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
The tail end of academic year 2022-23 brought a flurry of activity to the University of South Dakota campus and the School of Health Sciences, illustrating the efforts the school extends to further immersive activities and education to high schools, middle schools and even some elementary schools.
The University of South Dakota School of Health Sciences’ Departments of Physical and Occupational Therapy organized a March trip to Guatemala, where they participated in therapy clinics and immersed themselves in cultural experiences.
Known for Excellence
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
The capstone allows doctoral students to enhance skills in advanced clinical practice, scholarship, administration, leadership, advocacy, program and policy development, education or theory development. The field experience may occur in a traditional or non-traditional site, and the student is expected to perform beyond that of an entry-level occupational therapist. Some examples of previous projects by OT students include explorations of the role OT plays in pediatric cancer treatment, dance across the lifespan, visual training, understanding OT and parent education in the NICU, OT's role in pediatric cancer treatment, caring for the caregiver, working with survivors of human sex trafficking, and acute rehabilitation. Whatever your interest is, our faculty will work with you to find a direction that sparks your curiosity and helps develop your specialty.
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 faculty-led research topics that have led to student collaborations and publications.
Pediatric research activities focus on understanding how context influences participation and development in infants, toddlers, children, and families. Researchers in this area use occupational therapy intervention to promote participation, well-being, and health in all children. This lab also investigates the subjective well-being of children with and without disabilities and a variety of life experiences.
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.
Additionally, 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.
Neuroscience & Rehabilitation
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. Research projects in this area seek 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 impacting occupational performance in meaningful daily activities.
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. This research explores how cognitive and emotional skills impact 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.
Rural & Underserved Populations
There is a shortage of health professionals choosing to work in rural and underserved areas. With a diverse population and settings, the rural and underserved areas of practice require specific research that targets the unique needs of these populations. Researchers in this area focus on social determinants of health and interprofessional best practices.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Innovation in occupational therapy education is a critical aspect of 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 exploring learner characteristics and well-being, teaching technology and interprofessional education.
Theory Development, Validation, and Use
Theory helps us understand what we are doing as professionals by providing a cognitive framework to inform our understanding of the professional issues we are dealing with. In other words, theoretical frameworks are tools that we use in practice. In this line of research, 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 instruct students to use theory effectively.
Innovations in Practice
Innovative approaches keep occupational therapy practice relevant in a changing healthcare environment. Researchers explore methods to provide visionary practice approaches to maintain occupational therapy as a leader in healthcare.
Health Promotion and Occupational Participation
Health promotion enables recipients of services to take control of their health, maximizing outcomes that reflect an improved ability to engage in meaningful occupations. Health-promoting interventions are designed and carried out with individuals, groups, and communities, which ensures that programming fits within the context of daily living. Researchers explore health promotion with a variety of service recipients, those with varied cultural backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic status, and access to resources.
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.