Occupational therapist shortage in Las Vegas initiates a new program at UNLV

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Healthcare professional assists patient with prosthetic arm. Photo courtesy of Raeng via Unsplash.

Occupational therapists (OT) are defined as healthcare professionals who work with people of all ages, with various health issues and in many different settings. Occupational therapy is a branch of health care that works with those that need help to live better with disabilities, injuries, and illnesses of all ages.

There are approximately 1,200 licensed occupational therapists for 3.2 million Nevada residents, according to the UNLV News Center

Occupational therapists can work in a range of locations. Everywhere from rehabilitation centers, hospitals, children’s clinics, schools, mental health facilities, and private practices, such as homes.

“There has only been, up until now, one school in Nevada for occupational therapy at Touro, until UNLV opened their program in 2020,” UNLV Occupational Therapy Program Director Donna Costa said. 

The subsequent occupational therapist shortage is leading to concerns about the long term recovery and treatment for those who require the services of an OT. 

This doctorate degree will have an initial class of 36 cohorts that will require to fill 120 credit hours. It will be the length of three consecutive semesters for the next three years. 

The UNLV Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program was granted candidacy status by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). 

Occupational therapy education is accredited by the ACOTE agency that oversees the accreditation process for all new occupational therapy programs.

“In many agencies, there are waiting lists for services,” Costa said.

UNLV plans to confront this issue head on. Students would also receive a focus in the mental health of adults and children, as Nevada is also short in mental health practitioners.

“We developed our program specifically to address the shortage,” Costa said. 

The program would feature full-time summer internships, mini-clinicals throughout the year, and a community capstone project, according to the UNLV News Center

“Of the first two classes that we have admitted so far, 70 percent of both classes are Nevada residents,” Costa said. “ We are hoping that students stay here in Nevada.”

Additionally, because of the shortage, “The salaries are, of course, higher for OT’s in Nevada than any other state in the country.”

Costa also noted the program is aimed at those who want to be an occupational therapist, and as long as they are entering with their bachelor’s, it functionally has no restrictions. 

“The most popular major in our applicants is kinesiology, but it could also be psychology, business, biology, virtually anything,” Costa said.

There are, however, prerequisites to being admitted. 

“We require students to have taken eight credits of anatomy and physiology, six credits of biology, a statistics course, three psychology courses and an anthropology or sociology course,” Costa said. 

Once admitted to the program, the students undergo a diverse training regimen of hard sciences like anatomy and physiology, neuroscience and kinesiology, but students are also exposed to theory and practice courses. 

“They have several courses each semester that just focus on what we do in practice,”  Costa said. “It’s a combination of lecture based learning and then laboratories where they actually get to apply.”

One of the most unique things about the program is the house on Shadow lane where students can practice in a real home environment. 

“It has a bedroom, a bathroom, a full kitchen, a full laboratory space and it even has a driving simulator where we can teach students,” Costa said. 

The occupational therapy program is actively recruiting students for the next cohort, who will start in May of 2022. The deadline for applications is Nov. 1 and the first class is set to graduate in spring 2023. 
Interested students should attend one of the virtual upcoming recruiting events hosted by the program on Sept. 21 at 5:30 p.m. click here to RSVP or attend an in-person event on Oct. 2 from noon to 2 p.m. held at 1125 Shadow Lane, Las Vegas.

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