Fifteen years of Occupational Therapy

Professor Prue Morgan with students
Professor Ellie Fossey

A broader community commitment to inclusion and full participation, and widespread interest in building healthy communities, underpin the continued popularity of Monash University’s occupational therapy (OT) courses.

In 2021, the Department of Occupational Therapy celebrates its fifteenth year – it has achieved impressive teaching and research results in that relatively short time.

Driving the Department of Occupational Therapy is a strong vision for a broader definition of the term ‘occupation’. This takes in the range of activities that people need and want to do in their lives, not just how they work, and emphasizes that occupational therapy is a community-engaged practice that extends beyond the boundaries of health care settings.

“The course inculcates the idea that occupational therapy addresses the diverse range of activities we engage in to live a full life,” says Head of Department, Professor Ellie Fossey.

As a consequence of this vision, today we see the practice of OT expanding to address the impacts of disadvantage, disability and ageing on participation in everyday activities within increasingly diverse settings, including kindergartens, schools, housing, work and aged care.

“We are expanding the real-world applications for occupational therapy at all stages of life, from kindergarten to aged care, and at every stage in between, through innovations in fieldwork and work-integrated learning – and specifically through participatory community projects (PCPs),” Professor Fossey says.

There is growth in public understanding of the discipline – the development of the NDIS and a stronger focus on social inclusion and participation by government and within the community has led to increased awareness of the profession. This is something Professor Fossey is keen to foster: “OT is broad in its scope, which can make it hard for people to understand what we do; yet its diverse practice areas are also a strength as a career pathway,” she says.

The Monash courses in occupational therapy have developed initiatives aimed at growing workforce capability for disability, ageing, school and community focused practices.

Monash’s Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) degree enables all students to undertake a capstone participatory community project, or a research project, embedded within a practice setting. The course also makes use of simulation to prepare students for fieldwork placements and is growing opportunities for students to learn about using telehealth in practice.

Halfway through the Department’s fifteen years, the two-year Master of Occupational Therapy Practice course was introduced. This course provides graduates with a pathway into the profession of occupational therapy, and is attracting graduates from a diverse range of backgrounds to enter the field. Participation in scenario-based learning enables students to develop the skills for problem-solving collaboratively with people who face challenges participating in the occupations they need and want to do.

Monash’s Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) course has sustained achievement as the top undergraduate Occupational Therapy course in Victoria by ATAR.

In contrast to many other university programs, there was sustained demand for both the Bachelor and Master courses in occupational therapy throughout the pandemic.

Monash University is one of only four institutions within the Group of Eight research-intensive universities delivering occupational therapy education in Australia – 23 universities in total offer occupational therapy education nationally.

Despite its youth, the Department of Occupational Therapy regularly features in the top three programs nationally in terms of research outputs, and there has been a growth in the amount and diversity of the funding support for research that the Department has attracted.

“We have a high quality, highly committed interdisciplinary team of experienced academics with diverse backgrounds and expertise across wide-ranging health and community care contexts internationally,” says Professor Fossey.

“These academics are active contributors to the literature, conducting research and innovation in many areas – such as supported living for people with a disability, use of assistive technology, and co-designing interventions and research with consumers to support families of children with a disability, to create employment pathways and develop more person-centred mental health care, as well as research focused on our teaching practice,” Professor Fossey says. “We’re developing evidence around good practice to inform occupational therapy practice and our courses.”

A number of our Occupational Therapy graduates are now contributing to occupational therapy education and practice development internationally, including in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. The Department also supported the establishment of a new Occupational Therapy program in Saudi Arabia, at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University (PNU), the world's largest women's university.

If the first 15 years are any indication, the Monash Department of Occupational Therapy will continue its upward trajectory for many years to come. Central to this growth will no doubt be the international and research focus that Professor Fossey and the team are cultivating, and their commitment to creating a greater public awareness of the many ways the discipline can make a difference in the ways we live our lives.

Meet some of our OT alumni and find out about their career journeys since graduation and reflections on this milestone celebration for the Department:

  • Aislinn Lalor - Graduate Diploma of Biostatistics 2021, PhD 2017, Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (with Honours) 2009
  • Arifa Jahan Ema - Master of Philosophy 2020
  • Luke Robinson - PhD 2020, Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (with Honours) 2011

Explore more OT alumni stories:

About Monash University

Monash University is Australia’s largest university with more than 80,000 students. In the 60 years since its foundation, it has developed a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching, and inspiring innovation.

With four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy, it is one of the most internationalised Australian universities.

As a leading international medical research university with the largest medical faculty in Australia and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we consistently rank in the top 50 universities worldwide for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences.

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