By Adrienne Lauer, EdD, OTL | December 16, 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. 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? Sometimes we just want to seek more learning and higher education and don’t necessarily know what the long-term finite career goal might be. If you envision a career in academia, specifically teaching and conducting research, then the PhD or ScD degree is most likely your best path. If you want to maintain clinical practice and teach, getting a post-professional or transitional clinical doctorate (tOTD) may be the correct educational path for you.
Either way, the post-professional tOTD degree will prepare you for teaching in the classroom and sharing your advanced knowledge with students.
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. 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.
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 100% 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
There are a few ways to obtain teaching experience. A few great ways to gain experience is to guest lecture, teach as adjunct faculty, or be a clinical lab instructor at a nearby College or University. 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. With the clinical lab instructor positions, there are often multiple positions available when students need to be tested on practical areas such as splint making, transfers, etc. 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.
Similarly, you can also put your teaching skills to the test by offering an hour lecture at lunch at your workplace on an area of expertise. You may also consider being a fieldwork supervisor. This challenges you as a professional and your ability to articulate ‘the why in clinical reasoning’ which is necessary for the classroom.
Any way you can spend more time around students is really valuable. It helps you to understand how they think and learn best.
5. Find your motivators, be committed
Attaining your post professional OTD, is at least a two-year, primarily self directed project. Between work, family responsibilities, and taking classes, sometimes it can be difficult to see the light at end of tunnel. You know better than anyone why you are looking at earning your OTD. Sit down, write, journal, vision board your “why statement”, your long-term goal. Make sure to include how your OTD helps you achieve this goal. Make the commitment to yourself, that the two-year program is worth it and will help you achieve a worthy, self gratifying long-term goal that helps elevate you, as well as, the profession. Whenever, you are feeling particularly stressed or unmotivated, pull out your “why statement” to help reinvigorate yourself and your commitment.
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: Adrienne Lauer is the Director of the transitional OTD Program at Marymount University.