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Occupational therapy feeling effects of coming job boom

MILLIGAN COLLEGE, TN (November 5, 2002) — A sagging job market for occupational therapists is on the rebound and Milligan College is ready to meet the increasing needs. The college’s graduate program in occupational therapy will graduate eight students next month and is receiving new applications weekly for fall 2003 enrollment.

Employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The increased demand for therapeutic services is attributed to the aging of the baby-boom generation, as well as a rapidly growing population 75 years of age and above.

The occupational therapy profession is a health and rehabilitation service that uses activity, or “occupation,” to enable individuals with illnesses, injuries or disabilities to overcome their challenges and lead full lives, explained Dr. Christy Gamble, assistant professor and admissions coordinator of occupational therapy at Milligan.

Federal legislation imposing limits on reimbursement for therapy services has adversely affected the job market for occupational therapists in recent years, said Gamble. But all that is changing, thanks to the Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act of 2002, which would repeal the cap imposed by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

“It is very important for seniors and people with disabilities to have access to the rehabilitation services they need,” said Gamble. “Our government is recognizing that and correcting this error.”

This means that more hospitals are now employing a larger number of occupational therapists to staff their outpatient rehabilitation programs, as well as to provide therapy services to acutely ill patients. In 2000, occupational therapists held about 78,000 jobs, mostly in hospitals. Over the next decade, the Bureau expects there to be 255,000 openings for all manner of therapists, including physical, occupational and respiratory therapists.

“Occupational therapists help senior citizens lead more productive, active and independent lives through a variety of methods,” said Gamble. “And they help those with disabilities and injuries learn to use adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs, splints, and aids for eating and dressing. They also design or make special equipment needed at home or at work and teach how to use it.”

Median annual earnings for occupational therapists in 2000 were nearly $50,000, with those working in hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities earning above the median.

The Bureau’s “Occupational Outlook Handbook 2002-2003” also expects employment growth in schools due to expansion of the school-age population and extended services for disabled students. Therapists will be needed to help children with disabilities learn in the least-restrictive classroom environment.

“Therapists in schools evaluate children’s abilities, recommend and provide therapy, modify classroom equipment, and in general, help children participate as fully as possible in school programs and activities,” explained Gamble, who holds a Ph.D. in child development and family studies from The University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is board certified in pediatrics by the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Other major employers include offices and clinics of occupational therapists and other health practitioners, home health agencies, nursing homes, community mental health centers, adult daycare programs, job training services, and residential care facilities.

All states and districts in the United States regulate occupational therapy. To obtain a license, applicants must graduate from an accredited educational program and pass a national certification exam. Gamble said that Milligan’s program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

“This means that our graduates are eligible to sit for the national certification exam,” said Gamble.

“Our curriculum provides them with basic skills in applied sciences and the application of occupational therapy theory and skills. They are also required to complete six months of supervised fieldwork.”

The curriculum prepares them well, said Gamble, who reported that Milligan OT graduates are now practicing in hospitals, long-term care facilities, school systems, psychiatric services, private practice, and services for the developmentally disabled.

Milligan’s occupational therapy program is a graduate level program-one of only two in the state of Tennessee-and is designed for those already holding a bachelor’s degree. The degree can be in a variety of fields, explained Gamble, from human relations to development, biology, sociology or psychology.

“The job market still seems bleak for many professions right now,” said Gamble, “but occupational therapy is one profession that is already feeling the first effects of the coming job boom that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is forecasting. Now is the time to be trained for this profession.”

For more information about Milligan’s MSOT program, visit www.milligan.edu or call 423-461-8010. Application deadline for Fall 2003 enrollment is February 1.

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MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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