Complex rehab ‘takes next step’ with new program

‘It’s time for us as a profession to have a bona fide, university level curriculum associated with what we do’
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Friday, September 11, 2020

PITTSBURGH – More than anything, the University of Pittsburgh’s new Master of Rehabilitation Technology program will help to raise awareness among young professionals that specializing in assistive technology is a valid profession, says Mark Schmeler. 

So far, the department has received MRT applications from 10 students, mostly with engineering or pre-health science degrees, with a goal of up to 20 for the first year of the program. 

“There’s a lot of potential workforce talent out there that we haven’t tapped in to,” said Schmeler, PhD, OTR/L, ATP, an associate professor and vice chairman for education and training the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology at UPitt. “Kids coming out of college don’t know what they want to be when they grow up and the only thing they’ve seen is about PTs, OTs, PAs or medical school. We needed to find a way to let them know what a great opportunity the field of AT is.” 

The program, which kicks off this fall, includes weekly online classes, as well in-person labs conducted over one four-day weekend per semester in Pittsburgh. There are full-time and part-time options. 

UPitt is launching the MRT against the backdrop of a few disruptive trends in both higher learning and complex rehab that put the program in a good position, Schmeler says. In higher learning, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced colleges and universities to “take a hard look at who they are and what they do,” he says. 

“The shift to online education was moving quickly before COVID – this has just pushed it over the edge,” he said. “We have done a lot of online continuing education in assistive technology, so we have the experience to put this kind of curriculum together.” 

In complex rehab, employers are contending with a graying field of ATPs. Because it’s accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Education, in conjunction with RESNA, students who complete the program will meet the majority of the work hour requirements to be eligible to sit for the ATP exam upon graduation, essentially putting them on a fast track to become certified. 

“It’s time for us as a profession to take the next step and have a bona fide, university level curriculum associated with what we do,” Schmeler said. “It’s not anything to be scared of. There are some concerns that people who are trained in the field are going to get marginalized and that’s not the case – those are the people who become instructors. Then there are fears from employers about having to pay ATPs more – they’re already paying them more than therapists who have doctorate degrees.”