RMC seats inaugural doctorate class
BILLINGS, Mont., February 14, 2019 – In January 2019, Rocky Mountain College inaugurated its first ever doctorate program, as it welcomed the first class in the occupational therapy doctorate (OTD) program.
The OTD program prepares students to become practitioners, educators, and researchers who promote the health, well-being, and quality of life of individuals, communities, organizations, and populations. Occupational therapy is a rising profession, especially within the Rocky Mountain region. It is the goal of the OTD program to not only educate students within the program, but also to educate local constituents about the role of occupational therapy in community health.
“We’re extremely excited about our inaugural class,” said OTD Program Founding Director, Dr. Twylla Kirchen. “We have a diverse group of students from all over the country, including Hawaii, New Jersey, and Louisiana, to name a few. About a third of our class of 30 students come from Montana.”
Designing the program from the ground up gave Dr. Kirchen the opportunity to do things differently.
“There are a lot of online programs where the majority of the work is done on computers with students seldom visiting campus,” said Dr. Kirchen. “Our program is for hands-on learners who want to be completely comfortable with what they’re doing. It’s 100 percent face-to-face. It’s only the third week of classes and we have had simulated patients come in for practice consultations. The students are already introducing themselves, describing what occupational therapy is, taking pain assessments, taking vitals, and donning a gait belt.”
One goal for the program was diversity, both in terms of students and faculty. Currently, more than a quarter of the program’s students and half the faculty come from underrepresented populations. Diversity enhances the educational environment for all by bringing a broad range of experience to the table. For occupational therapy practitioners, educators, and students, diversity increases cultural humility, which is vital for successful therapist-client relationships and meaningful professional development.
“The diversity we’ve established puts our program on the map,” said Dr. Kirchen. “Accreditors look at diversity, which is a mission for the profession as a whole. Having that diversity from the start truly distinguishes our program.”
Another unique feature of the program is a focus on business and entrepreneurship skills.
“I was drawn to the fact that there were business classes,” said Makia Talley, an OTD student from Kennewick, Wash. “If we want to own our own occupational therapy practice, we need those practical skills. That training will help us as we go to enter the workforce in a few years.”
The new OTD program requires 115 credit hours to be completed over three academic years. The mission and curriculum design of the program reflect the community and align with the area’s economy, addressing a critical shortage of occupational therapists in the immediate region and beyond. There are approximately 300 occupational therapists in Montana, far fewer than many other states.
“There are school districts in rural parts of Montana that have waited more than ten years for an occupational therapist,” said Dr. Kirchen. “There’s a significant need and vast shortage of occupational therapists in Montana and the surrounding states.”
RMC’s OTD program is housed on the third floor of the new Dr. Charles Morledge Science Building, which was constructed last year. The facility includes classroom space and learning laboratories complete with kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom spaces that replicate the field conditions that occupational therapists face.