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When OTs Wore White Shoes

The Doctor is In: Getting a Doctorate Degree as an Occupational Therapist

Published July 28, 2014 11:52 AM by Debra Karplus
Dr. Debra Karplus! Gosh, that has a nice ring to it. Do I plan to pursue a doctorate degree? Being in my sixties, I certainly do not. I earned my Bachelor's Degree at the "normal time", directly after high school; I found the program to be extremely challenging.

I raised a family and worked as an occupational therapist from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, and then, on a whim, entered a Master's Degree program here at the University of Illinois. Because I was still working, I completed a one and a half year program in about four and a half years. I loved school and had perfect attendance and nearly perfect grades. Maybe because Mom and Dad were not paying for school this time, but I was; I took school much more seriously. Also, I was well into my forties!

Why should an OT pursue an advanced degree?

I was curious about what an advanced degree involved so I searched online for answers.  The first thing I discovered was that there is a PhD but also an OTD (occupational therapy doctorate). I looked further to learn about the differences. The PhD program, like those in other fields, is oriented toward those who want to become work in the academic arena as educators or to perform research. The OTD, however, is geared to the seasoned OT who wants to advance skills and move toward a clinical career in leadership and management. Before embarking on your next leg of schooling you really want to determine your own personal and professional goals.

Where should you study to earn your Doctorate Degree?

There's much information to decipher and many decisions to make. If you are not an OT but have your Master's Degree in something else, you can enter a Doctoral program as an entry level student. I was able to find only five programs listed around the United States.

I also discovered many online programs. Before getting too excited about any of these, do make sure they are AOTA approved programs. Many are not.

When I looked at OT programs at the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) and the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I learned that one can be enrolled in a Master's program while simultaneously in the Doctoral program, but there are specific requirements regarding when you must complete your fieldwork. I imagine other universities offer this option as well.

Should you apply for a Doctorate Degree in some other course to study?

Again, consider your short and long term professional plans. Perhaps you've enjoyed working as an OT, but want to spread your wings professionally and possibly expand your career options. There may be a related program such as Disabilities Studies or Physical Therapy that are in sync with what you want to do career-wise.

If you're not-too-old, enjoy being in school, and have the time and motivation, pursuing an advanced degree may be an excellent option for you.  Carefully examine your options, places of study, and career goals.

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