Occupational Therapy

Open House

The Northern Arizona University Occupational Therapy Department is holding an open house at 6:00 pm on Thursday, December 1, 2016. The open house will be held at our facilities at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, 435 N. 5th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004. Please join us for an opportunity to learn about the only fully accredited public non-profit doctoral program in Arizona. Our faculty and staff will be there to answer your questions about the program and our admissions process. We will also provide tours of our amazing facilities. We hope to see you there.

About us

Career opportunities in occupational therapy are steadily increasing. Develop the critical skills you’ll need to join this growing healthcare profession with the fully-accredited Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) from Northern Arizona University.

Northern Arizona University is the first public university in the state to establish an OTD program. This intensive, entry-level OTD program features up to six months of fieldwork plus an individualized 16 week residency to prepare for advanced roles in occupational therapy. Upon graduation, you’ll be prepared to work with clients across all stages of life in a wide range of settings.

The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education granted the university permission to accept its first class in fall 2014.  At its April 9-10, 2016 meeting, ACOTE reviewed the Report of On-Site Evaluation (ROSE) regarding the Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program at Northern Arizona University.  All Standards were found to be compliant and ACOTE voted to Grant a Status of Accreditation for a period of 7 years.

The OTD program is based at the 30-acre Phoenix Biomedical Campus, where students have access to cutting-edge technology, facilities, and labs. 

"The NAU OT program will offer first-rate educational, service learning, practice scholar and fieldwork experiences culminating in an individualized 16-week residency to develop occupational therapists. Presenting transformative skills, beyond the generalist level, practice-scholar competencies in the areas of practice, research, administration, leadership, program and policy development, advocacy, education, and theory will predominate. As transformative practice scholars, our NAU OT graduates will demonstrate the requisite skills and habits to use and create evidence to support practice, to facilitate change through leadership as well as to think critically and creatively as practice innovators." Patricia Crist, ArizOTA Newsletter November 2013 

NAU Practice Scholars


Founding chair Patricia Crist speaks with conviction about the field’s person-centered philosophy, and she brings experience with establishing a “practice scholar” model at the master’s level. At NAU, she took that approach a step further.

“The profession appears to be pushing toward the doctorate and I wanted to be on that front edge,” Crist said. A practice scholar “is not just a user of evidence but creates evidence in their own context,” she said, emphasizing the dual role of applying and producing research. “We need practitioners who can read deeper into the research, translate observed changes from interventions into outcome studies and show that they’re making a difference in people’s lives.”

According to Crist, occupational therapists fill an important niche in health care by addressing the whole person, physically and emotionally, while considering the environment in which that person lives. While some practitioners are hand specialists and stroke recovery specialists—areas most often associated with the field—most fill wider roles as creative problem solvers. She said the largest employer for occupational therapists is K-12 schools, which use them for readiness skills such as handwriting or behaviors conducive to remaining in the classroom.

“There are a lot of health care fields that do things to people,” Crist said. “Occupational therapists talk about doing things with people, as a coach and facilitator. We want you to be able to do things that are everyday parts of life.”

NAU’s program emphasizes service learning. The program connects with community agencies to give the students experience with people “in their natural context.” “Students need to see people in their lifelong journey adapting to disability, chronic illness or social conditions so that they can choose strategies that will be meaningful in the long term,” Crist said.

In describing students that enter the program, Dr. Crist says, “We value people who love to teach new skills, to seek creative solutions to everyday challenges and to engage in meaningful relationships with clients.”

Applicants must have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The program is entry-level, which means it is not a post-professional option for practicing therapists. But recruiting shouldn’t be difficult. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for occupational therapy is growing “much faster than average,” with a median salary of more than $72,000 per year. Arizona, in particular, faces a shortage of health care professionals and the deficit is expected to deepen over the next decade.

“NAU’s goal is to provide high-quality health care to the people of Arizona,” Crist said. She emphasized that health care in general is turning to a community participation model, in which wellness, a balanced life and prevention become the focus. Occupational therapy embodies the positive psychology of that approach, she said. “We’re taking sick populations, including environments, and trying to make the whole community sustainably healthier,” Crist said. “We want to find out what people’s strengths are and try to move them forward.”


Program results from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) can be found online at https://secure.nbcot.org/data/schoolstats.aspx.