Home » EKU occupational therapy program among nation’s best

EKU occupational therapy program among nation’s best

RICHMOND, Ky. — Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) is home to one of the top Occupational Therapy (OT) programs in the nation, boasting a 99% graduation rate since 2020.

Recently, EKU ranked No. 22 in Best Occupational Therapy Programs for 2024 Best Health Schools by U.S. News & World Report, moving up from a previous No. 29 position. The new Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) program was recently accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), for the maximum seven-year period.

“With April being Occupational Therapy Month, it’s only fitting that we celebrate EKU’s success in this field and the profound impact it has on the lives of our students and the broader community,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “Providing well-trained professionals to meet the needs of communities across Kentucky and beyond is what we do best at EKU. We’re proud to see our OT program continue to gain national recognition for excellence in this healthcare field.”

An occupational therapist works with patients who have conditions that are mentally, physically, developmentally or emotionally disabling. They help patients develop, recover or maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.

EKU Associate Chair/Graduate Coordinator and Associate Professor, Dr. Renee Causey-Upton, spoke on the program’s structure, stating, “Students enter our program as juniors. After completing a bachelor’s degree in Occupational Science, students are able to enter directly into the OT doctorate degree program. They end our program with both occupational science and occupational therapy backgrounds.”

Students who complete the academic track to graduate from EKU’s OT program would be prepared to enter the field as generalist occupational therapists, Causey-Upton said. Students who complete the combined OS/OTD program are eligible to take the national certification examination given by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and apply for licensure in all states, which is required to practice.

“Students can go into any area of practice and work with any population from the tiny baby in the NICU, all the way up to elderly patients. I’ve had clients as old as 104 years,” said Causey-Upton, who has worked as a practicing occupational therapist herself.

While she said many graduates stay in the Richmond area or choose to serve their home communities, EKU’s OT graduates are working across the United States, even as far as Alaska, and some go to work as occupational therapists internationally.

Kris Kleine, ’00, is working as an occupational therapist in four elementary schools in New Hampshire. Kleine has used his OT skills, education and experience to serve his community of varying ages in the public school system.

Kleine first became interested in the OT field as a child, stating, “My aunt was developmentally disabled and came to live with us after my grandparents passed away.” At 43 years old, she had never been able to feed herself as a result of her disability, Kleine said.

“As my dad (Glen Kleine) was a professor at EKU at the time, he knew about the OT program and arranged to have several EKU OT students come to our house to see if they could help her learn how to feed herself,” Kleine said. “After they began working with her, the students developed some adaptive utensils for her which gave her the ability to finally be able to feed herself after a few weeks.”

Seeing the actions of the EKU OT students left an impression on Kleine. EKU played a role in shaping what occupational therapy meant to Kleine and then through the degree program, aligned with his own path for success in the field.

“The OT program at EKU helped provide me with many hands-on experiences both in the classroom and through the many fieldwork experiences,” said Kleine. A co-op opportunity at Hitachi Automotive, he said, broadened his skill set as he learned how to collaborate with a large team, practiced public speaking and gained experience in negotiating with individuals of different mindsets.

As a student in EKU’s OT program, he said, “I was able to both observe and participate in OT evaluations and sessions with students within the local school system. I always felt supported by professors and especially my fieldwork placement coordinator. Through these relationships, I am now paying it forward and have supervised several OT students from northeast OT programs and still connect with them on a personal level as well.”

EKU’s Occupational Therapy program provides students with the knowledge, tools and experience to enter a rewarding and fulfilling profession of serving others. From EKU and across Kentucky to New Hampshire and beyond, graduates from the School of Opportunity are making a positive difference for individuals and their communities.

—By Evan Bentley, EKU News

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