As an educator for more than 20 years, Anne Hull, OTD, has seen firsthand how occupational therapy degree programs have changed, and are continuing to evolve to meet student demand.

OT_News-01Hull, who has been with the University of St Augustine in Florida for the past 10 years, was named the new director of its Master of Occupational Therapy program in February. She now is responsible for overseeing both the university’s traditional OT program and online FLEX MOT program.

Before joining the university’s occupational therapy faculty, Hull had worked as an OT in clinical, academic and administrative settings. She also provided direct and consultative services in school-based practice, with an emphasis on populations with severe and profound disabilities. She has taught at five other universities across the country and most recently was director of professional development and competency at the American Occupational Therapy Association.

We recently spoke with Hull about her university’s programs, the changes she’s witnessed in OT education, and her insight on the future of the profession.

Q: How have your programs and students changed during the past decade?

A: Our programs are growing, and we are admitting more students. Because the nature of our students is changing, our programs have to keep up with these changes. Students are learning differently than they did 10-20 years ago, and they are also savvier. Today’s students aren’t looking for someone to stand in the front of the class and lecture at them, they have gleaned info from multiple websites and are able to question and challenge their instructor to sort through what information is meaningful and what isn’t. OT students today are more active learners than they were 15 years ago, and it’s more challenging to be an instructor than it was years ago. The days of standing at a podium and lecturing to students is long over – today’s instructors need to serve as facilitators and embrace concepts such as group problem-solving and other forms of active learning to keep students actively participating and engaged in the subject matter.

Q: Are there other ways that you see OT education changing?

A: I think future occupational therapists will need to be doctorally prepared. The AOTA issued a position statement last year recommending the profession move to the doctoral entry for occupational therapists by 2025. At our university, we have already started a task force to examine what we will need to move our MOT program into an OTD program. Many similar professions are moving toward an entry-level doctorate, so I think it makes sense.

Q: Are you seeing more students enroll in your online FLEX program?

A: We started offering the FLEX program two and a half years ago and have seen a slight increase in more men, as well as more minority students. More than 50% of the coursework is delivered online to students, and the program combines distance education with on-campus weekend labs, making it an attractive option for students who may be working full time. We get a number of OTAs who want to pursue an advanced degree, as well as students who are juggling work, school and family responsibilities. The MOT FLEX program is delivered over 10 trimesters, rather than the six trimesters offered in our traditional campus MOT program.

Q: How do you see the field of OT changing in the future?

A: Although many OTs continue to work in hospitals, I also see OTs moving more toward a primary care model. Private practices are an emerging area for OTs, and I see our students working in this type of setting as part of a multidisciplinary team. There’s also a trend towards OTs working as self-employed consultants. Demand for OTs is high – all of our students receive multiple job offers before they graduate, and I think this will continue well into the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapy is one of the 30 fastest growing occupations.

Linda Childers is a freelance writer.