Occupational TherapyAcademic Department
Our department facilitates meaningful research and a robust education for future occupational therapists through the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program and an occupational therapy pathway. With state-of-the-art facilities, a small student-to-faculty ratio, hands-on learning opportunities and more, the department prepares students to assist people in achieving their goals, maintaining or rebuilding their independence and participating in everyday activities.
Welcome to the Department of Occupational Therapy
The field of occupational therapy helps individuals of all ages maximize independence in daily living so they can achieve their goals and do the things they want to do. Occupational therapists assess clients' needs, design personalized plans and services, introduce adaptive equipment as needed, and offer support as clients navigate a new environment adapted to their circumstances.
At USD, our faculty and students take a holistic, person-centered approach – one that considers the physical, psychological and social needs of clients and understands the importance of adapting the environment to fit the person. This foundation enables our students to enter the field of occupational therapy as compassionate professionals who are prepared to meet clients where they are at. At the same time, our students are gaining technical and practical expertise through hands-on learning experiences; our state-of-the-art facilities enable collaborative and simulated learning opportunities, and the fieldwork elements of our program provide students with real-world settings in which to apply their knowledge. These experiences are guided by expert faculty who understand the opportunities and demands of the profession and are there to support students every step of the way toward their careers as occupational therapists.
Join our community of listeners, experts and change-makers in the Department of Occupational Therapy at USD.
Meet the Department
Picture this: A USD nursing student stands over a lifelike manikin that has an advanced computer system that simulates real-life conditions and reactions to medicine in the heart, lungs, stomach and more.
USD’s School of Health Sciences, through its leadership and faculty, embrace several important shared values.
USD’s School of Health Sciences is South Dakota’s most important broad-based educator of health care professionals, and many of those who graduate from the wide variety of programs and departments offered by the school work in locations where they serve South Dakota and South Dakotans.
Known for Excellence
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The USD Occupational Therapy program was one of the first 12 programs in the U.S. to offer the OTD program.
USD is home to the state's only comprehensive health sciences school and medical school.
Department Opportunities & Resources
Our students learn in real-world settings and serve their communities. Here are just a few of the experiences offered through our O.T.D. program:
- Participating in simulations alongside students from a variety of disciplines.
- Completing fieldwork in one of our 175+ partner sites around the nation.
- Attending state and national occupational therapy conferences.
- Choose an area of specialty to explore and research through your capstone experiential project.
USD is home to more than 170 student organizations, including several that are housed in the Department of Occupational Therapy. You may be interested in creating projects and hosting outreach opportunities to make friends, developing new skills and exploring your interests.
Pi Theta Epsilon
Pi Theta Epsilon is a professional honor society for occupational therapy students. Through involvement in this organization, you can network with your peers, seek professional development opportunities and further your passion for occupational therapy.
Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA)
You have an opportunity to serve your local and regional communities through the Student Occupational Therapy Association. Students in this group get involved in after-school programs, food and school supply drives, activities at assisted/independent living facilities and highway cleanups.
Occupational therapy students learn from faculty who are experts in their fields. Check out the research efforts led by faculty in the department.
Health Promotion and Occupational Participation
Lead Researcher: Dr. Whitney Lucas Molitor
Health promotion enables recipients of services to take control of their health, maximizing outcomes that reflect improved ability to engage in meaningful occupations. Health promoting interventions are designed and carried out with individuals, groups and communities which ensures programming fits within the context of daily living. In this lab, health promotion is explored with a variety of service recipients, those with varied cultural background, ages, socioeconomic status and access to resources. The primary aim of the Health Promotion & Occupational Participation lab is to explore methods which promote health as well as expand opportunities for individuals at risk for decreased health outcomes. The premise of health, as a broad construct encompassing physical well-being, mental and psychosocial factors, occupational engagement, social participation, spirituality, environmental resources and others factors is foundational to this lab.
Mental Health and Psychosocial Well-Being
Lead Researcher: Dr. Moses Ikiugu
Mental health is a concern not only for those with diagnoses of mental illness, but for all people. In fact, mental health can be seen as a continuum, and we are at various points in this continuum according to our life circumstances. Therefore, all of us can do something to improve our mental wellbeing. In this lab, researchers explore ways of using occupation-based interventions to help all occupational therapy service recipients', irrespective of whether or not they have a diagnosis of mental illness, improve their emotional and overall psychosocial well-being.
Trauma Informed Care
Lead Researcher: Dr. Shana Cerny
In this lab, researchers recognize the multi-systemic impact of trauma and use evidence based practice to support those with trauma experiences. Trauma informed occupational therapy interventions are used to support recovery and promote resiliency across practice settings and populations by using a multi-tiered public health framework for addressing mental health.
Innovations in Practice
Lead Researcher: Dr. Ranelle Nissen
Innovative approaches keep occupational therapy practice relevant in a changing health care environment. In this lab, researchers explore methods to provide visionary practice approaches to maintain occupational therapy as a leader in health care.
Neurocognitive Basis of Occupational Participation
Lead Researcher: Dr. Jessica McHugh
The sensory systems help individuals engage with and learn about the environment. The brain must organize and understand information from the sensory systems in order for the body to respond appropriately. The Neurocognitive Lab seeks to expand scientific research in neurological and motor functioning ranging from working with children with poorly regulated sensory systems to adults experiencing difficulties with sensory functions.
Teaching and Learning
Lead Researcher: Dr. Allison Naber
Innovation in occupational therapy education is a critical aspect to advancing the profession, equipping future leaders and ensuring a strong evidence foundation for therapeutic interventions. The core of occupational therapy is the use of occupation as a means to promote meaning and performance. As such, didactic and clinical instruction should also emphasize occupation as a central premise to teaching and learning. This lab explores contemporary teaching and learning methods and contexts while also exploring learner characteristics and well-being, teaching technology and interprofessional education.
Theory Development, Validation, and Use
Lead Researcher: Dr. Moses Ikiugu
Theory helps us understand what we are doing as professionals by providing us with a cognitive framework to inform our understanding of the professional issues with which we are dealing. In other words, theoretical frameworks are tools that we use in practice. They provide us with strategies for evaluating our service recipients and developing a plan of intervention to address any issues that are revealed by the evaluation. Like any good tools, theory developers take time to build these theoretical frameworks meticulously and to test them to make sure that they work the way they are designed to work. In occupational therapy, these tools are referred to as theoretical conceptual practice models, frames of reference or theoretical approaches. In this lab, researchers focus on Type I applied inquiry to develop new or expand existing theoretical models, and to develop and validate theory-based assessments. They also investigate the best ways of using theory to guide practice and of instructing students to use theory effectively.
Cognitive Neuroscience and Human Occupation
Lead Researcher: Dr. Karen Hebert
Cognitive performance skills are foundational to engagement in all aspects of human occupation. Important aspects of cognition that affect daily performance include executive functioning, working memory, and attentional and emotional control. The primary aim of this lab is to explore how cognitive and emotional skills impact on occupational performance in a wide range of healthy and neurologically diverse populations. Neuroscience based methodologies including behavioral experimentation and psychophysiological imaging techniques are utilized alongside more traditional assessments. The impact of emotional control, cognitive functioning, mindfulness, and communication skills on occupational performance are topics explored in this lab
Departments & Facilities
Located in the Sanford Coyote Sports Center on USD's campus in Vermillion, the Teaching and Research Laboratory is a centralized location for occupational therapy, physical therapy, kinesiology and sport management, and sports medicine programs. There are collaborative spaces for the various programs, as well as state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories and clinical spaces that facilitate hands-on learning.
Learning and Leading Together
The Department of Occupational Therapy offers a high quality, rigorous education while prioritizing a welcoming and collaborative environment. Our small student-to-faculty ratio and our faculty's open-door policy enable a tight-knit community; our faculty work closely with students to help them achieve their goals, and our students enjoy a connected network of peers who care about each other's success. Our department is a place where research and practice take place alongside collaborative learning and growing.
The Region's Leader in Health Care Education
USD is home to the only comprehensive health sciences school and medical school in the state. This advantage offers our students the unique opportunity to learn and train alongside peers in a variety of disciplines, equipping them with the collaborative experiences they need to be effective members of their future patients' care teams.
We are also proud to have strong relationships with the region's leading health care providers. These partnerships offer our students invaluable opportunities for developing professional connections, getting hands-on experiences and serving their communities early in their education.
Practice in State-of-the-art Facilities
Quality Educational Experiences
USD's occupational therapy program is fully accredited. Accreditation fosters quality educational experiences and helps to ensures that the program is taught by qualified faculty, has the resources it needs to support the curriculum, meets its mission, has acceptable student outcomes, and provides accurate information to the public.
The Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at the University of South Dakota is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). ACOTE is recognized as the accrediting agency for occupational therapy education by both the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Students must graduate from an ACOTE-accredited program and successfully pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam in order to apply for state licensure and to practice as an occupational therapist.