Jackson State Community College’s new Occupational Therapist Assistant program has been certified by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.
The accredited status means graduates can obtain a license and find a job, said Julie Bezold, Jackson State’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program Director. It will also help fill a shortage in the region, as many medical facilities have difficulty finding occupational therapy assistants to hire.
“There is a huge need for this program,” Bezold said. “The number of occupational therapy assistants has grown by 43 percent in 10 years, in part because of the aging elderly population. It will be the top job in 2017.”
Occupational therapy assistants work with occupational therapists to help patients at all stages of life develop or improve the skills needed to participate in everyday activities. Their patients are often living with an injury, illness or disability.
Jackson State submitted a letter of intent to the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education in February 2013, indicating the college’s desire to develop the program. Bezold was hired in August 2014 and submitted a 300-page candidacy application in January 2015, which the council voted to accept.
“It meant we were able to officially accept students, and the first class started in August 2015,” Bezold said.
The school then completed an extensive self-study addressing 176 standards of the program and submitted it in December 2015. The council accepted the study and sent three evaluators to visit the campus for an in-depth, three-day review in September.
The council approved accreditation in December for five years through 2022, and Jackson State received its official certificate this week.
The 12 original students entered the program knowing that its accreditation status, while underway, was not certain.
“We were very forthcoming and very honest with students every step of the way,” Bezold said. “They were just as committed to making this project successful as we worked on getting accreditation.”
The program, which added 12 new students in 2016 and plans to add 12 more next fall, will be housed in the new 40,000-square-foot Health Sciences Building when it opens this spring. Students from other health care tracks will be able to collaborate.
“It gives us a really good opportunity to work together with joint labs and learn each other’s skill sets and what they’re responsible for,” Bezold said.
The first class of Jackson State’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program will graduate in May, and their degrees will carry the full weight of an accredited program when they enter the workforce.
“It’s just a really exceptional time for the college,” Bezold said. “We have a top-notch educational program here, and the students that leave here get a really good education.”
Jackson State Community College provides accessible learning opportunities that enhance the lives of individuals, strengthen the workforce and empower the diverse communities of West Tennessee. The institution offers traditional and contemporary associate degrees, certificates, continuing education and enrichment, and college-readiness programs.