If they don’t have any immediate needs, offer a guest lecture or a presentation to their fieldwork supervisors.
Writing for OT Practice magazine or peer-reviewed journals, such as American Journal of Occupational Therapy, and presenting at conferences are also other ways to obtain scholarly experiences that you can list on your curriculum vitae.
5. Find your motivators
Some of my doctoral classmates obtained their doctorates part-time; others full-time. Some had mortgages, spouses, and children; I, on the other hand, lived in a small apartment and struggled to keep two plants alive. Whichever path you take, it is satisfying to shape the next generation of occupational therapists.
Even when I was in OT school, I had always toyed with the idea of teaching one day. When I was diagnosed with an occupational-related injury, I decided on returning back to school. Instead of helping clients and families on a 1:1 basis, I reflected upon the idea that if I could become a good educator, my students would become good OTs and help even more clients and families. And that’s a great feeling.
1 Program numbers – May 2020 – ACOTE. (2020, June 2). ACOTE. https://acoteonline.org/program-numbers-may-2020/
2 Can you become a college professor with an EDD? | OnlineEdDPrograms.com. (n.d.). Online EdD Programs: Top Online Doctor of Education Degree Programs. https://www.onlineeddprograms.com/faqs/professor-with-an-edd
3 News from the ACOTE director of accreditation – Winter 2020. (2020, April 25). ACOTE. https://acoteonline.org/from-the-director-of-accreditation-winter-2020/
4 2018 Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE®) Standards and Interpretive Guide (effective July 31, 2020). Am J Occup Ther 2018;72(Supplement_2):7212410005. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.72S217
Disclosure: Susan Lin is Program Director of Rehab Essentials tOTD Program at Marymount University.