Wednesday, February 23, 2022
  Around Campus

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The UTRGV Department of Occupational Therapy has transitioned its master’s program into a doctoral program.

Dr. Shirley Wells
Dr. Shirley Wells, professor, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy and OTD program coordinator. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

As part of the university’s College of Health Professions, the OT program provides student-centered instruction to prepare future practitioners for working with people anywhere on the life span continuum who need physical, sensory or cognitive assistance.

This new program replaces UTRGV’s Master of Occupational Therapy in an effort to meet unique demands in healthcare and create entry-level clinical doctoral practitioners in the field. 

The first cohort of 14 students was admitted June 1, said Dr. Shirley Wells, professor, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy and OTD program coordinator, and enrollment gradually will increase to 32 students per cohort over five years.

The small class sizes make the program ideal for future practitioners looking for a more one-on-one learning environment, she said. 

“Everything in OT has expanded the demands of what our practitioners need to do, and we need to make sure they're ready for this environment,” Wells said.

Since OT is such a diverse field, most applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree can apply to the new program if they have the required prerequisites, which include Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Life Span Development, Statistics and Biomechanics.

John Luna
John Luna, assistant professor and OTD program coordinator. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

John Luna, assistant professor and OTD program coordinator, said the new program means students in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond will have access to an occupational therapy degree at the doctoral level.

“Graduates of the program bring opportunities for health, wellness and participation in different settings across the life span to the communities they return to serve,” Luna said. “We have a lot of graduates both from the Valley and elsewhere.

“It’s rewarding to see students return to their communities as occupational therapists and make an impact as leaders and agents of change,” he said. “They can make the differences that are so important to them and the people they serve.” 

Although the program attracts students from all over the country, the curriculum is heavily focused on the unique needs of and services within the Valley.

“We will now be producing practitioners with this next, higher level of focus on the Hispanic population and the specific needs of the area,” Wells said. “We have everything here to produce quality practitioners who go into the community and provide clinical services, and also become leaders in developing new programs.”

For more information or to apply, contact the department at


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.