What Are Hybrid Occupational Therapy Programs?
If you’re in the process of applying to occupational therapy graduate schools and you’ve been seeing multiple types of OT programs, you may be wondering the answer to this question: What are hybrid occupational therapy programs?
Since I went to a hybrid occupational therapy master’s program myself, I want to share my experience and tell you everything you need to know about these types of OT programs.
As an applicant, you have a lot of options to choose from ranging from hybrid and in-person day programs, to full-time programs and weekend hybrid programs. There are no fully online entry-level occupational therapy programs, which I discuss in detail in our companion article, Are There Online Occupational Therapy Schools?
Back in 2016, AOTA reported that “nearly 60% of master’s programs and 56% of occupational therapy assistant programs offer some distance education opportunities to students.” I was unable to find updates about the current percentages, and as I briefly mentioned above, there are no fully online OT programs aside from post-professional doctorate programs for already-practicing occupational therapists.
There likely will never be fully online occupational therapy programs due to the great importance of in-person labs, hands-on training, and multiple fieldwork placements.
What Does This Mean for Online Learning Opportunities?
The above numbers indicate that many OT programs offer at least some element of online learning.
A hybrid OT program differs from a full-time OT program because it will have classes on campus only part-time (two or three days a week or every other weekend, for example). Because you are going to class fewer days in person, there is quite a bit more online work.
Theoretically this would sound like it could allow you some extra time to work and/or spend time with family. Based on my experience, however, you will most likely still have full-time coursework to do on the “off” days. I did not feel like I had any extra time compared to going to a full-time program, but I do know some people are able to work at least part-time with a hybrid schedule.
A Typical Hybrid Program Schedule
My classmates and I were pretty much always eating, breathing, and sleeping OT even though we weren’t on campus every day.
On my “off” days, I would spend at least 8 hours a day studying, researching, or writing. This took so much dedication to motivate myself as it involved so much self-study.
When I was in class, I was forced to focus for longer periods of time. Having in-person class time did make for a better overall learning experience for me personally, and if I had to do it over again I probably would have chosen a full-time in-person program to keep me more focused overall.
Will Hybrid OT Programs Prepare You for Fieldwork?
Several of my classmates and I agreed that we would have felt more prepared for fieldwork if we would have had in-person class five days a week. There was a certain experience we knew we got while being in class that we didn’t get from the online component.
In-person labs and lectures gave us the best hands-on experience. In our hybrid program, we practiced transfer training only three times during the entire curriculum, and only worked on splinting twice. I think we would have more practice with these if we had more in-person class time.
That being said, being in class eight hours a day only three times a week was still exhausting and draining for me. At the time I enjoyed the flexibility of being home or at a coffee shop doing my reading and studying and felt a bit more relaxed on those off-campus days.
Weekend Hybrid Programs
Weekend programs seem to be a much more common type of hybrid program.
Of the various weekend graduate programs I found, the format is generally two weekends a month in class and the rest online. This leaves the student 40 hours a week during the week to keep their day jobs as they attend OT school.
Weekend programs are longer in duration (generally at least three years) but are a good option for people with families that can’t afford to just stop working their jobs.
Do keep in mind that while the classwork is a mix of online and in class, no matter what program you choose, you will be full-time for your Level II Fieldwork’s for (generally) two, 12-week rotations. These are full-time M-F clinicals in two different OT settings where you will have your own caseload and have a clinical instructor with you to mentor you through every step of the way.
While there’s no getting around those full-time rotations, they are crucial for your OT education. I learned more in my Level II rotations than I learned in all of my coursework, whether it was in class or online.
Every accredited OT program will cover the basic knowledge and entry skill sets you’ll need before you start practicing – whether it is hybrid or full time.
No matter what type of program you choose, when you graduate you’ll feel like you hardly know anything and will learn the important things your first few years of work. As long as your OT program is accredited, it will get you to your end goal of being an occupational therapist.
If you haven’t already compiled a list of hybrid OT programs and are interested in attending one, AOTA has a list of accredited programs here. Just type the search term “hybrid” into it and it will categorize the programs that incorporate a percentage of their coursework online.
Do you have anything to add on your experience with hybrid occupational therapy programs? Do you have any questions about them? If so, let us know in the comments below!
This post was originally published on September 5, 2016 and last updated on November 16, 2023.