Springfield’s Cox College to add first doctorate program in 116-year history of healthcare education

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 6:40 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Springfield’s largest employer is the healthcare industry. And as with most other places in town, there’s still a major workforce shortage there too.

Since 1907 Cox College, located in the shadow of Cox North hospital in central Springfield, has been training students to enter the medical field. Started as the Burge Training School for Nurses, the school now offers other health-related programs such as radiologic sciences and imaging, occupational therapy, and nutrition.

And all of those fields need more employees.

“None of us are fulfilling the healthcare worker shortage,” said Cox College President Dr. Amy DeMelo of the overall medical education field. “We’re trying as fast as we can, but that’s something that’s going to take the entire community to look into and support. Are our classes filled? Yes. Can we take more students? Absolutely. I think a lot of times in healthcare, students just think it’s doctors and nurses. There are healthcare shortages across the board in everything from IT and engineering to marketing. You name it. There’s a role for you in healthcare.”

Occupational therapy is one of the most in-demand occupations and expects faster-than-average growth over the next seven years.

Doing something as simple as brushing our teeth is a task most of us take for granted. But at Cox College, students are training to get a master of science in occupational therapy to go out and help people in recovery with their physical, psychological, and sensory skills to return to their daily lives. Their clients ages range from newborns to someone in the final stages of life.

So it takes a caring, patient person to take on the challenge.

“The opportunity to work with patients from babies up until that death and dying hospice age of life really spoke to me,” said Maddi Campbell, an occupational therapy student from Washington, Illinois. “Being able to help them regain that purpose in life is fulfilling to me. Having them come into your care and not be able to brush their teeth or use the bathroom independently is eye-opening. And when you’re able to help them get back to doing those activities, no matter how insignificant it may seem, it’s exciting to accomplish.”

“Occupational therapists often meet families or individuals on their very worst day, not their very best day,” added Dr. Amy Stark, Cox College’s Occupational Therapy Department Chair. “An OT can help partner with someone who’s had a chronic illness, a developmental delay, or a chronic pain or trauma that they didn’t expect. No one plans for that.”

Cox College already offers a master of science in occupational therapy that prepares students for practical everyday work with clients in homes, clinics, or schools.

But starting in May, they will add a doctorate program in occupational therapy that marks a first for the 116-year-old school.

“It’s an exciting time at the college because it’s our first doctoral degree,” DeMelo said.

“The doctorate program takes the practical preparation one step farther,” Stark explained. “The medical needs of the community are changing faster than the healthcare culture around it. So the doctorate will be focused on providing innovative solutions and new program development to meet this new challenge. They will be part of the solution for expanding healthcare access. For example, we partnered with Jordan Valley Community Health to set up primary pediatric care where there are occupational therapists on the front lines. So that instead of multiple stops for patient care, a family can go to one place and receive all the support they need. Say a child had a difficult delivery and has tight tendons in the neck, preventing them from having a normal range of motion. You stop at your pediatrician’s office, and they have an occupational therapist who can, on the spot give a 15-30 minute rehab appointment with the exercises and play positions that the baby needs to start recovering quickly instead of waiting weeks or months for an outpatient appointment.”

According to a Cox College news release, the doctorate program is a nine-semester, hybrid course featuring hands-on, skill-based practice and online coursework. The hybrid format offers both flexibility and the application of hands-on learning.

Students will use a state-of-the-art online learning management system and on-campus learning activities to prepare for the NBCOT (National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy) exam.

The program includes 24 weeks of level 2 fieldwork with direct supervision from an occupational therapist. Once students complete fieldwork, they will finish their program with a capstone project in which they explore an area of occupational therapy they are most passionate about.

Applications are now open for the program’s inaugural class. If you are interested in learning more about Cox College’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate program, contact an admissions counselor at admissions@coxcollege.edu or CoxCollege.edu.

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