NORTH CANTON  Walsh University is launching its Master of Occupational Therapy (OT) program with the first class starting this fall. The response to the program has filled the class with 32 students. Those students will be the first graduates of the program in August of 2019.

It's one of only two such programs in Northeast Ohio. Pamela D. Ritzline, dean for the School of Behavioral and Health Sciences, said Walsh decided to develop the program after local clinicians approached the university about the need for qualified OT professionals in the area.

"Local offices told us about a shortage of qualified OTs in Stark and Tuscarawas Counties and we decided to develop the program, then we searched for a program director and hired an experienced OT educator and clinician and now the first class is set to start," Ritzline said.

"OTs work to get people back to their occupation after an illness or injury. Occupation has a broad definition. It could be someone who has had a stroke and needs help learning to live at home with their new circumstances. OTs can work with people from birth to death," she said.

OTs can help with children who maybe lagging in development. They can help babies to learn to roll over or with head control among other tasks. Program developer and Clinical Assistant Professor Stephanie Bachman said while there are programs available in the area to train OT assistants, this is the first to offer a master’s degree in occupational therapy. 

"OT Assistants go to school for two years and then are supervised by licensed OTs when they are in the workforce," Bachman said.

"There used to be a bachelor’s degree in OT, but that no longer exists. Today’s licensed OTs either have a master or a doctorate degree. The overall scope of what an OT does is to help people find ways to do what they want or need to do, be it at home or at work," she said.

OTs can be found working in nursing homes, hospitals, school systems, in the client’s home or in places of employment. Bachman said some of the emerging locations include drug treatment centers and homeless shelters. She said OTs can work with a person on physical or mental health or social skills. Salaries range in the $60,000 to $70,000 brackets.

"Occupational therapy was cited as a top career for 2016 by U.S. News and World Report, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 27 percent growth through 2024," Bachman said.

Students will complete 20 hours of observation in at least two different OT locations. Students will be supervised by a licensed OT during the observation hours in local facilities such as Mercy Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic, Akron Children’s Hospital, Sisters of Charity Health System, Aultman Health and many others.

"We’ve developed an innovative program to help prepare students to be successful and we are excited to offer it to the area. We have an exceptional faculty who are dedicated and work well together. They are all ready to go beyond what’s asked and do what the students need to succeed," Ritzline said.

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