Occupational therapy program engages with medical community

Emily Krivograd, Campus Life Editor

The occupational therapy (OT) program celebrated OT month in April by collaborating with several departments across campus to inform students about the careers of occupational therapists. The graduate OT program, which is a graduate program, is currently preparing a class of 25 current students for an OT career in a 76 credit curriculum.

“We’re the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they need and want to do through the use of occupation,” said OT professor Dr. Susan Cahill. “Occupation includes things that people do on a regular basis.”

While the development of an on-campus OT program began in 2016, the program launched in Fall 2018. As the aging Baby Boomer generation’s healthcare needs are increasing, a rise in the demand for occupational therapists has occurred.

“Lewis was looking to respond to the healthcare needs of society, and those aging Baby Boomers was one factor, but we are also preparing students to work across the lifespan,” said Cahill. “We are looking at other issues including access to care for marginalized individuals and supporting children and families in underserved communities.”

Many graduates will take jobs with the title “occupational therapist,” providing direct care at a hospital, clinic or school system. However, some occupational therapists work at the state level on health policies, run their own businesses and perform consulting work for major health companies. 

Because of the flexibility in the OT career, many occupational therapists specialize in a certain area. To account for these different focuses, the OT program offers two classes for each specialization. This includes two courses each in pediatric care, mental health, rehabilitation, care for older adults and upper extremity rehabilitation. Students are able to study an area in depth but are trained to be generalists.

To gain more experience through community-engaged activities, students interviewed real clients for their coursework and developed low-tech assistive technologies for children at Easterseals, a program which provides disabilities services. Additionally, the OT students attended a demonstration on making prosthetics at Joliet Junior College earlier in the academic year. 

In early April, graduate OT major Kaleigh Franklin attended the American OT Association National Conference. Additionally, graduate OT majors Kaylee Smith and Stephanie Alvarado presented a check for a donation to Easterseals at an OT-sponsored kickball game in collaboration with Elmhurst College.

The OT program also collaborated with the aviation department and Naperville Central High School to offer a travel preparation program for students with developmental disabilities. OT and aviation students developed mock security stations, presented information on appropriate items to travel with and gave attending students the opportunity to explore the aircraft simulators.

Earlier in the academic year, the OT program worked with the theatre department in a poverty simulation to enable students to learn improv skills while interviewing clients during clinical evaluations. Art and design professor Leslie Colonna taught students about visual analysis skills in relation to clinical observations.

Most commonly seen in the OT program are students who have earned their undergraduate degree in exercise science or psychology, though students with any bachelor’s degree can apply to the program. Three full-time professors, four clinical supervisors and an array of adjuncts allow for intensive training in a low student to faculty ratio. Out of 198 received applications, 26 spots have been filled for next year’s OT program.