DMU creates opportunities in occupational therapy

As students enroll in Des Moines University’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program, anticipated to begin in 2023, they will join a new program on a new campus – but they’ll also be part of a medical and health sciences university that’s trained health care professionals since 1898. As they make history and shape their futures, they will experience a program that offers several advantages in occupational therapy education.

Diana Feldhacker, Ph.D., O.T.D., OTR/L, BCPR, Chair, Program Director and Assistant Professor and Kelsee Hove, O.T.D., OTR/L, CBIS, Director of Clinical Education and Assistant Professor

“Our O.T.D. program’s mission is to support the health, wellbeing and occupational engagement of all people, communities and populations by preparing compassionate and competent leaders in occupational therapy,” says Diana Feldhacker, Ph.D., O.T.D., OTR/L, BCPR, program chair and assistant professor. “We also will seek students who are deeply committed to serving diverse populations, which is an essential element of our program, university culture and the profession of occupational therapy.”

Among the most affordable O.T.D. programs in the region, DMU’s program also is the only one in Iowa that students can complete in person or in a hybrid format, with a mix of in-person laboratories and online course work. Unlike programs at other institutions that require three or four years of undergraduate courses, DMU allows students to apply to its program with 60 undergraduate credits so long as they meet prerequisite requirements. A bachelor’s degree and the GRE are not required to apply.

“With our hybrid option, we are hoping to appeal to and meet the needs of a more diverse group of learners. Our program is also mindful of the burden of tuition debt. Our requirement of 60 undergraduate credits enables qualified students to achieve their career goals sooner,” Dr. Feldhacker says.

DMU’s O.T.D. program runs for eight terms, or approximately 33 months, which include:

  • Five sequential didactic terms with integrated Level I Fieldwork experiences
  • Two in-depth Level II Fieldwork rotations, each 12 weeks
  • A final 14-week doctoral capstone experience culminating in an individual doctoral capstone project, for which students may utilize DMU’s global health sites

“Our program offers an evidence-based curriculum focused on client-centered care to build students’ knowledge, skills and experience,” Dr. Feldhacker says. “Classroom and fieldwork instruction emphasize problem-solving and critical thinking to prepare top-quality health care professionals as vital members of health care teams.”

She notes the program offers more Level I Fieldwork experiences than other O.T.D. programs in the region. The fact they’re integrated also is advantageous.

“Most programs have stand-alone Level I experiences, where students typically go to a site for one week and then return to their didactic course work,” she explains. “What I’ve found with this approach, however, is that students don’t always have an opportunity to debrief on their experience or connect it to what they’re learning.

“Instead, our Level I Fieldwork rotations are embedded within occupational therapy process courses across our curriculum. We have created and continue to create relationships with local sites where students will go multiple times throughout the semester to make meaningful connections to course content through directed observation and participation,” she says. “This provides students a unique opportunity for not only exposure to multiple practice areas but also to observe, apply and integrate what they’re learning, connecting it to real-life occupational therapy practice.”

The program will be DMU’s 10th graduate degree offering within its three colleges, the College of Health Sciences, the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery. All University students and faculty share a common focus on health, which prepares students for both autonomous and interprofessional practice. Students in the O.T.D. program may choose to expand their skills and enhance their career opportunities by seeking a dual degree leading to a master of public health or master of health care administration.

In addition, the University has patient care facilities, its on-campus multispecialty DMU Clinic and as the exclusive provider of physical therapy and athletic training services at the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex in West Des Moines, which is unique among O.T.D. programs.

“While we don’t offer occupational therapy services in our facilities yet, we are exploring that possibility in the future,” Dr. Feldhacker says. “Regardless, however, students will be involved in community outreach events and may use our patient care sites as part of their didactic courses and Level I Fieldwork experiences.”

Another unique aspect of DMU’s O.T.D. program: It will welcome its first class of students on the new campus the University is building in West Des Moines. DMU’s new home will preserve the institution’s ingrained culture of academic rigor, collaboration and inclusion, with faculty focused on student learning and success.

“In building a curriculum and facility from the ground up, we have the opportunity to intentionally and purposefully infuse health care and professional trends into our program,” Dr. Feldhacker says. “Our students will focus on traditional and emerging practice areas for children and youth, productive aging, mental health, rehabilitation and disability, health and wellness, and work and industry. They will learn about and use the most modern technology, including telehealth.”

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