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Methodist University announces new Occupational Therapy Assistant program

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Methodist University will become one of the first universities in North Carolina to offer an accredited, Bachelor of Science Occupational Therapy Assistant program.

Starting in the fall of 2023, Methodist University’s four-year OTA program will welcome its first cohort of up to 24 students, eventually leading to the first graduating class in the spring of 2027.

“Expanding the university’s program offerings to include an OTA program will serve both our students and the local community,” said Dr. Meredith Gronski, the university’s Occupational Therapy Department chair and program director of the Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program. “OTAs partner with occupational therapists to provide services that help people return to their meaningful daily activities. Our OTA program will prepare students to serve as leaders in the profession and take on roles with the highest earning potential.”

This isn’t the first time Methodist University has blazed a path in the area of occupational therapy. Starting in 2015, Gronski led the charge to build up the university’s OTD program – which eventually became the first doctoral-level program in occupational therapy in North Carolina in 2018. Now it is considered one of the strongest programs in the state, graduating approximately five dozen students the past two years.

Coinciding with the OTA program’s launch, Gronski also announced Melissa Gibson will take over as program director.

Gibson is a licensed OTA with a dozen years of clinical experience. Most recently, Gibson worked as an academic fieldwork coordinator for another developing, baccalaureate-level OTA program.

“Gibson reflects the integrity, leadership, and energy that the department seeks to fill this critical position in the program,” said Gronski. “She demonstrates a commitment to student-centered learning, evidence-based practice, and the authentic role of the OTA that will align well with the program’s curriculum design. Her knowledge and expertise of all programmatic aspects will support her to successfully navigate our accreditation process and bring in the first cohort of students.”

Gibson earned a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary health and rehab sciences from California State University, an associate degree in OTA from Sacramento City College, and a Master of Science in gero-psychology. She is planning to earn a Doctor of Healthcare Administration later this month.

“As an OTA myself, I am excited to see the profession take this new step with a new degree level for OTA education,” Gibson added. “What makes having an OTA program at Methodist University unique is that students who would like to move on to become an occupational therapist afterwards will be able to do so through the university’s OTD program. This program will allow all of the health sciences programs to collaborate and learn together even more.”

Alisha Myers will serve as the OTA program’s academic fieldwork coordinator. Myers has been an occupational therapist for eight years and has worked in the local community since 2016. Myers recently served as a fieldwork educator for the OTD program and has mentored many OTD students at Cumberland County Schools.

Currently, there are nine fully accredited associate-level occupational therapy assistant programs across North Carolina; however, none of them offer an accredited baccalaureate-level program. By the time the program launches in the fall of 2023, Methodist University will be one of just three programs of its kind in the state.

The OTA program will provide a variety of career and educational opportunities once students graduate:

  • Graduates can take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification exam and if they pass, they can practice as a Certified & Licensed Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA/L). Similar to a physician assistant’s partnership with a doctor, OTAs can deliver services under the supervision of an occupational therapist.
  • Graduates may choose to pursue becoming an occupational therapist themselves by continuing their doctoral studies at Methodist University’s OTD program.
  • Graduates can seek a graduate degree in another area of study including speech therapy, physical therapy, healthcare administration, or business administration.

The timing couldn’t be better, either. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of OTAs is projected to grow by 34% by 2030. Also, approximately 8,800 openings for OTAs are projected for each year over the next decade. In the Fayetteville area specifically, some of the top employers for OTAs include the Cape Fear Valley System, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Cumberland County Schools.

Students may apply immediately online or if you have questions, reach out to admissions@methodist.edu or mgronski@methodist.edu.

Methodist University, Occupational Therapy Assistant program