A big step forward in the accreditation process means Northern Arizona University’s new occupational therapy program at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus will begin admitting its first cohort of students for the fall 2014 semester.

The 33-month doctoral program is sending out its first acceptance letters for an initial class of 24 students after having received nearly 100 applications. Occupational therapists assist children with disabilities, work with patients recovering from injuries and provide skills for older people experiencing physical or cognitive challenges.

To admit students, the NAU program first needed approval from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. Under the leadership of founding chair Patricia Crist, that approval came with praise for what will be Arizona’s only occupational therapy program offered by a public university, and one of only a few in the nation to offer a doctoral degree.

“It is gratifying to see that the accrediting body recognized our state-of-the-art facilities and commitment to quality,” said NAU President John Haeger. “We now have three health professions programs at the Phoenix campus poised to deliver talented graduates who can help meet the state’s growing healthcare needs.”

Occupational therapy joins the physician assistant and physical therapy graduate programs that admitted their first students in fall 2012 at the modern Health Sciences Education Building on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. Already, plans are underway for expansion: construction and renovation will prepare three lab spaces to support the program.

In the meantime, four occupational therapy faculty have been hired and interviews of student applicants will continue through mid-May. Applications are no longer being accepted for the fall semester, but the application cycle for fall 2015 will begin in just two months.