Sharon Gartland loved school, describing herself as “a bit of a nerd.” She already had bachelor’s and master’s degrees in occupational therapy and wanted to prepare herself for new leadership opportunities with a doctorate. It was a tough decision to make at her stage of life, with a fulltime job, a large family, and college expenses for her kids. But Gartland took the plunge and enrolled in an online doctoral program at St. Catherine University.
She’s so glad she did.
“Upon receiving my degree, I have been promoted, earned a pay raise, and taken on a new position leading an occupational therapy doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” Gartland says.
Gartland is now the director of UW-Madison’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree program, whose first cohort of students will enroll in fall 2016. The flexible online format will allow occupational therapy professionals to continue working while pursuing their degree part-time over the course of nine semesters.
As a clinical instructor at UW-Madison for the past 10 years, Gartland has seen a growing need for doctoral-level faculty members and researchers in occupational therapy.
“Getting a doctorate puts occupational therapists in the running for leadership roles,” she says. “I would recommend it for those who desire to keep moving forward in their career, whether that looks like clinical expertise, administrative responsibilities, teaching opportunities, or research participation.”
UW-Madison’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree program is completely online except for an initial orientation and capstone project presentation. It offers coursework in leadership theories and models, administrative tools and techniques, teaching methods, and applied research methods. Students can focus on their own goals while learning to function in a variety of career settings.
The program will build on UW-Madison’s 70-year history of training occupational therapists at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. It’s unique in the inter-professional focus and the faculty’s extensive research experience.
“UW-Madison is a large research university with multiple programs in a variety of fields,” Gartland says. “Because of this we are able to focus on inter-professional practice and clinical partnerships for research.”
Gartland encourages practicing occupational therapists to take a chance with a doctoral program, as she did.
“There is almost never a good time to add things to your plate,” she says. “In my experience, however, it’s worth it so you can benefit from the enhanced opportunities sooner rather than later. I definitely did not regret it, despite being in a very busy season of life. Hire a cleaning person, eat more convenience food, get your support structure in place, and do it!”