University of Wisconsin–Madison

About UW-Madison Occupational Therapy

About Us

Occupational therapy is a profession that focuses on an individual’s ability to engage in everyday activities that support meaningful participation in life. The term occupation refers broadly to all of the ordinary and familiar things that people do every day as they pursue fulfilling and healthy lives, including looking after themselves, tending to their economic needs, contributing to their families and communities, finding outlets for creative expression, and developing meaningful social relationships. Occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages who experience difficulty or who are at risk for problems related to engagement in these everyday activities due to injury, illness, cognitive impairment, psychosocial dysfunction, mental illness, developmental or learning disability, or other disorder or condition.

Occupational therapists have the knowledge and skills necessary to assess the many factors that influence an individual’s ability to engage in occupations and to design interventions to address problems undermining that ability. Therapeutic interventions are directed at supporting an individual’s uniqueness and capacity for change, establishing, restoring or maintaining skills, modifying activities and the environments in which they take place, preventing problems that could interfere with occupational performance, and promoting overall health and well being. Occupational therapy professionals work closely with clients, families, groups, organizations, systems, and other professionals in an effort to achieve the desired outcome of engagement in life-enhancing occupations.

About the Occupational Therapy Program

The Occupational Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began offering a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy in 1943. In its 59-year history, the Program has continually been accredited by the accrediting body of the American Occupational Therapy Association and has grown in response to the educational, leadership, and research needs of the profession. In 1985, a post-professional Master’s degree in Therapeutic Science (MS-TS) was added and in 1996 a Doctor of Philosophy in Kinesiology, Therapeutic Science Track (PH.D.-Kinesiology) was started. In 2005, in response to a mandate from the profession, the undergraduate program in occupational therapy was replaced by an entry-level Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy program (MS-OT).

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the premier research institutions in the country. This is reflected in the quality of the faculty who teach in the Occupational Therapy Program. Faculty members are recognized nationally and internationally as leading researchers in their field and conduct ongoing funded research programs. Student access to faculty members allows students to learn about and engage in exemplary research and scholarship.

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

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Occupational Therapy Faculty are pleased that you are interested in our academic programs. Our professional occupational therapy program is one of the oldest and most successful in the United States. Our advanced graduate programs are actively preparing the next generation of occupational therapy teachers, leaders and scholars. The success of our programs rests, in large part, on the outstanding faculty and staff that teach our classes and conduct research at the cutting edge of occupational therapy.

Our research faculty has received millions of dollars in federal research grants from the National Institutes of Health and private foundations. Our faculty research spans the breadth and diversity of contemporary occupational therapy, including understanding:

Our research is generating new insights and having real-world impact on peoples’ lives.

Our faculty has received top honors in occupational therapy, such as the Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lectureship, the A. Jean Ayres Award, the Virginia Scardina Award of Excellence and membership in the AOTF Academy of Research, AOTA’s highest recognition of research efforts.

The Occupational Therapy Program faculty and staff are renowned for our commitment to teaching. We are committed to the recruitment and retention of a highly qualified diverse group of students. We have a vibrant Masters of Science program, and each year our Master’s students engage in exciting research under the direction of our faculty. We have an active student organization that produces a newsletter, engages in numerous service activities, and is actively involved in state and national OT organizations. Students in our advanced graduate programs, including the post-professional OTD and PhD degrees, receive outstanding training for careers in occupational therapy leadership, academic and research settings. Students engage in innovative program development, cutting-edge research and often have several publications or conference presentations on their vita when they graduate.

Thanks to the generous donations of our friends and alumni, we are able to offer several merit-based scholarships and fellowships to students. Opportunities are also available to receive financial compensation as graduate assistants either within the occupational therapy program or across campus.

I hope that you will consider applying to one of our outstanding occupational therapy programs. In addition to being one of the foremost research universities in the United States, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is located in a community which blends ethnic tradition, urban sophistication and youthful spirit. Madison is the only isthmus city in North America, stretching between Lakes Monona and Mendota, providing a beautiful setting and numerous recreational opportunities. The campus occupies more than 2,000 acres along the shore of Lake Mendota.


Ruth E. Benedict, Dr.P.H., OTR
Professor and OT Program Director


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.

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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.


We are pleased to bring you the Summer 2016 online edition of “OT Matters,” an annual news publication for alumni and friends of UW-Madison’s Occupational Therapy Program. To view a pdf of the Summer 2016 “OT Matters” print edition, click here.

Click here to explore the 2016 OT MATTERS ONLINE EDITION CONTENT

Letter from the Director: Ruth Benedict explains how OT matters to the lives of people of diverse ages, abilities, ethnicities, and cultures who depend on our profession to overcome health or educational challenges.

Cover of Summer 2016 edition of OT MattersCover story: Assistant Professor Brittany Travers is on the leading edge of research involving motor and brain development in children with autism.

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

Faculty publications: Take a look at the important contributions the OT faculty are making to the field.

New program: Prepare for a leadership role with the online Doctor of Occupational Therapy program.

Featured alum: After a successful career at Saint Louis University, Karen Barney is helping prisoners reintegrate into society.

2016 Thompson Memorial Lecture: Western Ontario’s Debbie Laliberte Rudman delivers keynote, while occupational therapists with the Madison Metropolitan School District receive Preceptor of the Year honors.

Student news:  Learn about some of the work being conducted by UW-Madison’s Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) during the 2015-16 academic year.

Alumni updates: Make sure and keep tabs on the range of exciting news shared by some of your fellow alums.


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.


Private gifts from our alumni and friends are vital to the Occupational Therapy Program’s ability 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. Donate today online or contact: Betsy Burns, the School of Education’ Director of Development, at 608-712-9376 or email: