As a mother of three young children, with a full-time job and a small hobby farm, Laura Schaffer knew going back to school would be challenging. But in just three years, she’ll earn an advanced degree through the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s online Doctor of Occupational Therapy program.
“The program offers flexibility while keeping you on a timeline,” Schaffer said. “Although time consuming, it is achievable, and the benefits far outweigh the stress.”
The Doctor of Occupational Therapy program is designed as a post-professional clinical doctorate that prepares working occupational therapists for advanced-level practice, leadership, and research. The program’s interprofessional focus helps students thrive in settings ranging from hospitals and clinics to educational institutions.
Market demand for occupational therapists is projected to dramatically rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for occupational therapists will increase 21 percent from 2016 to 2026. Earning a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) opens the door to leadership and mentoring roles in this burgeoning field.
After graduating with her master’s degree in occupational therapy, Schaffer worked for 12 years in acute care and inpatient rehabilitation before transitioning to the world of academia.
As a clinical assistant professor in occupational therapy at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Schaffer is already using what she gained through the Doctoral of Occupational Therapy program to improve her teaching practices, incorporate new technology into her courses, and do more research with faculty.
“The resources and connections offered through this program are abundant,” she said. “Faculty and cohort peers are extremely supportive, as everyone is a working professional.”
Schaffer appreciates that the program instructors not only possess years of experience and expertise, but also participate in research. This, along with the emphasis on students studying their specific interests, helps her stay engaged and excited throughout her tenure in the program.
“I greatly appreciate the opportunity to complete independent study and to be able to choose classes relevant to my career aspirations,” she said. All of the learning takes place online, except for an orientation at the start of the program and a capstone project presentation near the end.
Growing personally and professionally
Schaffer hopes to be involved with a community-based practiced in La Crosse. She said that her experience with the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program, including her capstone project on incorporating occupational therapy at a free medical clinic, will help her achieve her goal.
“Participating in this program allowed me to grow personally and professionally in ways that I never imagined,” she said.
For more information about the online Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree, see the program’s webpage.