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Wesley launches occupational therapy masters program

Delaware Public Media

Wesley College launched the first masters of occupational therapy program in Delaware earlier this week to try and bolster the state's industry. 

Dr. Varleisha Gibbs, the program director, said she hopes that Wesley's program will keep students in the area after graduation, as occupational therapy is a field she calls "recession proof" but one that does not currently attract a lot of qualified candidates.

"I think if you speak to any health care entity, such as Bay Health, any of the therapy sites around this area, Kent County and Sussex County especially, they will tell you that there is a huge need in terms of occupational therapy," Gibbs said. "They will put out an open position and it could be a year or so until they’re able to fill it."


For Danielle Marshall, one of the students in the program, this means an opportunity to stay in state to complete her studies.


"I was very excited to be a part of the first occupational therapy program in Delaware," Marshall said. "As a lifelong Delaware resident, it seemed like the perfect fit for me to stay in the state for my training and to eventually serve my community when I graduate."


Marshall said she became interested in occupational therapy after witnessing the impact it had on her grandma. She also developed an affinity for working with children with special needs. 


"I think just having faculty and professors that are already occupational therapists in the state of Delaware will help us be able to go out into the fieldwork, out into placement and have future jobs that will benefit Delawareans and the health of Delawareans," Marshall said.

In their first semester, students will have one 40-hour week of hands-on experience in addition to coursework; in their second semester, they will work one day a week. Over the summer, they will work side-by-side with a therapist. 


"So our mission really is to develop leaders, professionals, as well as individuals that are willing to work with other disciplines," Gibbs said. "So inter-professional collaboration is one of our important threads as well."



The new program also aims to eventually open a public clinic to children within the area that cannot afford occupational therapy services.



Twenty-one students make up the inaugural class. With hopes of growing it, Wesley has already received over 100 applications for the fall 2017 semester.