About UW-Madison Occupational Therapy

About Us

Occupational therapy focuses on an individual’s ability to engage in everyday activities that support meaningful participation in life. Occupation refers to the ordinary and familiar things that people do every day in pursuit of fulfilling and healthy lives. Occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages helping them to engage in everyday activities when injury, illness or other conditions affect their lives.   Occupational therapists support an individual’s uniqueness and capacity for change, establishing, restoring or maintaining skills and modifying activities and the environments in which they take place to  promote overall health and well being.

About the Occupational Therapy Program

The OT Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began offering a Bachelor’s degree in 1943. Since its inception, the Program has continually been accredited and has grown in response to the educational, leadership, and research needs of the profession including implementation of a post-professional Master’s degree in Therapeutic Science (MS-TS) in 1985, a Doctor of Philosophy in Kinesiology, Therapeutic Science Track (PH.D.-Kinesiology) in 1996,  an entry-level Master’s degree in (MS-OT) in 2005 and a post-professional Doctor of OT (OTD) in 2016. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a premier research institutions as reflected in the quality of the faculty in the Occupational Therapy Program. Faculty members are recognized nationally and internationally as leading researchers in their field with ongoing funded research programs. Students engage in exemplary research and scholarship with their faculty mentor. The University of Wisconsin campus is situated in the heart of Madison, Wisconsin, a great place to live and learn. The City of Madison has consistently ranked in the top 10 desirable places to live, work and play. It’s natural beauty, urban sophistication, recreational opportunities, and active cultural life provide a wide array of offerings to supplement a rich campus life.

To all of our Friends, Colleagues, Students, and Alumni,

Welcome to the Occupational Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin Madison! For over 75 years, we have been committed to advancing the mission of the university, along with that of our field, which embodies excellence in research and clinical care. Our vibrant faculty and academic staff represent a wide range of expertise which produces leaders in occupational therapy and beyond as well as numerous evidence-based practitioners over the years.  Our proud Badger tradition of well-trained, compassionate and innovative graduates has served our community, state, and world for many decades.

We have outstanding educational programs, including an entry-level graduate program for those wanting to become occupational therapists, as well as a Ph.D. in Occupational Science and a fully online Post-Professional Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program. We are in the process of applying for candidacy to transition from our entry-level MSOT to an entry-level OTD over the next few years. Our profession is one of the most highly rated professions nation-wide, so it is a good time to become an occupational therapist.  We are also committed to being part of the development of evidence to support practice through research and pride ourselves on producing scholars in occupational therapy research. All of our students, including entry-level students, are well equipped to be critical users of available information to inform their practice.

The vibrant intellectual atmosphere of our department is coupled with numerous hands-on experiences let by our faculty and staff.  This currently includes opportunities to work in a Pro Bono Clinic with adult clients, work with individuals with Parkinson’s on glass blowing, Tango dancing and other creative occupations in order to maintain function, consult on more sensory friendly settings in public spaces such as emergency rooms and a local Children’s museum, explore the use of video games with children with Autism, measure ways to decrease caregiver stress, and so much more.

We are proud to have such an extensive network of Friends, Colleagues, Students, and Alumni. Over the years, our department has received generous donations from many individuals who have been part of our department. This funding supports scholarships, travel and research projects. Like other departments at the university, we ask our friends and alumni to consider joining in our efforts and to participate by making donations to the department. All contributions at all levels are incredibly important. We are so grateful for the partnership with all of you in so many ways and look forward to continuing in our proud tradition of excellence in Occupational Therapy education!

On Wisconsin!

Sharon Gartland OTD, OTR/L

Program Director and Clinical Professor

Mission Statement of the Occupational Therapy Program

To excel in the discovery, critical examination and transmission of the knowledge and values of Occupational Therapy for the purpose of promoting health and well-being in the local, state, and global communities.

Department of Kinesiology Mission Statement

The mission of the Department of Kinesiology is to create, interpret, transmit, and apply knowledge related to movement, exercise, and human occupation with the ultimate goal of enhancing human health, productivity, and quality of life.

Click here to learn more about UW-Madison

Why Occupational Therapy at UW-Madison?

Occupational Therapy Program

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, Wisconsin

Program History

History of the UW-Madison Occupational Therapy Program

The Occupational Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began in 1943 when academic courses prepared students to work in the areas of mental health, tuberculosis care, general medicine, pediatrics and orthopedics. At that time, the Medical School and the School of Education jointly administered the program. In 1945, 150 students were enrolled in the program and Miss Caroline Thompson accepted the position of Technical Director of the program. She would serve as the overall program coordinator for 31 years. By the mid-1950s the Occupational Therapy Program grew to become the second largest in the country. Curriculum improvements included the addition of the first research methods course in 1964 and a broadly based course in OT theory for those in the junior year of the program. Increasing enrollment, however, made it difficult for the program to adequately meet the needs of the students. By the early 1970s, enrollment caps were in place and students were required to meet minimum standards for admission. In 1985, a post-professional master’s degree in Therapeutic Science (MS-TS) was started for individuals holding an undergraduate degree in occupational or physical therapy, and in 1996 the Doctor of Philosophy in Kinesiology, Therapeutic Science Track (Ph.D.) was established. To meet the increasing needs of graduate-level students, and the academic standards of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Occupational Therapy Program faculty members now hold doctoral degrees and have active research programs. Many of the faculty are nationally and internationally recognized experts within the occupational therapy profession. After a 60-year history, the Occupational Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison phased out its Bachelor of Science degree to meet the educational standards of the Accreditation Council of Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Beginning in 2007, all entry-level occupational therapists must be prepared at the post-baccalaureate level. The Occupational Therapy Program is especially well-suited to meet the challenges of offering an entry-level master’s degree program with its emphasis on research and critical thinking skills. The University of Wisconsin-Madison began accepting graduate students for admission into the Master’s in Occupational Therapy (MS-OT) Degree Program in 2005.

National Public Radio Features Occupational Therapy

Listen to an NPR story about unemployed males looking to occupational therapy for a new career path.  Occupational Therapy is one of the many health-related jobs growing during the economic downturn.  It’s also a field traditionally dominated by women — females make up 90 percent of workers and men 10 percent — and recruiting males into the field has been a challenge.

Occupational Therapy Program Milestones



  Dr. Barbara Kornblau (Class of 1977) invites alumni to join the Occupational Therapy Program in the Department of Kinesiology as we prepare to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of training therapists at UW-Madison as well as the 100th Anniversary of the profession. A celebratory event is being planned for 2017-2018.

The Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program (OTD) is a part-time, structured, predominantly online curriculum serving student need for distance access and flexibility in acquiring advanced practice skills. The mission of the Program is to train occupational therapists to become visionary leaders, engage in inter-professional education and practice, and facilitate research translation. This program is for OTs seeking advanced leadership skills and applied training. It enables currently practicing therapists to acquire the knowledge and skills required for the transformation of our nations’ health and education systems as well as preparation to address the needs of an aging society. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PROGRAM 

We are pleased to bring you the Fall 2018 online edition of “OT Matters,” an annual news publication for alumni and friends of UW-Madison’s Occupational Therapy Program.

Click here to explore the 2018 OT MATTERS ONLINE EDITION CONTENT

Cover story: “Building on a Tradition of Excellence: UW-Madison’s Occupational Therapy Celebrates 75 years” Take a look back through the program’s rich history as a nationally celebrated academic institution.

Letter from the Director: Ruth Benedict recaps the OT program’s celebration of 75 years operating on campus and what the significance that celebration meant for the program moving forward onto the next 75 years.

OT News and notes: Check out some program highlights from the past year.

75th Anniversary Highlights: Check out pictures and memories from the 75th Anniversary celebration!

Philanthropy: Read about a recent gift given by a celebrated alumn.

Alumni Spotlight: 3 alumni who have made a profound impact on the OT program today are highlighted

Student news:  Learn about some of the work being conducted by UW-Madison’s Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) and Diverse-OT during the 2018-19 academic year.

Faculty Publications:


The Occupational Therapy Program wants to hear from our alumni and friends. We also want to make sure you are hearing from us. If you have not received electronic updates, it may mean we don’t have your current e-mail address. Please email the Wisconsin Alumnni Association with your full name and current e-mail address, or fill out this online form. In addition, the WAA offers free e-mail accounts to all alumni.

Past OT Matters

2017 OT Matters

2016 OT Matters

2015 OT Matters