Stead, Joanne (2008) New beginnings: developing an undergraduate occupational therapy programme as a new subject area. In: Nurse Education Tomorrow (NET) 2008, 2nd-4th September 2008, Churchill College, University of Cambridge. (Unpublished)

The University of Huddersfield is one of the most recent higher education institutions to develop occupational
therapy education as a new subject area. The undergraduate programme is offered within the context of the West
Yorkshire Collaboration for Occupational Therapy Education. This new collaboration includes the University of
Bradford, University of Huddersfield, Leeds Metropolitan University, and local occupational therapy services. As
the first cohort of occupational therapy students prepare to graduate from the University of Huddersfield it is
timely to review the process of design and delivery of this innovative curriculum.
Developing a new subject area and new course has been an exciting and challenging undertaking. Beginning with
a blank sheet of paper provides endless possibilities, however Higgs and Edwards (2002) identify significant
challenges in delivering health and social care programmes including increased access, funding restrictions and
quality demands, which impact upon curriculum ideals.
This paper will evaluate some of the unique approaches to the design, and development of this new subject area
of occupational therapy education, and the constraints which impacted upon its delivery. The paper will focus on
the areas of occupational philosophy, early practice education, interdisciplinary working, and project
management. It will also consider how facilities to support teaching were developed in response to learning
needs, and reflect more broadly on curriculum development issues as applicable to health care educators
The programme reflects the current international philosophical movement within the profession to redefine itself
focusing on the roots of the profession; that of the importance of meaningful occupation. During the 1970s and
80s occupational therapy aligned itself closely with the medical profession in order to enhance its scientific
credibility. Consequently many interventions became reductionist and lost their occupational focus. In response to
this occupational therapy is now asserting its own unique identity and reclaiming its specialist skills in using
occupation as both an intervention and an outcome, (Creek, 2003; COT, 2004). The programme reflects this
philosophy by ensuring that occupation is the focus of the studies throughout. The delivery does not focus on
diagnosis and modules are constructed around contexts rather than conditions.
There has been significant input from service colleagues and service users in the curriculum development to
ensure that students develop skills which are current and valued in practice. Additionally by using service
colleagues and users in the delivery of the programme in the programme, students have been exposed to real
scenarios and dilemmas to trigger meaningful learning. Early integration of practice placement education has
challenged the students to apply theory to practice very early in their learning and has created opportunities for
them to contextualise issues and identify future learning needs.
New alliances have been forged to include social work students in shared learning opportunities as interagency
working across health and social care is becoming an increasing feature of the way in which occupational therapy
services are delivered.
The changes in health care delivery are creating many challenges for professionals requiring them to work ever
more flexibly and creatively; initiating, managing and responding to change as well as developing leadership
skills. By engaging in an independent piece of work in year three students are required to integrate both practice
and theory using evidence to inform practice development.
A flexible teaching facility was designed after detailed consultation with a variety of occupational educators, and
practice colleagues to support a wide variety of educational approaches and methods including creative,
experiential, group work and classroom based teaching.
In conclusion the paper will conclude by reflecting on the success of the first three years and will broaden the
lessons learnt to all those involved in curriculum, design, development, and delivery for education in health care.

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