By Adina Dror
*This article has been edited to reflect that the Yeshiva University OTD program is pending approval by the New York State Education Department and New York State Board of Regents. Additionally, the program offers two starts per year, occurring in the fall and spring semesters, with 28 students per cohort.
On May 7, the Katz School sent out an email to Yeshiva University undergraduate students announcing that the Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) program, which has been in the works for over 2 years, was granted Candidacy Status by the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) Accreditation Council (ACOTE). Currently, the OTD program is pending approval by the New York State Education Department and New York State Board of Regents. Meaning, the program has been granted the allowance to begin teaching students this Fall, and full accreditation will be awarded after site visits and student interviews in the coming year.
The program’s director, Dr. Nicolaas van den Heever, OTD, BOT, OTR/L, in an information session regarding the new program on June 3, expressed his confidence that accreditation will be received without problem. This is the 3rd OT program he has started. The other two programs, the Masters and Doctorate programs at West Coast University, got accredited without any flaws or improvements necessary, and he expects the same here.
Dr. van den Heever has more than 35 years of experience in the field and is noted for being the first male OT in South Africa, where he is originally from. He has developed new transdisciplinary practices in community-based rehabilitation centers in Africa and China, practices not yet used at that time in those countries. He has experience in fields such as mental health, rehabilitation, aging, and sensory integration, among others. He has in recent years turned his experience and love for Occupational Therapy to teaching and program development. Dr. van den Heever said that in this program he, the faculty, and the inaugural class “will all start a legacy together.”
When discussing what distinguishes this program from similar programs, several faculty members mentioned the program’s emphasis on practicality and hands-on education. Completion of the Doctorate requires eight semesters, and only the first does not include fieldwork. The first semester does, however, include labs and simulations. After the student’s first semester, they begin working in the field to gain firsthand experience. The second, third, and fourth semesters require one 40-hour week of fieldwork in the field of focus of each semester’s courses. The fifth and sixth semesters require two 12 week long assignments in the field. Placement for this assignment will be arranged by the program and can be completed, as the student wishes, anywhere in the country. The seventh and eighth semesters are used to prepare for the student’s Capstone, which focuses on the student’s specific research or program development, a necessary step in order to become an Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD).
Another unique aspect of this program is the class size. The program offers two starts per year, occurring in the fall and spring semesters, with a maximum capacity of only 28 students per cohort. Each student will receive personal attention and develop stronger student-teacher relationships than they would in a bigger program.
Many Yeshiva University undergraduate students hoping to pursue an OTD have expressed excitement at the new program and the possible effects it may have on the future. “It’s really great that they’ll be opening an OTD program, especially since the entry level degree for occupational therapy will be transitioning to the doctorate level in 2027,” expressed Rachelli Hirsch, a current pre-OT student. “As for now, I think that most undergrad OT students will still be looking to get a masters while they can since it is quicker and cheaper, so I don’t think the impact on [current] pre-OT Stern students will be that great. I do think it will make more people aware of the OT career though, and might inspire more people to consider it.”