Name: Catherine Verrier Piersol, PhD, OTR, FAOTA
Position: Department Chair & Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy

901 Walnut Street, 6th Floor
Suite 644
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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Mission & Philosophy

Mission Statement

Reimagining Health through Occupation

The Jefferson Department of Occupational Therapy promotes the health and well being of people through their occupation by developing practitioners who can dynamically respond to changing demands in healthcare, community, and environments and engage in service, practice, advocacy, leadership, scholarship, and conduct research.


The Department of Occupational Therapy has the following beliefs about human beings: Humans are uniquely capable of participating and investing their energy in self-selected, meaningful and purposeful activity called “occupation,” which is defined as activities that bring meaning and allow people to participate in society (American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), 2014). 

The desire or drive for occupation is based on a number of interacting factors both internal and external to individuals. These factors include state of health, developmental status, level of engagement and interest, and environmental context, all of which may help or hinder a person’s participation in occupation. A core philosophical assumption of occupational therapy is that “… by virtue of our biological endowment, people of all ages and abilities require occupation to grow and thrive; in pursuing occupation, humans express the totality of their being, a mind–body–spirit union (Hooper and Wood, 2014, p.38).

Occupational therapy is described as the, “therapeutic use of everyday activities with individuals or groups for the purpose of enhancing or enabling participation in everyday life roles, habits and routines in home, school, workplace, community and other settings” (AOTA, 2014 p. S1). Occupational therapy services are provided for habilitation, rehabilitation, and promotion of health and well being for clients with disability and non-disability-related needs (AOTA, 2014). As such, occupational therapy services promote participation in meaningful interactions within the environment, support fulfillment of occupational roles and promote health and well-being.

Occupational therapy practitioners utilize their knowledge of the transactional relationship among the person, occupation and environment (AOTA, 2014) to facilitate a “goodness of fit” which may incorporate adaptation and modification of the environment to promote participation in occupations. We believe that optimum participation in occupation is essential for the health of individuals, communities, and the entire world (Wilcock, 2006). Thus, central to the curriculum is for students to understand that people have a need to participate in purposeful and meaningful occupation (AOTA, 2014), which is critical to learning and applying the basic tenets of occupational therapy and the occupational therapy process.

The teaching and learning process is a transformative experience (Mezirow, 2003) in which the student engages with information, ideas and content to create meaningful occupational therapy knowledge and skill competencies. Facilitating learning in occupational therapy students requires active, reflective engagement in a variety of methods derived from established evidence based teaching strategies (Barkley, Major & Cross, 2014; Herge, et. al., 2013 and best practices in education. This process promotes the student’s ability to analyze and synthesize information, utilize critical thinking to solve problems in practice and to design and implement evidence based, data driven and outcome oriented interventions.

Learning takes place within a culture that values and fosters interprofessional practice to provide optimal care to persons, populations, and communities (AOTA, 2014; Reeves, et. al., 2013). Furthermore, learning is a lifelong process for which each individual is responsible. Students enter practice prepared to continue their involvement in professional and educational activities to advance their own development while moving profession forward while serving societal needs. Educating occupational therapists is a process steeped in ethical decision-making that encompasses developing skills in advocacy, clinical and educational leadership, and visionary practice.

The Department of Occupational Therapy conceptualizes learning as a dynamic process that unfolds and builds upon itself as new knowledge and skills are introduced and integrated. Given this process, a set of core concepts are introduced, revisited, and expanded to facilitate the ongoing development of students' knowledge, skills, and attitudes. This complex process can be represented as a spiral of learning (Bruner, 1960; Harden, Davis, & Crosby, 1997; Masters & Gibbs, 2007), in which students’ existing knowledge serves as a starting point upon which additional and more complex learning is built (Wells, 2002). Within this spiral process students become socialized to the professional culture and community of occupational therapy as they assimilate and integrate the values, beliefs, knowledge, skills, and traditions of the field (Berg et al., 2008).

Students are challenged to be flexible, critical, and innovative thinkers who anticipate and respond to society’s occupational needs. They are prepared to apply theoretical principles and practice competencies to novel situations in diverse arenas of practice. Students learn to be skillful in articulating, demonstrating, and applying evidence based, data driven, outcome oriented strategies, to facilitate participation in persons, populations, and communities (AOTA, 2014).

Educational Philosophy & Curriculum Design

The department offers two entry-level programs that lead to qualification for certification in occupational therapy. The Masters program is for students who have a a bachelor's degree in a field other than occupational therapy (Master of Science Program in Occupational Therapy - MSOT). This program integrates entry-level education with graduate studies. The other program is an upper division (junior, senior and graduate year) full-time program leading to a Bachelor of Science in Occupation and health and a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (BSMS OT Program). Students are admitted to the program after completing two years of college-level courses that satisfy pre-professional requirements. Upon successful completion of the BSMS OT program, students are concurrently awarded the Bachelor of Science in Occupation and Health and Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degrees.

In both programs, learning is a dynamic process, which unfolds and builds upon itself as new knowledge and skills are introduced and integrated (Brown, Collins, & Buguid, 1989; Wells, 2002). Learning is tailored to the needs of each cohort, with the BSMS OT students receiving additional educational content in critical thinking (i.e., OT 300 Introduction to Applied Science), information technology (CMST 201 Technology Applications for Healthcare) and introduction to research methods in health care (IDSC 302 Introduction to Research Methods) to provide an essential foundation for success in the program. At the completion of the curriculum, there is educational parity between the two programs.

The curriculum design reflects the spiral of learning, which incorporates the following five threads:

  1. Foundational Science and Knowledge Supporting Occupation Comprises basic underlying science content that provides the foundation for occupational therapy education and practice, including anatomy and kinesiology, neuroscience, occupation, and human development.
  2. Occupational Therapy Process Encompasses the knowledge and skills needed to provide health-promoting, client-centered, and contextually responsive occupational therapy services for persons, groups and populations, including skilled use of clinical reasoning and therapeutic use of self. The occupational therapy process is characterized by integration of theory and incorporation of principles of health literacy into screening, evaluation, intervention planning, intervention implementation, documentation, and measurement of outcomes to support health, health promotion and participation in occupation.
  3. Environment and Context Reflects the intensive focus on understanding how the environment and context impact human participation, including geographical, developmental, political, economic, physical, social, cultural, temporal and virtual features; and the use of this knowledge in the occupational therapy process. Skills emphasized include environmental assessment, environmental adaptation and modification, clinical reasoning related to environment and context; and program development and evaluation processes are included.
  4. Professionalism Involves aspects of professional behavior and practice that are needed to perform successfully and ethically, participate within complex systems of care, and utilize various methods of service delivery in meeting society's occupational needs. Key aspects of professionalism include development of professional behaviors such as skillful communication with inter-professional team members and clients; knowledge of systems administration and management; and development of leadership capacity including advocacy and integration of professional values and ethics.
  5. Evidence-based Practice Incorporates the spectrum of systematic inquiry processes and strategic actions that underlie principles of evidence-based practice, including integration of theory and research, client perspective, and the occupational therapist's clinical reasoning and experience. Skills developed include a systematic approach to research appraisal and application of findings to inform practice and measure outcomes.

These five curricular threads are integrated throughout the curriculum:

Foundational Science and Knowledge Supporting Occupation is the predominate thread in the first year courses. Students learn anatomy and kinesiology, neuroanatomy, human development, health condition and the nature of occupation. Through a variety of teaching approaches including lecture, lab activities, and discussion, students learn how this foundational science and knowledge supports occupational performance.

Occupational Therapy Process is introduced early in the first year and is the primary focus on the intervention series of courses. Over the second year courses, through fieldwork and into the final semester, students are required to perform higher levels of synthesis and application of new knowledge and skills. Beginning in the second semester, simulation activities require students to integrate and apply knowledge in realistic clinical environments.

Within the intervention series, Environment and Context is the exclusive focus of three courses. Through lecture, lab activities, and community-based experiences, students learn, apply and practice environmental assessment, adaptation and modification.

Professionalism is introduced in the first semester, and expanded and reinforced throughout the curriculum. This content is the exclusive focus of one seminar course. Through lecture, lab activities, discussion, and simulation, students learn, apply, and practice professional behaviors.

Evidence-based Practice is introduced in the first year. Through lecture, class activities and discussion, students learn skills related to understanding and appraising research findings. This thread is the primary focus of two web-based courses that are concurrent with Level II Fieldwork. Post Level II Fieldwork, two of the three final semester courses focus on advanced level evidence-based practice skills.

Interprofessional Education

The Department of Occupational Therapy agrees with the vision that interprofessional collaborative practice is the key to safe, high quality, accessible, patient-centered care (Interprofessional Education Collaborative Expert Panel, 2011, p. i.). Throughout the curriculum students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of interprofessional learning activities designed to develop students’ knowledge of roles and expertise of other professions and skills in team communication and interprofessional practice.

The Jefferson College of Health Professions has adopted the following Core Competencies:

Students will:

  1. Respect the unique cultures, values of, roles/responsibilities and expertise of other health professionals.
  2. Explain the roles and responsibilities of other care providers and how the team works together to provide care.
  3. Work to ensure common understanding of information, treatment and care decisions by listening actively, communicating effectively, encouraging ideas and opinions of other team members and expressing one’s knowledge and opinions with confidence, clarity and respect.
  4. Reflect on the attributes of highly functioning teams and demonstrate the responsibilities and practices of effective team member(s).