UM-Flint Graduates First State Doctorate-Educated Occupational Therapists

The 30 students who celebrated their graduation from the University of Michigan-Flint Doctor of Occupational Therapy program on August 17 have achieved a milestone in more than their own education. They also made history as the first class to earn a doctorate in the field in the state of Michigan.

The program itself made history as the first of its kind in Michigan when it launched in the fall of 2019. It went on to become the first fully accredited doctoral occupational therapy program in the state earlier this year. .

The inaugural class is tight-knit, having weathered COVID-19 and pivoting to online classes together, then a return to in-person labs, fieldwork and research.

“Faculty ensured we grasped the fundamentals, but also shared their infectious commitment and passion for the core values ​​of the profession,” said graduate Courtney Humphrey. “The small cohort allowed me to bond more closely. We were all in the same boat and there was always someone to guide you.”

Founding program director Nancy Milligan and 2022 graduates (left to right) Paige Natke, Danielle Baker and Lindsay Krug were trained in the Occupational Therapy Room Lab in 2019.

Brady Harbaugh knew she had to be in the first class of the program after earning a bachelor’s degree in athletic training from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Like many of her classmates, she chose a PhD program to stand out in the field and gain more research experience.

“Our teachers were all very nice and compassionate and really wanted us to succeed,” she said. “Their passion made me fall even more in love with the field and excited us all to enter the profession.”

The program follows a lifetime approach that teaches students to work with patients from pediatrics to adulthood to geriatrics. The labs include a living space with a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom that provides students with hands-on experience in helping patients of all ages with an injury or disability perform daily activities.

“I really liked the interactive and pediatric labs,” said graduate Quinn Hanses. “We were able to offer treatments and interventions, and gained experience caring for patients early on.”

The third year of the program consists of two fieldwork experiences and a capstone project that allows students to work with a community organization and research a specialty that interests them. The synthesis is unique to the doctoral program.

Students also have the opportunity to participate in HEARTa pro bono student-run PT and OT clinic for the uninsured and underinsured in Flint, although the clinic was temporarily closed due to COVID for most of this class’ training time.

“We are very proud of this first class and to be the first school in Michigan to graduate from doctoral trained occupational therapists,” said Gerry Conti, interim program director. “Through the combination of didactic and hands-on learning, as well as experiential learning in the community, we develop leaders who will have an impact on the ground and in their communities for years to come.”

Graduate and student speaker Brady Harbaugh addresses his class at Commencement
Graduate and student speaker Brady Harbaugh addressed his classmates at the start.

Several students said that their fieldwork and synthesis gave them a new perspective on the specialty in which they wanted to work. Some have been offered jobs based on their fieldwork or resume sites before they even graduated.

Students are paired with a site mentor, complete a needs assessment, and design their capstone project. The inaugural class took on a wide range of unique initiatives. Examples included equine therapy, implementing adaptive technology to enable children with physical disabilities to play video games, and developing sensory programming for the Flint Institute of the Arts.

“Cornerstone is a way to advocate for the benefits of occupational therapy,” said Marra Cornelious, Ph.D. Cornerstone Coordinator. “Students learn leadership and advocacy skills so that they enter the profession as leaders in their field. This class sets the bar really, really high.”

Harbaugh is grateful for the hands-on experience. She has done fieldwork in an outpatient pediatric clinic and a vocational rehabilitation center. Her cornerstone was in a hand therapy clinic, a specialty she now hopes to pursue in her career. She interviewed clients about the barriers they faced in meeting home exercise requirements and developed solutions for the clinic.

“Having those extra 14 weeks made me fall in love with hand therapy,” she said. “It has helped me grow as an occupational therapist and see the importance of research, of probing and analyzing situations, and of focusing on evidence-based practice. Helping people find I really liked a function in their hands. You see a lot of gains.”

Quinn Hanses, who enrolled at UM-Flint’s dual OTD/MBA program and graduate of both degrees, was immersed in research throughout the program through a graduate assistant position in which she worked closely with UM-Flint faculty on several research projects, including research on Parkinson’s disease.

Graduate Quinn Hanses explains her research at the launch ceremony.
Graduate Quinn Hanses explains her flagship Parkinson’s project at the launch event.

For her cornerstone, she worked with the Michigan Parkinson Foundation at Bingham Farms where she set up a client survey to learn more about their specific cognitive impairments and develop personalized dual-task training to strengthen the brain/brain connection. body.

“Evidence-based practice is paramount,” she said. “We as a profession can really add to the healthcare field. All of our courses were evidence-based and included innovative research. That’s a huge asset.”

Graduate Sandin Kekic originally intended to pursue physical therapy after earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but was interested in the holistic approach to occupational therapy.

“Our cohort has a lot of very smart and ambitious people and I’m excited to see what we’ll all do in the future,” he said. “I hope we can make the case for occupational therapy. The field takes into account the mind, body and soul. When treating a patient, there is much more than their physical ailments.”

To learn more about UM-Flint’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy program, visit his webpage.

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