Curriculum and Requirements
The USC Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree requires satisfactory completion of 60 units beyond the baccalaureate degree. If you have a master’s degree in occupational therapy, you may apply for Advanced Standing, which requires 36 units beyond the first graduate degree (if advanced standing is granted, you would not take the 24 units of foundation courses listed below). If you are not admitted with advanced standing, you may receive partial credit for coursework taken for a previous graduate degree.
Required Occupational Therapy Foundation Courses (24 units required)
The following courses, also part of the USC Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy degree program, are required in the OTD program. However, if you have taken equivalent courses as part of degree programs at other accredited institutions, you may request partial credit for some of these courses. Our OTD adviser will be happy to work with you to investigate potential waivers which can be granted if you obtained your master’s degrees from accredited institutions other than USC.
- OT 515 (4 units): Neuroscience of Behavior
- OT 525 (4 units): Qualitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice
- OT 534 (2 units): Health Promotion and Wellness
- OT 538 (2 units): Current Issues in Practice: Adulthood and Aging
- OT 540 (2 units): Leadership Capstone
- OT 545 (2 units): Advanced Seminar in Occupational Science
- OT 518 (4 units): Quantitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice, or
OT 581 (4 units): Quantitative Research for the Practice Clinician
- OT 500-level Electives (4 units)
Read Course Descriptions here.
Required Occupational Science Advanced Courses (8 units required)
You are required to take an intensive course in occupational science during the fall semester, which gives you the grounding to understand the complexities surrounding everyday living and social engagement in the world. Additionally, it equips you to conceptualize program innovation, to persuasively articulate the unique contribution occupational therapy makes in meeting societal needs, and to be well informed of the science supporting clinical practice. In the spring semester, you take a second core course during which you complete a proposal by midterm that describes the innovative project you will then implement as part of your program of study. In this course you are exposed to leadership-related content, business writing, grant and proposal development and implementation, fiscal management and the design of occupational science-based innovations.
- OT 620 (4 units): Current Issues in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
- OT 621 (4 units): Occupational Therapy Leadership: Contemporary Issues
Elective Courses (4 units required)
You will take at least one course (4 units) at the 500-level or higher at another USC academic unit outside the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. The coursework must clearly relate to your professional goals and remain consistent with the objectives of the OTD program.
- For example, a student who developed a Lifestyle Redesign® program to support environmentally sustainable habits took coursework in the USC Marshall School of Business to refine her business presentation and communication skills.
- Another student, completing his residency in a violence prevention program, took a course on nonprofit organization management.
- A third student, completing her residency in a Lifestyle Redesign® weight loss program, selected a course from the Keck School of Medicine of USC on health promotion.
- A fourth, who secured a leadership position in a residential aging-in-place program, took her elective courses in the USC Davis School of Gerontology.
If you wish to pursue more intensive study in occupational science, you may be granted permission to use your elective units to concentrate in Division-based 600-level occupational science courses associated with the PhD program.
Please note that if you took additional elective units in a USC Chan Master’s Degree Program above the required electives for that program, you may have fulfilled all or part of the elective requirement for the OTD program.
Residency Requirement (24 units required)
The doctoral residency is a crucial element of our OTD program. We believe that immersion in specific practice contexts (whether they be clinical, policy-related, educational or research focused) gives you the skills and expertise to move occupational therapy forward. As a result, our OTD program involves 24 units taken over three semesters. You will work in carefully selected settings (which may be the one in which you have had experience) with the guidance of a mentor.
For example, you may work alongside a master clinician in lymphedema treatment, interact with a policy think tank or teach undergraduate students studying occupational science. Generally, students on the policy/administrative track are placed in advocacy organizations, students with a research focus participate on interdisciplinary research teams, and students on the clinical track complete their residency at a center of clinical excellence in their area of interest. One of the many clinical residency options is the Keck Medical Center of USC Physical Rehabilitation Fellowship Program. The KMC USC Fellowship Program is a dual program in which some students enrolled in the OTD program concurrently participate in the KMC USC AOTA Fellowship Program. And there are many other examples and opportunities for you to create the residency experience that best fits your interests and goals.
An OTD residency placement may be paid or voluntary, depending on the resources of the site.
One of the three semesters, usually summer, you will participate onsite 40 hours a week and will not take any other classes. During the other two semesters of residency, you will participate part-time for a minimum of 20 hours a week. This experience is overseen by an advisory board composed of Chan Division faculty, which must approve your residency plan prior to enrollment.
You will complete 24 units of OT 686 residency. At least 20 units applied toward the OTD must be successfully completed before enrolling in OT 686 unless advanced standing has been granted.
You may complete your residency over three consecutive semesters (6 units/20 hours, 6 units/20 hours and 12 units/40 hours) or over four consecutive semesters. It is highly recommended that one semester of OT 686 be enrolled full-time (12 units without any other simultaneous course enrollment). Full-time residency ensures the opportunity for full immersion in residency.
An OTD residency placement may be paid or voluntary, depending on the resources of the site. In order to complete a residency out of area, you must complete any in-person course work during your first semester of the program, and then you may relocate out of area for your residency. You may choose to complete your residency requirements at an international location. The same requirements apply to residency, regardless of location.
External Residency Sites
The outreach process to external residency sites is student-driven and typically occurs during the spring semester. Please note, USC Chan assists some external sites with recruitment; you will see announcements for these via your student email list, as they are available.
Residency Site Preceptor
Many of the residency contexts that are selected tend to be emerging areas of practice, therefore an occupational therapist is not required to serve as your preceptor. The preceptor should be knowledgeable and experienced within the particular context chosen and will provide on-site consultation and mentorship to you as needed. The residency site preceptor does not need to have a doctorate degree.
USC Faculty Mentor
Your USC faculty mentor does not need to possess similar experience to the focus of your residency. Your USC faculty mentor will support you in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to: providing consultation as you begin your evidence-based review, reviewing your academic work, offering feedback and guidance as you consider your leadership development and career trajectory, and supporting you through various challenges that may arise.
If you are confirmed for an internal Chan division residency, then a USC Chan faculty mentor will be assigned to you. If you are confirmed for an external residency, in some cases the faculty mentor is also already assigned, based upon established partnerships and/or the given specialty. In other cases, you may have the opportunity to choose your faculty mentor. In this case, you and the potential faculty mentor should accept this upon mutual agreement.
In the final semester of enrollment, you will submit a portfolio demonstrating competence in your chosen leadership concentration. The final portfolio will include documentation of both written and oral presentation skills and expertise as designated in the residency plan.
Clinical Experience Criterion
Our OTD program is based on customization and your program is designed in accord with your needs and ambitions. We realize that if you have considerable clinical expertise, you may seek to take more coursework and less residency than is typical. However, if you have less than three years of clinical experience as a registered and/or licensed occupational therapist at time of admission, you may be required to complete at least 8 units of clinical occupational therapy courses, which may include:
- OT 500abc (2-4 units each): Clinical Problems in Occupational Therapy
- OT 560 (4 units): Contemporary Issues in School-based Practice
- OT 564 (4 units): Sensory Integration
- OT 572 (4 units): Ergonomics
- OT 574 (4 units): Enhancing Motor Control for Occupation
- OT 583 (4 units): Lifestyle Redesign®
- OT 590 (1-12 units): Directed Research
- OT 610 (4 units): Sensory Integrative Dysfunction
Read Course Descriptions here.
Important Notes for International Students
If you were educated outside the United States, you must have graduated from a program approved by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT). USC maintains additional admissions requirements for international students, including English language competence as measured by the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination. Please bear in mind that certification through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy® (NBCOT®), which is necessary to practice as an occupational therapist in the United States and is required to be completed by the end of your first semester of the OTD program, can take up to six months. A felony conviction may affect your ability to sit for the NBCOT® certification examination or attain state licensure. Please visit nbcot.org for more information.
The USC Chan Division offers two types of financial awards: internal residencies and merit-based scholarships. All awards are contingent upon USC budget approval. USC Chan internal residencies typically cover 24 units of tuition, as well as an additional stipend or hourly pay. A separate application is required for the USC Chan internal residencies. These residencies are awarded based on the merits of your application and may require an interview. Merit-based scholarship awards typically cover 12 units and are awarded on the basis of GRE score, GPA in the Master’s program, and faculty feedback. All applicants to the OTD are automatically considered for merit-based scholarship awards. Merit-based awards may be awarded at any time prior to the start of classes, and sometimes during the academic year itself. Students are also encouraged to visit the Scholarships and Financial Aidpage for additional information and resources.
USC has been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, since 1949. View the student learning outcomes (PDF) for our academic programs.