Rocky Mountain College’s new Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program is scheduled to begin this upcoming spring semester. Dr. Twylla Kirchen, director of the program, spoke out about the preparations made and goals for the future of occupational therapy in Montana.
Before a doctorate program can become official, it needs to be accredited through two different venues. Kirchen briefly explained how Rocky was able to become accredited for occupational therapy.
“One of [our accreditors] is through Northwest, which accredits universities and colleges…the other process is through ACOTE [Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education], which is the OT accreditors…They liked the resources that Rocky has put forward,” said Kirchen.
The OT program will be located on the top floor of the Charles Morledge Science Building and is expected to have thirty students. RMC is also hiring new faculty members specifically for the program.
“[Furthermore] we’re building our content,” said Kirchen. “We’re developing all of our courses. This is very much a hands-on engaged kind of program, so we’ll be mapping a lot of the courses and assignments onto needs in the community, and I think that fits nicely with the Rocky mission.”
Kirchen received her doctorate in occupational therapy from Texas Woman’s University and holds a Master of Science degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Kirchen will be managing the first Montana-based occupational therapy program and hopes to provide for communities in need of OTs.
Montana has the second fewest number of OTs in the country. Kirchen would like to change that and plans to establish more occupational therapists specifically for the state through this doctoral program.
“We are really passionate about rural health care,” said Kirchen. “There are areas in Montana that have waited five, ten years for an OT in the community…we really want to get OT graduates out into the rural communities and support them through our mentoring program, so that they feel connected and that they’re willing to stay there.”
“My plan is to not only practice in the mental health sector, but to grow and develop jobs in mental health programs through our student work,” she said. “The other thing is we want to teach. When you leave with a clinical doctorate, you can teach OT and at any OT program in the country.”
One of the key factors in developing a successful occupational therapist is entrepreneurship; learning how to build programs and nonprofit organizations.
“If we want to grow OT in this state, then we need to teach our students how to do it…I would say that is our focus for the program.” said Kirchen.
One of the ways Kirchen and her team are seeking to accomplish this goal is by looking to partner with nonprofit organizations like the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, a trusted leader in the field of mental healthcare for children and their families.
“[YBGR] is a place I’d love to see an OT program in,” Kirchen said. “I’d love to see an OT in the major hospitals and clinics, and I’d love to see an OT at Rimrock.”
“OT is in high demand,” said Kirchen. “On average, OT programs tend to attract between 500-800 applicants per year. I also think it will be really helpful by putting Rocky on the map… and our students will be doing research in developing programs that will not only change this community, but the state, country, and eventually the world. Through all of the work, I think it will bring a new variety.”
OTs work in a variety of places including hospitals, schools, and clinics. Kirchen said there are three important factors OTs examine in patients: self-care, work, and leisure.
“You set goals, you do a collaborative kind of intervention approach based on what the patient wants or needs to do, and then you reach outcomes. The main thing is that [a patient] can be functional and independent when you’re done,” said Kirchen.
The thirty students expected to be in the program are a diverse bunch, ranging from Montana to Hawaii. The program itself will be primarily student-led and very hands-on, which will enhance student learning for the OT profession.
“[These students] can expect their money’s worth,” continued Kirchen. “We are putting everything we have into developing a program that is going to make them completely prepared to do what they need to do, and to interact with patients…we are preparing them to be some of the best future [leaders], educators, and researchers in the profession.”
Kirchen appreciates the support Rocky has provided and looks forward to the next semester.