The first graduates of the University of Florida Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree program cross the stage at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center this Friday during UF’s fall commencement ceremony. These students also hold the distinction of being the first OTD graduates from a Florida public institution.
In 2018, the department of occupational therapy at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions introduced a professional doctoral degree to replace the master’s degree in occupational therapy. The move toward offering the Doctor of Occupational Therapy as the entry-level degree for OT clinical practice follows a national trend among the top universities and is supported by professional organizations, including the American Occupational Therapy Association’s board of directors.
UF’s occupational therapy program is ranked 10 overall and 4 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report.
“As the first doctor of occupational therapy program in one of Florida’s public universities, we have accomplished what we set out to do, which was to train our graduates to serve as clinician-scholars in a dynamic health care environment,” said Christine T. Myers, Ph.D., OTR/L, a clinical associate professor in the department of occupational therapy and the director of the doctoral program. “The Class of 2021 has the knowledge and skills to make clinical decisions based on evidence and provide occupational therapy services in myriad settings, including the community.”
Like the master’s degree, the Doctor of Occupational Therapy prepares students for entry-level practice, but the curriculum also includes enhanced training in evidence-based practice, leadership and advocacy, as well as interprofessional education and an advanced clinical capstone experience.
Laura Sellew, who was elected class speaker of UF’s first OTD class, appreciated that in addition to foundational knowledge, coursework included the importance of lifelong learning, continuing competence and self-reflection, as well as skills outside of traditional OT practice, such as research, teaching and running a business.
“It’s been an honor to be a part of UF’s inaugural class of OTD students,” Sellew said. “Being in the first class felt innovative and exciting. The faculty made us feel like we were valued collaborators, requesting our feedback on everything from the curriculum to potential new hires. It was really exciting to get to shape the program for future classes of UF OTD students.”
The OTD Class of 2021 is establishing a cash scholarship award that will support a third-year OTD student who demonstrates financial need and portrays exemplary leadership and academic excellence. To support the fund, visit https://www.uff.ufl.edu/giving-opportunities/026195-otd-class-of-2021-scholarship/.
“Based on the Leadership course that I co-taught in the summer of 2021 to these students, I have great expectations for our inaugural class,” said Sherrilene Classen, Ph.D., M.P.H., OTR/L, chair of the department of occupational therapy. “We have indeed successfully educated these students, who are tomorrow’s leaders in the occupational therapy profession. We wish every one of our graduates well on their professional journeys and invite every OT Gator graduate to stay in touch with us.”