As a senior occupational therapy major, I’m bombarded with options for when I complete my schooling at Gannon University. I can go out and get a job in any field of my choosing, I can teach future OTs as a professor, or I continue my education and get my doctorate degree. I hadn’t really considered the latter option; the thought of even more schooling turned me into an anxious mess. However, my opinion changed after I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. John Connelly, director of the OTD program at the newly-opened GU campus down in Ruskin, Florida. He was such an incredible wealth of knowledge and gave me all sorts of information about Gannon University’s OTD program. Here’s what you need to know about the Florida campus and Gannon’s OTD program.

  1. Why Florida?

Admittedly, when I first heard Gannon was opening up a campus all the way in Florida, I made a very Kanye West-esque, “Huh?” noise. The more I thought about it using my clinically trained OT brain, the more it made sense. Florida is home to an aging population. Older adults need OT. Opening up a campus in an area where the population is in high demand of OT makes complete sense. Additionally, the Catholic Diocese partnership in Florida matches up with Gannon University’s Catholic ideals.

  1. You don’t have to be an occupational therapy major to complete the OTD program.

According to Dr. Connelly, there are a bunch of students going through the OTD program without a background in OT. “We’ve got psychology, we’ve got somebody in neuroscience […] We have people with an exercise & health science degree, somebody with an anatomy & physiology degree, we got exercise & physiology. We have a gentleman who is a respiratory therapist. We have students flying down this year with biology degrees.” Basically, if you have a background with health or science, you’ll understand OT.

3. What’s the point of doing an entry-level doctorate when you can get a job in the OT field with just a Masters degree?

A lot of people think the OTD program is just another way for the university to get more money. But according to Dr. Connelly, the OTD program isn’t just a gimmick. “With healthcare going into the direction that it’s going, we need clinicians that are going to be able to step up to the table.” The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is striving for OT to be a more universally recognized profession among the healthcare field. While you can go out and treat clients with a Masters degree in OT, the therapists with a doctorate will be ahead of the curve in healthcare. As Bob Dylan once said, “The times, they are a-changin,'” and this applies to the healthcare field too. Pretty soon, OTs, like physical therapists, will be required to  have their doctorate degree.

4. So what’s the difference between the MOS and OTD degree?

Students in the Masters program must complete a thesis project during their time at Gannon. This project is done in a group and involves organizing and implementing a study, collecting results, writing a journal article, and defending your study in front of a panel. It begins during your 3rd year in the program and is completed during your 5th year. The OTD students complete a similar project. In the doctorate, they are completing an independent research study. They chose a topic and carry it out on their own, with the help of an outside mentor. OTD students start their research study the summer before their first year. The OTD students are in an accelerated program and start their classes during the summer before their first year. By the time their fourth year rolls around, they are already done with their research project. “There is another requirement that is not required by the Masters program. Their research needs to get published.” After their initial project is completed, the OTD students create another program based off of their research. “You develop a project based off of what you did in your research. Maybe in your research, you saw limitations, what worked, what didn’t work. Now, you can create a 16-week program to expand what you saw on your research.”

Regarding coursework, the OTD students are taking basically the same classes as those in the Masters program, except with a catch. “They have to undergo what we call an experiential learning program. There’s another dimension that’s added to every one on these courses, which means there’s more work.” These are used for students to truly demonstrate their competency in the subject.

Throughout the interview, Dr. Connelly stressed the importance  that the OTD program is not “better” than the Masters program. Both are equally important to the profession of occupational therapy; both aim to promote independent living among different types of people. If you’re a student interested in occupational therapy and you believe you can handle the extra workload, perhaps Gannon University’s OTD program is the perfect fit or you!