Baptist Health and Murray State University:

Business + Education Partnership Improving the Health of Our Community

Occupational therapy helps people of all ages to improve their ability to perform tasks in their daily living and working environments. Occupational Therapists work with people across the lifespan. This includes children and adults with mental, physical and developmental disabilities and individuals who require assistance in maintaining daily living and work skills (whether because of an accident, late-onset disability or simply due to changes that occur with age). There is a nationwide shortage of Occupational Therapists. The number of therapists needed to meet the needs of our aging population is expected to grow by 35% over the next ten to twenty years.  The Paducah area has historically struggled to recruit enough therapists to meet the growing needs of the people in our region. That is, until now. Murray State University, in partnership with Baptist Health is addressing this growing need in our community through the addition of their Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) program.

Classes began in June for the first group of students selected for the MSOT program. Prior to this program offering, the only in-state, public education program for Occupational Therapy in the state of Kentucky was located at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. Out of state options include schools in St. Louis, Evansville, Nashville, and Memphis, but students who attend there rarely return home to Paducah after graduation contributing to the shortage of therapists to serve our community’s needs.

The vision for an OT program in the western end of the state began when leaders from Baptist Health and Murray State University partnered with the Purchase Area Health Education Center (Purchase AHEC) to conduct a feasibility study to demonstrate the need and determine the feasibility of adding an OT program in the western end of the state.

“Historically, it takes us 18 months to recruit and hire an Occupational Therapist to this region,” says Mike Muscarella, Executive Director of Ambulatory Services at Baptist Health.

“It’s hard to lure therapists to Paducah if they are not from this area. Often, students who leave this area for their education, do not return home. With several Occupational Therapists nearing retirement plus an aging population of baby boomers who will be needing OT services like never before, it was not hard to make a case for why we needed to address the need for additional therapists in this region.”

After Purchase AHEC completed their study, they made the recommendation to Murray State University that they move forward with the Occupational Therapy program. Murray State’s Leadership team which included Dr. Robert Davies, President of Murray State University, Dr. Marcia Hobbs, the Dean of Nursing, and the Board of Regents approached the leadership team at Baptist Health to seek their assistance as a program partner. Baptist Health enthusiastically agreed to partner with the program which was to be housed on Murray State University’s Paducah campus.

Baptist Health will provide lab space to the MSU OT students by allowing them to use the Baptist Health Rehabilitation clinic after hours and on weekends. The hospital is scheduled to build out an activities of daily living kitchen and bath spaces and they will expand their gym space so students can practice their skills.  This provides students with a real-world place to practice the skills they are learning in the classroom.

There are 21 graduate students in the first class, 17 of whom are not from the Paducah area. This is a real win for Paducah Economic Development. Next year, an additional class will begin with up to 24 additional students. Every two years as many as 48 new students will work and live in Paducah.

“We have an amazing group of OT students for our very first Inaugural OT Class who have a wide variety of educational backgrounds including bachelor’s degrees in exercise science, psychology, health & human performance and kinesiology,” said Dr. Sherri Powers, Director of the Occupational Therapy Program at Murray State University.

“These students are very excited to begin interacting with other occupational therapy professionals during community activities while focusing on applying their newly acquired skills in OT. Many facilities within our local and regional communities are also facing shortages in employing skilled occupational therapists. When facilities are able to accept our graduate OT students for internships, possible employment for OT positions may open for the students upon graduation resulting in mutually successful partnerships.”

“Students graduating with their MS in Occupational Therapy will enter the workforce with a potential salary of $60,000 – $80,000 per year,” said Muscarella. “We are excited that this program will graduate students who will have a degree that gives them a profession that comes with a sustainable, living wage in a discipline that also benefits the health of our community.”

MSU’s MSOT program is an entry-level graduate program.  Students enrolled in the MSU Exercise Science program may be eligible for an accelerated route of entry, which can eliminate one entire year of undergraduate study. The accelerated route can decrease the amount of time and tuition required to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and students may graduate with their undergraduate and graduate degree within 5 years.

“This program is a perfect example of what Business and Education Partnerships are all about,” concludes Muscarella. “Business is working together with education to meet the demands for services that are needed in our community.”

To learn more about Murray State’s Masters in Occupational Therapy Program, please visit their website or contact  Dr. Sherri Powers by phone at 270-809-1687 or by email.

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