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Master's vs. Doctorate: What New Grad OTs Need to Know

Written by Dominic Lloyd-Randolfi, Published on May 22, 2017

Master's vs. doctorate

The topic is hotly debated across internet OT communities. It is easily the most asked question by prospective occupational therapy students and it may be one of the most controversial topics in OT bubble right now.

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz regarding "what's the difference" of a master's vs. doctorate and how is it different from a PhD. (or EdD, DHSc, MPH, or MBA for that matter).

At NGOT, we wanted to help clear up some confusion by interviewing a few of our writers and listening to what they had to say on the matter.

Grant Mitchel, MOTR/L

Why I chose a MOT program.

In high school, I had determined to pursue a health care career. Which one to choose was the difficult part. In taking a pro’s vs con’s approach, which I believe to be wise, I determined OT to be the best ratio of least amount of debt and years of school with the best pay for a job I knew I could enjoy. As a new grad and new MOT, I am more than satisfied with my decision.

There is a great variety of teaching styles and curriculum approaches to completing a MOT. The University of North Dakota offered a 3 year MOT program that didn’t require a degree as a prerequisite but rather finished the degree in the process of the OT program assuming the applicant had the prerequisite undergraduate courses. This was appealing to me because I was able to apply and get accepted while pursuing a degree in psychology.

The MOT has allowed me to begin working professionally after a total of 6 years of college. While I continue to have a great amount to learn, I am competent as a new grad to work with vulnerable populations safely and confidently.

I believe there is great value in continuing an education or working directly towards a higher degree. However, I believe it is important to know why one is going that direction. Discussions I’ve had with OTDs and Ph.Ds (and those who have chosen to stop even after entering  PhD program) have led me to understand that it is often better to have a research question first and then pursue a PhD.

Meredith Grinnell, MS, OTR/L, CBIS

Why I chose a post-professional OTD program.

I completed my masters in OT at the University of New Hampshire in 2007. UNH offers a 5-year program combined with undergraduate work. After graduation and completing fieldwork, I was ready to work and was offered a job in California. For me, I was ready to get going and work with people. It was not a thought for me to continue on to get my doctorate.

After working for seven years on the west coast and taking as many continuing education courses I could, I moved back home to the east coast and continued to work in adult neurological dysfunction. Along the way, I always felt I was working towards something but wasn’t sure what that was. In each position I held, I would move up the “ladder” to specialist or supervisor or lead therapist. With every new level came more management responsibilities with decreased time for clinical practice. It wasn’t setting right with me.

I had been doing some research about the OTD and was debating between online and on campus. It wasn’t until I started at my current position when a colleague was about to complete her doctorate. Hearing her story of managing the part-time on campus program, while working full time, really motivated me to get mine going. I had always known I wanted to take my career the next step and enjoyed working with students so teaching was on the horizon. It only made sense to pursue an advanced degree.

I am glad I waited between my master’s degree and going for my doctorate. I have been able to bring more clinical experience to the program as well as have a greater impact with leadership skills. My leadership project and dissertation have been strongly influenced by the population I treat. Being a part of this program has lead to other opportunities I would not have been able to pursue coming straight from my master’s program. I am able to be a graduate assistant and co-teach lectures and lead lab practicals. I am able to refine my teaching and mentor skills with students. I have been able to present at state and national conferences, as well as take on new roles in my clinical practice with confidence.

Going back to school and working is a challenge at times and does come with some strains but, it’s worth it to see the instant impact on patient care. Balancing time between work, school, family, and personal time can be tricky. Financial impact and budget are always on my mind. However, there is a goal. I am striving to advance my career and skills, making a greater impact in the profession.

Dominic Lloyd-Randolfi

Why I chose the entry-level OTD.

I applied to a variety of schools and eventually chose a school offering the entry-level OTD. Personally, for me, it wasn’t a matter of MOT/MSOT vs OTD. I chose my school because I knew the professors, program philosophy, and class size was the right fit for me. However, in hindsight, I am very glad I chose the OTD route.

It is hard to compare and contrast a MOT program with an OTD program because there are so many different schools and each one is unique. The best way to assess the differences is to look at the ACOTE accreditation standards.

I know there are a lot of fluff words to describe the benefits of the OTD, but for the most part, they are true. I feel that I have a really good understanding of policy, regulations, and the larger forces at play affecting occupational therapy services.

Since it is not mandatory, many OTD programs vary. The last semester of my program allowed me to complete a scholarly project of my choosing. It was great that I got to choose an area or specialty of my choosing to grow as a professional. It was also great to see all of the awesome OT projects come from my amazing classmates. This portion of the OTD really laid the groundwork for knowledge and skills in continuing research projects throughout my career.

Some say one of the downfalls of the OTD is that it's too expensive. While this is technically correct because it adds a semester to your schooling, I would encourage those to look at the other variables at hand such as cost of living and scholarship opportunities. Plenty of MOT/MSOT programs are very expensive and OTD programs at state schools exist (making them cheaper).

If you're looking in to OT as a career and have more questions about the application process. Download our free ebook to help you along the way!

There are many different avenues into practicing occupational therapy and none of them are wrong. The key is to find what works best for yourself.  If you have further questions about the OTD, check out this resource from AOTA. 

Topics:degreeseducationGrad SchoolLicensureNew gradtips for occupational therapy students



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