Arkansas Higher Education Board Approves UA/UAMS Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program

By Yavonda Chase

The program would be part of the UA College of Education and Health Professions and the UAMS College of Health Professions. It will be jointly located at the UA campus and UAMS Northwest Regional Campus, both in Fayetteville.

“We are thrilled to partner with UAMS to create this program that addresses a serious need in northwest Arkansas,” said Michael T. Miller, Ed.D., dean of the UA College of Education and Health Professions. “This is the first joint partnership between these two institutions, and I think we’ve selected a program that utilizes the strengths of both universities.”

Stephanie Gardner, Pharm. D., Ed.D., provost and chief academic officer at UAMS, hailed the program as a “true partnership between the University of Arkansas and UAMS to offer a high quality doctoral-level, accredited occupational therapy program.”

“Combining the resources of Arkansas’ flagship university and its only academic health sciences center will create a program that will address a regional and statewide health care workforce need,” she added.

The Higher Education board’s approval means the universities can hire a director for the new program. Once hired, the director will begin the accreditation process with the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy, as well as finalize a curriculum and hire faculty.

The first group of 24 students is scheduled to begin in fall 2018, a timeframe that is dependent on the accreditation process. The program is slated to reach its maximum annual enrollment of 32 students by its sixth class.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapy is among the fastest growing professions in the nation. Arkansas’ Center for Rural Health reports that as the demand increases, the already-sizable job vacancy rate for occupational therapists in the state is expected to grow over the next few years, especially in northwest Arkansas.

“There is a great need for occupational therapists in northwest Arkansas, a fact that became quite evident as we were conducting the needs assessment for UAMS’ physical therapy program,” said Douglas Murphy, dean of the UAMS College of Health Professions. “The people who were responding to that survey kept telling us about a shortage of occupational therapists in the region. With that kind of feedback, it made sense to create a program in Fayetteville.”

The joint program ties together existing programs at UA and UAMS, said Fran Hagstrom, Ph.D., UA’s assistant dean for Health Professions in the College of Education and Health Professions.

“The triad for rehabilitation services is occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology,” she said. “UA offers a graduate-level speech-language program, while UAMS has a doctor of physical therapy program on its Northwest Campus. The joint occupational therapy program allows us to bring all of those resources together for our students in a way that truly promotes interprofessional learning experiences.”

The College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville offers advanced academic degrees as well as professional development opportunities and learning communities that service the education and health systems of Arkansas and beyond. The college works closely with educational leaders across the state to continuously improve systems and educational outcomes for students, and with health-care leaders to improve those systems and health outcomes for everyone. The college is unique because it focuses on two very important areas — education and health. The college prepares teachers for all levels of public school, school administrators, school researchers and policymakers, and special education teachers. It also prepares adult educators and professionals for higher education. On the health side, the college prepares nurses, speech-language pathologists, health educators and administrators, recreation professionals, rehabilitation counselors and human performance researchers.

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.