Frequently Asked Questions About Postprofessional Degrees for Occupational Therapists (2008)
1. What is a postprofessional degree?
A postprofessional degree is a degree acquired after someone has first completed either a bachelor’s, master’s, combined bachelor/master’s, or an entry-level doctorate in occupational therapy. Postprofessional degrees are advanced degrees typically at the master’s or doctoral level.
2. Why would someone pursue a postprofessional degree?
As professionals, occupational therapists often pursue continuing competency in their practice area or other areas of interest through continuing education and self-directed learning. Postprofessional education, or graduate studies through the higher education system, is a viable option for facilitating professional growth and development. In some instances, an advanced or postprofessional degree may help an individual to meet career goals by fulfilling institutional requirements for hiring and advancement. Occupational therapists pursuing postprofessional degrees may do so for a variety of reasons. Although not an exhaustive list, reasons may be to: 1) engage in lifelong learning; 2) advance personal and professional knowledge and skills in a given area; 3) qualify for selected occupations; 3) contribute to the body of knowledge in the profession; 4) acquire degree equity with colleagues in their area of practice; 5) become more marketable; 6) increase competency to meet growingly diverse societal needs; or 7) simply to meet personal goals related to education. The specific choice to pursue a postprofessional degree is an individual decision based on individual needs and goals.
3. What postprofessional degrees are available?
There are many options and opportunities for postprofessional degrees. At the master’s level some of the degrees offered by occupational therapy programs are: Master of Arts (MA); Master of Education (MEd); Master of Health Sciences (MHS); Master of Occupational therapy (MOT); Master of Public Health (MPH); and Master of Science (MS). At the doctoral level, occupational therapy departments typically offer degrees such as the Doctor of Education (EdD); Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD); Doctor of Philosophy (PhD); Doctor of Science (ScD); or a transitional occupational therapy doctorate (TS OTD). Many universities that do not offer an occupational therapy entry-level degree may offer postprofessional degrees in areas related to the scope of practice for occupational therapy. It is common for occupational therapists to pursue a postprofessional degree in areas of interest that are not directly in occupational therapy. A search of university websites should provide additional information about the broad scope of post professional degrees offered.
4. What are the differences between entry-level and postprofessional master’s and doctoral degrees?
The most obvious difference between entry-level and postprofessional master’s and doctoral degrees is that the entry-level programs lead to an individual’s first degree as an occupational therapist. The entry-level degree programs do not require students to already have a professional level occupational therapy degree. Students may enter entry-level professional programs with any of a variety of undergraduate degrees or as undergraduates in a combined undergraduate/graduate program. The postprofessional degrees often target occupational therapists who seek more advanced knowledge since they already have a degree in occupational therapy. Entry-level programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) (see http://www.aota.org/Educate/Accredit.aspx for additional information) at an institution accredited by institutional accrediting agencies. Postprofessional programs are not accredited by ACOTE although the institutions in which they are housed may be accredited by institutional accrediting agencies.
5. How does an entry-level OTD compare to a postprofessional OTD?
Both programs lead to a doctoral degree, however, only individuals who have successfully completed eligibility requirements to be an occupational therapist may enter a postprofessional OTD program. Persons matriculating through an entry-level OTD program have not yet finished all components to be able to sit for the national certification examination. The entry-level OTD is typically referred to as a clinical doctorate as it prepares a non-occupational therapist to sit for the certification examination in preparation for practice. The postprofessional OTD prepares practitioners to specialize in a variety of areas, the specific program focus is an institutional prerogative. The variance in curricula can create confusion when comparing programs and degrees, therefore it is important to investigate the specific programs you are interested in to understand the options within their particular curricula. Entry-level OTD programs must be accredited by ACOTE while post professional OTDs are not required to be accredited by ACOTE. The institutions where postprofessional OTD programs are offered may be regulated by recognized institutional accreditation agencies that accredit the institution rather than specific programs.
6. Is it better to pursue a postprofessional degree in occupational therapy or in another field?
It depends on your goals and how the degree fits with attaining your goals. Some therapists want to enhance their knowledge within the profession by pursuing a degree in such areas as occupational science, advanced OT, and rehabilitation sciences. Other therapists may be more interested in developing skills in a particular area such as administration, research, science, human development, or other areas that may advance their career. It is important to understand why you want a degree and what you plan to do with it upon graduation; that will help you decide on the type of postprofessional degree to pursue.
7. Which degrees advance occupational therapy practice?
In general, any postprofessional degree may help to facilitate occupational therapy practice. Postprofessional occupational therapy and occupational science programs at the master’s and doctoral levels may offer specialization courses of study in areas including but not limited to pediatrics, assistive technology, geriatrics, neurology, and occupational science. These types of degrees may provide an opportunity to focus on enhancing knowledge, skills, and judgment necessary for practice. Non-occupational therapy postprofessional degree programs may be tailored to focus on areas of interest in occupational therapy. For instance, an OT interested in health promotion in the community may pursue a master’s or doctorate in public health; an OT with a goal of being a hospital administrator may choose to earn a degree in business administration or health care policy; or a practitioner with an interest in moving towards becoming a hand therapist may elect to focus on a degree in anatomy.
8. Which postprofessional degrees should best prepare me to work in an academic setting?
Occupational therapists interested in pursuing a postprofessional degree to prepare to work in higher education should look at university requirements for employment before deciding on a post professional program and degree. The type of academic employment opportunities may vary from community colleges to research extensive universities. Before entering academia, it is best to get an understanding of the different options available such as clinical faculty, non-tenure track, and tenure track and the different requirements for each before you decide on the option you want to pursue. To get an idea of what will make you most marketable, it is a good idea to look at job advertisements in the types of academic settings you think you may want to work in and see what they list as qualifications. The institutions typically list the degrees or qualifications that they are looking for in a candidate and that should lead to your success in their setting. Another consideration to think about when preparing to work in academia is the educational program you for employment. Some occupational therapy departments may try to secure faculty with a diverse range of degrees by seeking candidates with a degree that will fill a gap within the department. Some research institutions may seek candidates with a postprofessional degree with a strong research component.
9. Can OTD-prepared faculty members obtain tenure?
Maybe; tenure is a process determined by each college or university. The OTD degree is a terminal degree as defined by the AOTA Commission on Education. However, some research institutions require an academic terminal degree for tenure based on institutional goals. Rank, promotion, and tenure are processes determined by individual institutions.
10. Which postprofessional degrees should best prepare me to engage in research?
Many master’s and doctoral programs will prepare you for participation in research. It is typical that individuals with a PhD are prepared to independently engage in research since the specific courses and activities related to research are rigorous. However, individuals who complete a master’s degree with a thesis or scholarly project and individuals with other doctoral degrees are qualified and prepared to engage in research. It is best to think about the type and depth of research you want to do and then decide on the degree. For instance, individuals who seek external grant funding to support research activities should look pursue at the degree qualifications when choosing the degree to pursue, as some grant agencies limit funding to investigators with a doctorate while other funding agencies do not.
11. Should I consider postprofessional degrees that are taught online?
Maybe, as online degrees may be as beneficial as degrees earned in a face to face format. There are several factors to consider when making a decision about the format of the postprofessional degree that you want to pursue. Although not all inclusive, you should at least consider your personal situation in terms of time and obligation, computer access, competency with technology, learning style, the reputation of the program and institution, and financial constraints. The decision should be a personal one made after thoroughly evaluating the program and looking at how well the degree will prepare you in meeting your goals. For instance, if a practitioner is interested in working in a research extensive university the person should investigate to see if the institution perceives online and face to face degrees equitably in their application and promotion processes. By looking at your career goals you may be able to determine if an online postprofessional degree is best for you.
12. Can students pursuing a postprofessional degree obtain financial aid?
Yes, financial aid for advanced degree education is available from a variety of federal, state, and private agencies and institutions. You should seek information from the specific department and university to which you apply. In addition to scholarships, grants, and loans, most institutions offer graduate assistantships or work study programs. A variety of Internet resources are available such as the U.S. Department of Education located at http://www.ed.gov/finaid/info/find/edpicks.jhtml?src=ov. It is best to start early when looking into financial aid and shop around to get the best and most reasonable aid available.
13. Will therapists with a postprofessional degree earn more money?
Occupational therapists with a postprofessional degree are able to pursue and fill unique positions with advanced education. In some situations, such as with some positions in school systems, the acquisition of a relevant advanced degree or doctorate may qualify an individual for an increase in salary. Salaries of individuals with postprofessional degrees in areas other than occupational therapy vary as well. More data continues to be gathered to determine salaries of therapists holding entry-level and postprofessional degrees.
14. Will it be easier to compete in the job market with a postprofessional degree?
Practitioners with a postprofessional degree equip themselves with a qualification beyond the basic requirements of occupational therapy practice. The marketability of the therapist varies on the job market, experience, and the type of degree. In a rapidly changing health care and academic environment, experienced professionals with advanced certification or degrees may be more desirable. However, demonstrated competence is the true benefit.
15. Are postprofessional programs accredited?
Postprofessional programs are not governed by the ACOTE standards and therefore are not under any specialized accrediting agencies or departments within AOTA. The institutions where postprofessional OTD programs are offered are regulated by recognized institutional accreditation agencies that accredit the institution rather than specific programs and therefore are not under any specialized accrediting agencies or departments within AOTA.
16. How do I find a program to get a postprofessional degree in occupational therapy?
The number of post professional programs offered by universities that also offer occupational therapy vary, for the most up to date information visit the AOTA educational resource Web site at www.aota.org/Educate/Schools.asps for links to specific institutions offering post professional degrees.
17. How do I find a program to get a postprofessional degree in an area other than occupational therapy?
There are numerous Internet sources available to search for master and doctoral degrees. An example would be phds.org located at http://graduate-school.phds.org/. Always do a thorough search and investigation before making a decision about the school and about the program.
18. What are the requirements to get into a postprofessional program?
The specific requirements vary from institution to institution and from program to program. Generally, you may be expected to submit such materials as official transcripts, letters of recommendation, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, a personal statement, or a curriculum vita. For entry into a postprofessional OT program, you may be required to submit proof of graduation from an accredited OT school, licensure, or a certain years of experience. The specific requirements are an institutional prerogative.
Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (n.d.). Schools. Retrieved January 15, 2008 from http://www.aota.org/Students/Schools.aspx