JOIN AOTA

AOTA Board of Directors Position Statement on Entry-Level Degree for the Occupational Therapist

April 30, 2014

In response to the changing demands of higher education, the health care environment, and within occupational therapy, it is the position of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Board of Directors that the profession should take action to transition toward a doctoral-level single point of entry for occupational therapists, with a target date of 2025. Support of high quality entry-level doctoral education for occupational therapists will benefit the profession, consumers, and society. The Board encourages a profession-wide dialogue on this critical issue.

Rationale

  1. The existence of two entry-level degrees (master’s and doctorate) as the requirement for candidacy to sit for a single certification exam is confusing to all stakeholders. A single entry-level degree clearly articulates the entry-level competencies and educational requirements to all stakeholders.
  2. The increased requirements for practice-based scholarship and research in the doctoral accreditation standards result in an occupational therapist who is able to rigorously implement evidence-based practice, understands care delivery models, and is prepared to meet the future occupational needs of society (Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education [ACOTE®], 2012). This skill set will be essential in enabling the profession to address the current changes in health care such as the emphasis on developing frameworks for assessing the efficiency of care—defined as quality and cost—provided to individuals with multiple chronic conditions (National Quality Forum [NQF], 2012).
  3. Doctoral-level education will best prepare graduates who can demonstrate professional autonomy. As technical occupational therapy knowledge and skills and socioeconomic factors change, the need to re-examine the potential challenges to professional autonomy arise and must be addressed to avoid de-professionalization. It is essential that occupational therapists be prepared to accept responsibility and professional autonomy in assuming leadership roles within the health care delivery system (AOTA, 2013b).
  4. The increased focus on primary care, interprofessional care teams, and specialization in practice has required increased content in the entry-level academic programs (Institute of Medicine, 2010; Interprofessional Education Collaborative Expert Panel, 2011; National Committee for Quality Assurance, 2011; NQF, 2012). The current high credit load in master’s programs makes it very difficult to add additional content in specialized areas of practice. At this time the occupational therapy master’s programs greatly exceed the average credit load of other master’s programs, prompting students to ask why their colleagues in other professions are graduating with a doctorate when, in most cases, they are only in school for 1 to 2 more semesters.
  5. There has been a trend in health-related professions to transition to the entry-level doctorate. In a small number of academic medical centers, this transition has impacted hiring practices, salary differentials, and leadership appointments.
  6. The Future of Education Ad Hoc Task Group report review of the profession’s maturation (AOTA, 2013a) determined that the move a single doctoral-entry-level degree will best position the profession to meet the growing needs of society and fulfill its potential in the 21st century.

References

Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. (2012). 2011 Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE®) standards. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66(6 Suppl.), S6–S74. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2012.66S6

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2013a). Future of Education Ad Hoc report. Bethesda, MD: Author.

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2013b). Review of new models of primary care delivery. Retrieved from http://www.aota.org//media/Corporate/Files/Secure/Advocacy/Health-Care-Reform/commissionedreport.PDF

Institute of Medicine. (2010). Roundtable on value and science-driven health care: The healthcare imperative: Lowering costs and improving outcomes [Workshop Series Summary]. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Interprofessional Education Collaborative Expert Panel. (2011). Core competencies for interprofessional collaborative practice: Report of an expert panel. Washington, DC: Author.

National Committee for Quality Assurance. (2011). Standards and guidelines for NCQA’s patient-centered medical home (PCMH). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.ncqa.org/portals/0/programs/recognition/2011PCMHbrochure_web.pdf

National Quality Forum. (2012). Multiple chronic conditions measurement framework. Washington, DC: Author.

Note: Due to a proofreading error, the references in this document were updated on June 12, 2014.