Students Mike Schutt and Jimmy LaRowe go over techniques for assistant someone with a physical disability in their lab. (Photo by Jared Huhta)
Students Mike Schutt and Jimmy LaRowe go over techniques for assistant someone with a physical disability in their lab. (Photo by Jared Huhta)

The university’s first occupational therapy doctorate program began its first round of classes this semester at the Parkview Hospital Randalia campus. The program has 32 enrolled students.

The university is one of 14 schools in the nation that offers an entry-level doctorate program.

“Student feedback has really been phenomenally positive,” Ruth Ford, Ed.D., director of occupational therapy, said. “They really enjoy the classroom and the activities, the challenge of the learning experience. What really makes us stand apart is that we’re integrating them in the community, and they’re seeing things literally day one and every week after that other schools just don’t have the opportunity to do.”

The new program shares the former cardiology building with Trine University. Trine’s classes for a doctorate in physical therapy are in the basement and on the first floor while the university’s classes are on the second floor.

“We’re trying to look creatively to form a different kind of education where we want collaboration and sharing resources,” Ford said. “Here in Fort Wayne we’re very unique in that rather than just being a separate university doing everything eternally, we’re stepping out to be more intentional in how we provide learning for our students. This should help equip them to have better student-client outcomes because we’re teaching them how to work with other professionals.”

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, OTs “help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.

The OT degree takes three years to complete and includes six months of fieldwork and four months of residency.

“The best part is that we’re part of a health care center,” Ford said. “We can literally take them to a patient’s bedside or we can take them to one of the therapy departments … They’re literally seeing how professionals and clients from just being where we’re located.”

170 applicants initially applied to the program and had to undergo a rigorous interview process, Ford said.

Some of the students hail from states such as California, New Jersey and Texas.

Holly Pinnery, student, said she “loves” the program.

“We’re four weeks in, and we’ve been hands on since then,” she said. “It’s the kind of fast paced learning that keeps you challenged.”

The curriculum covers kinesiology, research methods and pathology.

To maintain accreditation, the university also offers foundational curriculum such as an ethics and advocacy class.

“We have a very different environment than the average OT schools,” Ford said. “It’s not just a skill-based education they’re getting here. They’re getting that higher level education where they’re critically thinking as researchers, and they can help shape policy for healthcare. They can be leaders in the field.”

Trine and Huntington both paid to have the 27-year-old building completely renovated. HU specifically installed new specialty labs with state-of-the-art-equipment, Ford said.

“We’re working with Parkview with funding and space rental,” she said. “We have a number of community leaders on our advisory board. We’ll use them as we continue to grow and expand.”

The program has three full-time faculty including Ford and three adjuncts.

Beth Bright, Ed.D., said the program is “organized, deliberate, and there’s always a bigger picture.

“Everything is practical,” she said. “We’re not going to teach you a skill or knowledge base that you’re not gonna use in the field.”

Tom Henry, mayor of Fort Wayne, declared Aug. 25 as “Huntington University Occupational Therapy Day” for “the strength of community collaborations with Parkview Health, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the City of Fort Wayne,” according to the official proclamation.

The students will graduate in May 2017, the 100th anniversary of the AOTA, and will participate in the graduation ceremony on campus.

“In many ways, they are starting the next century of OT practice,” Ford said. “We want these therapists to be uniquely prepared for the future of healthcare and not just what’s been done in the past or present.”