Occupational Ambition

Sara Walters ’21 MOT, LOTR, BCP, is the first student to enroll in Valparaiso University’s doctor of occupational therapy program. Thanks to career advancement and outstanding networking, Sara found Valpo’s program to fit her life as a working professional while moving her closer to her dreams.

As an instructor of occupational therapy at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at Shreveport, Sara is juggling her full-time job, growing family, and continuing education through Valpo’s post-professional doctor of occupational therapy program. Sara has been able to balance her workload and maximize focus and understanding with each topic throughout her studies thanks to the program’s design and emphasis on flexibility.

“The live, online meeting format for classes has been extremely helpful for me as a working professional,” Sara says. “Depending on the students’ availability, a course time is selected — usually evening — and Professor Scott is available for appointments during the week as well. She really meets us where we are in terms of needs and skills and what we are looking for in the program.”

“Professor Scott has served as a mentor for me, especially as an educator,” Sara says. “I have opportunities for mentoring in the program I teach in, but it is nice to have an outside mentor.”

Amanda Scott, OTD, OTR, BCG, CLT, CADDCT-CDP, assistant professor and program director of occupational therapy, works closely with students — beginning with Sara — to help them grow, evolve, and learn through the program.

“My passion is assisting current clinicians like Sara to identify the next steps in their career and facilitating them reaching their goals through the advancement of their education in the Valparaiso University doctor of occupational therapy program,” Professor Scott says. “With the customized focus and flexibility of the program, working occupational therapists have the opportunity to immediately apply the new knowledge that they acquire throughout the program.”

One of the first courses students take in the occupational therapy program is called Professional Advancement. A central focus is outlining personal and professional goals for the next few years and long term. This class was particularly impactful for Sara.

“Talking about those goals and the encouragement I received to go and pursue things to advance myself and my career really inspired me to pursue all my professional goals,” Sara says. “During the program I applied and received board certification in pediatrics. It included a large, peer-reviewed portfolio, and I began that work after discussions in the course. I know I am supported by Professor Scott and all the professors. They have been very flexible for us, making themselves available at times that are feasible and practical for us to email or call and talk through something.”

Going back to school for a post-professional degree may be intimidating, Sara admitted, but it is also rewarding.

“I was excited but it was still an intimidating venture to take. Some people in the cohort have been out of school and working for even longer than me,” Sara says. “It has been most rewarding to see the professional growth I have experienced through the program. Increased confidence, knowledge to apply in the classroom and clinical settings, and the network I’ve gained through my peers in the other cohorts are all things I’m proud to come away with.”

Sara began exploring post-professional doctor of occupational therapy during her time as a clinician, but after she began teaching at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, she enrolled in Valpo’s program to advance her educational credentials due to changing requirements for faculty at her institution.

“I am in academia so all the learning and materials are applicable to me daily, but it would be practical and applicable regardless of where you are in your occupational therapy career,” Sara says. “In a clinical setting I would feel much more empowered to advocate for patients thanks to this program, which would help me serve them better.”

Following her passion and advancing her career, Sara will graduate from Valpo’s doctor of occupational therapy prepared for success in clinical settings, classrooms, or further education.