ISU Headlines

Idaho State University Master of Occupational Therapy program celebrates 10th anniversary

Posted May 3, 2011

The Idaho State University Master of Occupational Therapy program is celebrating its 10th anniversary of graduating new occupational therapists for Idaho.

According to Theodore Peterson, an ISU clinical assistant professor in the Department of Physical and Occupational Therapy, all of the program's graduates have passed national certification exams, for a 100-percent pass rate.

Members of the first graduating class received their diplomas in May 2001 after three years of blazing the way for future classes.

Greg Hepworth, one of the members of that first class, remembers the camaraderie that formed between the students. 

“We became a large extended family for those three years,” he said.  “Mostly, I remember the late evenings and early mornings of studying. "The 10 students who made up that first graduating class responded as the faculty implemented the new curriculum and watched to see how it worked," said Alex Urfer, who as department chair was instrumental in bringing the occupational therapy program to ISU, who, as department chair, was instrumental in bringing the occupational therapy program to ISU. 

"That first year was somewhat experimental," Urfer said.                       

Linda Hatzenbuehler, executive dean of the ISU Division of Health Sciences, notes that the world views of occupational and physical therapy are different but that her intention was to develop the MOT program to avoid creating the "silos" that had developed in much of health professions education.  Additionally, she wanted to make sure that the administrative infrastructure already established for the physical therapy program could be used to maximum effect.  Thus the Department of Physical and Occupational Therapy was created—a single department under Urfer's leadership to house two unique yet complementary programs.

That vision continues to the present with today's students of both disciplines educated together in their courses in the basic sciences, professional communication, and service delivery and resource management, according to Peterson.

The groundwork for the development of the MOT program began with Richard Bowen, who served as ISU president from 1985 to 2005.  Bowen, wishing to capitalize on the state designation of ISU as Idaho's lead institution for the education of health professionals, called on Hatzenbuehler to build a college of health professions worthy of the state charge. This effort resulted in the creation of the physical therapy program in 1988 with the first class of physical therapy students admitted in the fall of 1989.  For Hatzenbuehler, occupational therapy was the next logical step.

Initial administrative planning for the MOT program began in 1995, and a milestone in the process was reached in 1997 when Greg Wintz, an occupational therapist from Spokane, Wash., was hired as the first program director and was given the tasks of developing a curriculum, hiring faculty, recruiting students and getting the program up and running. 

Looking back, Wintz recalls that he was never overwhelmed with what might seem to have been an overwhelming agenda.

"You don't always realize what you are getting yourself into," he said.  "Dr. Hatzenbuehler told me it would be a 'baptism by fire,' and it was."

He, however, credits the support he received from Hatzenbuehler, Urfer and the rest of the university administration as making his success possible. 

"The knowledge of Dr. Hatzenbuehler and Alex helped me to avoid land mines," said Wintz who labeled them as “very supportive.”

Occupational therapy is an allied health profession that is committed to a vision of health for all people through meaningful participation in everyday life.