BOONE, N.C. — Beginning in fall 2024, Appalachian State University’s new Master of Science in occupational therapy (OT) program will help address a critical lack of occupational therapists in Western North Carolina.
The program, to be offered through the Beaver College of Health Sciences’ new Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, received approval from the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors in April.
“This program will not only help meet critical rural health care needs,” said App State Chancellor Sheri Everts, “but it will also help ensure that students who live in North Carolina and wish to be occupational therapists are able to receive a cost-effective master’s degree that will allow them to live, work and practice in our state.”
Occupational therapists offer specialized care to restore physical and cognitive function and enhance quality of life for children and adults with autism, dementia, developmental disabilities or those who may be recovering from surgery, a stroke or an injury. As part of an interprofessional health care team, occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, skilled nursing facilities, home health, schools and private practices.
“There is a critical need for occupational therapists, particularly to care for patients in rural areas such as Western North Carolina,” App State Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Heather Hulburt Norris said. “Our program will be the first public university master’s OT program in this region.”
The new program aims to prepare students to become certified occupational therapists in North Carolina, where hundreds of OT job openings were available as of this spring, according to Indeed.com. Currently, only three public universities in the state offer a comprehensive, entry-level clinical degree in OT, producing approximately 70–80 graduates per year, combined.
The degree program is designed to be cost-effective, allowing students to graduate within six semesters or 66 credit hours. The program will meet the rigorous accreditation requirements of the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.
“This program expands the professional health care educational opportunities for students who choose App State,” said Dr. Marie Huff, dean of the Beaver College of Health Sciences. “We will be placing students in clinical rotations here in Western North Carolina. We want students to integrate into our communities, if they aren’t already part of them, and we want them to stay here because we need them here.”
Nearly three-fourths of App State’s approximately 142,000 living alumni live and work in North Carolina, contributing to the state’s growing economy and quality of life.
Dr. Gary McCullough, associate dean of research and graduate education in the Beaver College of Health Sciences and executive director of the Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services, noted that it is integral to understand and appreciate the rural populations served by the program.
“Learning how to effectively work with rural populations is key to helping clients improve how they function in their particular home and work environments, which are different from the environments of individuals in large cities with greater access to facilities and services,” McCullough said.
About App State’s occupational therapy master’s program
Applications for the program’s first cohort will open in fall 2023. The new program will be housed in the Levine Hall of Health Sciences, a five-story, 203,000-square-foot facility located in Boone’s Wellness District. The OT program will use two state-of-the-art specialized training laboratories in addition to classroom space.
During clinical rotations, occupational therapy students will be able to provide services to clients who visit the outpatient clinics operated by the university’s Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services. The outpatient clinic at Levine Hall includes a simulated apartment, providing occupational therapists the opportunity to work with patients as they practice their functional skills in a home-like environment.
Faculty and staff will supervise OT students within their areas of expertise, and “our OT students will have the opportunity to assess and treat clients collaboratively with students in speech pathology, nutrition, social work and more,” McCullough explained. “This type of interprofessional education opportunity is critical to their future success.”
In addition to the clinics, the Beaver College of Health Sciences has secured collaborations for clinical rotations with regional health care providers Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Novant Health, as well as Watauga County Schools.
The OT master’s program will become the eighth graduate degree program offered by the Beaver College of Health Sciences, joining master’s programs in athletic training, exercise science, health administration, nursing, nutrition, social work and speech-language pathology.
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About the Beaver College of Health Sciences
Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences (BCHS), opened in 2010, is transforming the health and quality of life for the communities it serves through interprofessional collaboration and innovation in teaching, scholarship, service and clinical outreach. BCHS offers nine undergraduate degree programs and seven graduate degree programs, which are organized into six departments: Nursing, Nutrition and Health Care Management, Public Health and Exercise Science, Recreation Management and Physical Education, Rehabilitation Sciences, and Social Work. The college’s academic programs are located in the Holmes Convocation Center on App State’s main campus and the Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences, a state-of-the-art, 203,000-square-foot facility that is the cornerstone of the Wellness District. In addition, the college supports the Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services and has collaborative partnerships with the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program, UNC Health Appalachian and numerous other health agencies. Learn more at https://healthsciences.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.