JWU Launches RI’s First Entry-Level Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program

JWU ribbon-cutting to commemorate the start of the first entry-level Occupational Therapy Doctorate program in Rhode Island.

Johnson & Wales University officially unveiled its new entry-level Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) — the first of its kind in Rhode Island — with a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony in the newly-renovated Mathewson St. building that formerly housed the College of Engineering & Design.

The audience included the OTD Class of 2022, who arrived on campus in early June to start the 36-month program, as well as JWU’s Board of Trustees, all of whom were excited to see the stunning transformation of 138 Mathewson into two floors of dedicated Occupational Therapy classrooms, labs and communal study spaces. (The College of Engineering & Design moved to the John J. Bowen Center for Science & Innovation in 2016.)

In their introductory remarks, Chancellor Mim Runey, LP.D., and Interim College of Health & Wellness Dean Laura Galligan, Ph.D., evoked JWU’s expanding presence in the health arena. For Chancellor Runey, JWU’s OTD program will “prepare the next generation of OTs for an industry that is rapidly evolving and exploring innovative ways to care for and increase the independence of individuals across the lifespan.”

"Together, we are continuing to build a legacy that will define JWU’s role in healthcare."

“Our first cohort of students have the opportunity to be at the forefront of the rewarding and rapidly evolving field of occupational therapy,” noted Dean Galligan. “Students will learn how to assist and inspire people to maximize their health, well-being and quality of life while increasing their independence, self-confidence and self-worth.”

OTD Founding Director Ann Burkhardt spoke of the program’s holistic approach — addressing the vital importance of people’s physical, psychological and emotional needs — as part of the solution in keeping older adults healthy and safely living in communities.

Burkhardt also discussed the rich possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration, from learning about food’s culinary medicine alongside College of Culinary Arts students to studying the benefits of hippotherapy and therapeutic riding activities at JWU’s Center for Equine Studies.

In addition, OT students will have the opportunity to access the Center for Physician Assistant Studies’ cadaver lab, as well as to collaborate with the College of Engineering & Design’s Integrated Product Design group to explore innovative solutions for people with disabilities or challenges in the home, workplace or in public.

“Through these collaborations and teachings, our graduates will have the knowledge, skills, and experience to propose, design, develop and grow practices to better meet the needs of people across the lifespan and to change care delivery for the shifting demographic of consumers of care,” said Burkhardt.

Once the ribbon — a neon-yellow Theraband — was cut by Chancellor Runey, JWU Providence Campus President Marie Bernardo-Sousa, Provost Billye Auclair, Dean Galligan, Trustee James Hance, Jr., and Director Burkhardt, the guests were invited to tour the new OTD labs, the Occupations Lab and the Action Lab, where the ribbon-cutting took place.

"Students will learn how to assist and inspire people to maximize their health and quality of life."

The Occupations Lab integrates a modified home setup — including a living room, kitchen and bathroom — with high-tech training equipment, including a testing device for balance assessment, a hospital bed area for practice interactions with an artificial-intelligence patient, and a 3-D printer for the production of splints and adapted equipment.

The Action Lab is designed for active work with clients with a variety of physical needs, such as mobility impairments. It also houses a driving simulator used to assess impairments in visual, cognitive and motor abilities that may limit driving ability and performance. (A few members of the Board even tried it out.)

By 2023, it is expected that the U.S. population of adults ages 65+ will reach more than 23 million. With an established Physician Assistant Studies program and now the entry-level OTD ramping up, JWU will be well positioned to be a proactive force in healthcare’s next evolution.

Chancellor Mim Runey’s speech offered the perfect coda to the day: “Together, we are continuing to build a legacy that will define Johnson & Wales’ role in healthcare.”

OTD Class of 2022 students.

Chancellor Runey at the event.

Director Burkhardt at the event.

Matthew Lichter.

Experiencing the driving test at the event.

Auclair Runey and Galligan at the event.