This is the second installment of a two-part series on University of Central Arkansas’ Occupational Therapy Department

The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Department of Occupational Therapy has only had two people serve as chairperson since its inception, Marian Ross and Dr. Linda Musselman. Ross was hired in January 1970 and retired as the first chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in 1991. She was replaced by one of her former students, Musselman. As an undergraduate, Musselman was a student of Mrs. Ross when both were at Ohio State University.

Musselman saw an advertisement for Ross’ job and contacted her. According to Musselman, "We kept contact off and on because I had lived in Arkansas one other time previously, so I knew Marian across the years and when I saw the ad I called her and said, ‘what do you think about me applying for your position?’ Well she encouraged me to come, so that was due to our connection from Ohio State University."

Musselman had worked in Arkansas on one previous occasion prior to receiving an advanced degree in occupational therapy. She lived and worked in Monticello, Arkansas from 1978 until 1981. As stated in part one of this series, there were only 14 registered occupational therapists in the State of Arkansas during the late 1960s. During the time that Musselman was in Monticello she was the only registered occupational therapist in the southern half of the State of Arkansas. Musselman is also a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association (FAOTA), as was Ross.

There are currently three UCA faculty members who have been recognized as a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association: Dr. Linda Musselman, Dr. Letha Mosley and Dr. Catherine Acre. The UCA Department of Occupational Therapy has 10 faculty members including Musselman, and eight have doctoral degrees. When Musselman arrived at UCA, she was the only member of the department that had a doctorate degree. Now, 80% of the faculty members of the Department of Occupational Therapy have a doctorate. Musselman stated, "Probably the accomplishment of which I am most proud is that eight faculty members have earned terminal degrees."

The description or definition of an occupational therapist can be found on the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., website, which states, "In its simplest terms, occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations). Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy services may include comprehensive evaluations of the client’s home and other environments (e.g., workplace, school), recommendations for adaptive equipment and training in its use, and guidance and education for family members and caregivers. Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team."

Musselman gave a much more descriptive explanation of what an occupational therapist actually does and stated, "When we talk about occupation we talk about the things that people are engaged in on a day-to-day basis that is meaningful to them. So, you (speaking to the author) come to work and you sit at this desk and you do your work in the archives. That is what is meaningful to you. And, also just the daily routine, like getting up in the morning and taking a shower, getting yourself ready to go to work is part of your occupational routine. So, an occupational therapist looks at a person from a very holistic view. What has happened to this person that has interrupted their ability to participate in the occupations that are important to them? And then the occupational therapist is to intervene based on what that person wants and needs to be able to do to be independent."

When asked how an occupational therapist can benefit someone who has suffered some type of disability, Musselman stated, "An occupational therapist looks at the person, they look at the task and they look at the environment. And all three of those things can be impacted. If the person has the ability to gain strength or coordination, then the occupational therapist would work on those things. Often those abilities come to a certain level and then they plateau. So perhaps the occupational therapist would look at teaching special techniques for dressing or they may adapt the task itself and suggest a certain type of clothing that the person can easily put on and remove."

Occupational therapy is a very competitive discipline and far more students apply than can be accepted into the program. During the 2011-2012 academic year 130 students applied for the 48 available positions. When students apply for the occupational therapy program, they are rated by several criteria.

When asked to describe the criteria, Musselman stated, "First of all we look at their academic ability, and that’s their GPA (grade point average). Then, the candidates also complete a volunteer experience under the supervision of a practitioner. That person gives us an assessment of their work; not so much that they know how to be an occupational therapist but do they have good work skills and do they relate well to clients and do they relate well to other professionals. We also have them come in and do an interview.

We rank our candidates (by GPA), the top 75 come in for an interview and each person is interviewed by a panel made up of occupational therapy faculty and practitioners from the community. And we also in the past have used a writing sample; we have them write an essay. It’s usually on a topic related to occupational therapy and they read a small article and then they respond to some questions about it. So we get to see how well they are able to write which is important. Those are the things that we consider. So all those things are numerically rated and then we total those scores and rank the candidates based on those factors."

Musselman said that some students who are not accepted into the program the first time they apply will re-apply a year later and may be admitted upon their second application. Musselman stated, "We have a lot of students who come back a year later and apply and get in. When they understand the process a little bit better, they’re better prepared for the interview. We do not hold that against them if they were not admitted the previous year."

In the late 1960s according to a report mentioned in The Echo (UCA student newspaper) there were only 14 registered occupational therapists in the State of Arkansas. Today, there are slightly over 1,200 registered occupational therapists practicing in Arkansas. UCA has been graduating 48 occupational therapists per year since the mid 1990s and Musselman said that over 70% of all registered occupational therapists practicing in Arkansas graduated from UCA. When asked how difficult it is for someone with a degree in occupational therapy to get a job, Musselman stated, "There is definitely a strong job market for those with a degree in occupational therapy. Most graduates have procured employment by graduation day."

Jeff Cooper, a graduate student in the Department of Occupational Therapy will receive a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy in August 2013. Cooper, a graduate of Sloan-Hendrix Academy in Imboden, Arkansas, said he was motivated to major in occupational therapy by observing an occupational therapist that worked with his father. "My Dad went through some health issues that caused him to need therapy services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. I made an instant connection with his occupational therapist and we just started talking. My mind went wild with imagination and an understanding of occupational therapy, and I couldn’t really pull myself away from it. So I just saw it as a natural choice for something for me to move into."

Cooper was somewhat impressed by the therapeutic use of self exhibited by the occupational therapist who treated his father. When asked if his father gained some independence after receiving treatment from his occupational therapist, Cooper stated, "Absolutely, that was her focus, his engagement in occupations that he wasn’t able to do after his incident. She worked hard to get him back to fulfilling his need to engage in those occupations once more."

When asked to discuss his chosen field of practice, Cooper stated, "The time that I spent doing my observation, before I entered the occupational therapy program at UCA, was spent with the geriatric population at a skilled nursing facility. Recently, in the last two years, I’ve had a job as a rehab care associate at Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute in a rehabilitation setting. Those two areas of practice are where I’m drawn to."

A colleague of Mr. Cooper’s, who will also graduate with a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy in August 2013, is Moriah Tindall. Tindall is from Mountain Home, Arkansas, and initially came to UCA to be a physical therapist. She had observed her father, who is a practicing physical therapist, and knew she wanted to do something to improve people’s lives.

When asked why she wanted to major in occupational therapy, Tindall stated, "I’ve always been interested in working in the health field. I’ve grown up around it and my father is actually a physical therapist. I grew up hanging out with him in the therapy gym. And as I got into junior high and high school I shadowed up there a couple of times and was even in a program at my high school where they let us rotate areas in the hospital. So, I spent some time in pharmacy, some time in physical therapy and some time in occupational therapy. I actually originally came to UCA for physical therapy. But with a lot of influence from my Dad, he said, ‘I really think with your skill set that occupational therapy would be the best way for you to go.’ And so I spent some time with a certified hand therapist on his staff. Spending time with her and discussing what occupational therapy was all about and how it’s different than some of the other fields, I thought my Dad was probably right, and this was the way for me to go. From then on it has been a perfect fit."

When asked what field of practice was most appealing to her, Tindall stated, "My main focus I’m hoping to go into is inpatient rehabilitation, in a sub-acute stage, where the patients are out from the extreme hospitalization where they will stay on the unit from three to six weeks. This is typically populations of stroke, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. Typically, occupational therapists in this setting work to increase client independence level to prepare them for their home setting."

A 2003 graduate of UCA’s Department of Occupational Therapy was Sarah Langford Saffold, from Cleveland County, Arkansas. After graduation, Saffold moved to El Dorado, Arkansas and acquired two jobs. She worked at the Medical Center of South Arkansas and the Magnolia Public School District. At the Medical Center she worked in Acute Care and the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit and in the Magnolia Public School District she provided contract therapy services to children.

When asked what types of services she provided to the children, Saffold stated, "I worked with children with disabilities that kept them from functioning independently in the classroom. Some common diagnoses were autism, cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome. I developed treatment plans to address deficits in the following areas: fine motor skills, visual perception, sensory integrative skills and self help skills.

When Saffold was asked if there was improvement after she began treatment for these deficits in children, she stated, "Yes, I normally do see improvement, especially in elementary age students." When asked if she was satisfied with occupational therapy as a vocation, she stated, "I love my job. It is very fulfilling to know that you are helping students to reach their full potential and live as independently as possible."

Author’s Note: Sources for this article include The Echo, Dr. Neil Hattlestad, Dr. Linda Musselman, Sarah Saffold, Jeff Cooper, Moriah Tindall and the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., website, http://www.aota.org/.