Rocky Mountain College (RMC) took its first steps toward creating an entry-level occupational therapy doctorate program in 2017. RMC conducted a feasibility study in 2016-2017 that determined that the profession of occupational therapy would be an excellent fit for the Billings community and the state of Montana. Billings is the most populous city in Montana and the site of two major medical complexes: The Billings Clinic and St. Vincent’s Hospital and Health Care Center. The largest medical center in an 800-mile radius, Billings is also the hub for educational interactive video technology, distance medical conferencing, and referrals from rural hospitals and clinics throughout the intermountain region. Montana is a frontier state with 76% of its residents living in rural communities. Even though it is geographically the fourth largest state in the nation, encompassing 145,552 square miles, the population is just over 1 million, which is the sixth least populous state in the country. There are many designated health professional shortage areas, to include occupational therapy. Transportation is a major hurdle, and public transportation is limited and non-existent in most of the rural communities. Therefore, many Montanans seeking rehabilitative services face enormous access barriers.
In an effort to expand occupational therapy (OT) educational opportunities for students, expand job opportunities for occupational therapists, and educate and facilitate understanding of the health benefits of meaningful occupation within the Billings community and the state of Montana, the current program director and the RMC provost partnered to develop an innovative OTD program.
An entry-level OTD program located in Montana would provide access for Montana natives who are more likely to remain in the state to practice, and it would help meet the great need that exists in Montana’s health care delivery system for occupational therapists. Rocky Mountain College is a comprehensive four-year liberal arts college with an enrollment of approximately 1000. The College’s strong core sciences program helps place increasing numbers of students in graduate medical programs around the country. Expanding its science curriculum to include occupational therapy, as well as an existing physician assistant program, fulfills a medical educational need in the state of Montana.