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Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD): Post-Professional Practice Focused Doctorate for OTs

The Doctor of Occupational Therapy, better known as the Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD), allows practicing occupational therapists to develop advanced skills and transition from the role of therapist-clinician to practitioner-scholar, capable of translating knowledge into practice and serving as leaders and agents of change.

Practice-focused doctorate programs have made it more common for OTs to pursue a second degree. As a degree designed specifically to build on the master’s-level education clinical practitioners already have, the OTD is ideal for preparing clinicians to take on roles in clinical leadership and administration. 

The OTD degree helps skilled clinicians become advanced practitioners with specialized expertise. As an evidence-based research-driven therapy, it’s only natural that a post-professional practice-focused doctorate would be introduced as clinicians look for ways to innovate and expand their practical knowledge.

The Doctor of Occupational Therapy is not a PhD …

The Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) is a post-professional degree that allows practicing occupational therapists to become evidence-based scholars in practice within the clinical environment. It focuses on developing professional skills, while a PhD focuses on developing skills used in research.

In other words, an OTD produces a practice scholar, while a PhD produces a scholar of practice.

Although OTD degrees cover topics related to applied research, the major focus of these degrees is on the use of existing evidence to shape and improve the professional practice of occupational therapy.

PhD programs in occupational therapy, on the other hand, concentrate on extensive research training with the expectation that graduates will use research and independent inquiry to develop new knowledge in the field.

Elements of an Occupational Therapy Doctorate

A post-professional occupational therapy doctorate consists of about 32-36 credits of coursework and takes about two years of full-time study to complete. Many programs also offer part-time study.

Many of these programs are offered entirely online to accommodate the needs of today’s busy professionals. Other programs integrate some on-line instruction and require minimal on-campus requirements throughout the program.

Distance-based programs feature interactive, online platforms and web-based video conferencing tools that provide access to curricula and peer and faculty support. A graduate committee, led by a major advisor, closely follows the student’s plan of study to ensure the same level of rigor as would be expected from a campus-based learning experience.

Admission Requirements

OTD degrees tend to be highly competitive and selective. In addition to requiring candidates to hold a master’s degree in occupational therapy with a competitive GPA, most programs require candidates to have a current and active occupational therapist certification/license and clinical experience working as an occupational therapist. Other requirements often include:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement or essay
  • Current resume
  • Competitive GRE scores (verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing sections)

Many programs also require candidates to sit for a personal interview as part of the admissions process. For online programs, this may be conducted through video-conferencing services like Skype.

Coursework Requirements and Opportunities for Specialization

OTD programs include a core set of courses, such as:

  • Theoretical Foundations for Intervention
  • Developing a Guideline for Intervention
  • Ethics and Analytical Reasoning
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Advanced Assessments for the Practicing OT

Seminars often complement coursework.

Most programs require students to complete about 12 credits of coursework in a clinical specialization. Depending on the institution, specializations may include:

  • Pediatrics
  • Upper Quadrant
  • Environmental Adaptations
  • Adult Rehabilitation, Community, and Wellness
  • Disability
  • Rehabilitation and Health
  • Advanced Clinical Practice
  • Policy/Administration
  • Program Development
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Healthcare Quality and Policy
  • Post-Acute and Chronic Care

These programs often culminate in a professional portfolio, which allows students to take what they’ve learned in their doctoral program and apply it toward a terminal project, which is part of the graduation requirements for some OTD programs.

A professional portfolio includes integrating the knowledge and skills gained in a chosen OT specialization into a final project. Students present and defend their professional portfolio in front of a panel of faculty members.

Program Outcomes

Graduating from an OTD program prepares occupational therapists to:

  • Measure the functional outcome of different therapeutic approaches
  • Determine whether or not existing measurement tools are adequate
  • Determine whether or not certain interventions, principles and approaches are effective
  • Collaborate with other professionals in the clinical environment to deliver high quality patient care
  • Interpret research findings with an eye toward broader sociocultural issues

Resources for Finding and Applying to an OTD Program

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) provides practicing OTs and students with a wealth of educational resources:

  • The AOTA partners with CareerEco to host a virtual educational fair for occupational therapy programs at different times throughout the year. Institutions with OTD programs can connect with, and recruit candidates through, a unique cloud recruiting system. This virtual education fair allows students to learn more about OTD programs of interest and chat with faculty and staff about the program and the admission process.