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ACOTE continues to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic situation and are working to assist programs through this difficult time. ACOTE understands that occupational therapy educational programs and faculty members are working diligently to find ways to continue the education of their students during this pandemic. Many programs have created innovative education products and pathways to ensure excellence in education while maintaining compliance with the standards.
We have developed these FAQs based on recent questions received from faculty and students.
Q: Will ACOTE consider allowing students to start their doctoral capstone experience before they have completed Level II fieldwork?
For cohorts effected by the pandemic, ACOTE will allow programs to determine if it is appropriate for a student to begin their doctoral capstone experience before completion of Level II fieldwork. For example, if a student’s capstone experience is an in-depth exposure to enhance clinical practice skills, it would not be appropriate for the student to start his/her capstone experience before completing all Level II fieldwork. The student can only begin the capstone experience if they have completed all coursework and all preparatory activities defined in ACOTE Standard D.1.3. The program must ensure that the capstone experience is in compliance with all aspects required by D.1.0 Doctoral Capstone Standards.
Q: If OT/OTA students assist as a volunteer health care worker in hard hit areas, will these hours count toward fieldwork?
ACOTE has received multiple questions regarding the New York Executive Order stating, “Any healthcare facility is authorized to allow students, in programs to become licensed in New York State to practice as a healthcare professional, to volunteer at the healthcare facility for educational credit as if the student had secured a placement under a clinical affiliation agreement, without entering into any such clinical affiliation agreement.”
Students may choose to volunteer their services at a healthcare facility, but student volunteer hours do not count towards Level II fieldwork. The Level II fieldwork experience must reflect the program’s curriculum design and must include experiences in delivering occupational therapy services to clients, focusing on the application of purposeful and meaningful occupation and research, administration, and management of occupational therapy services. This must be apparent in the course objectives and expected responsibilities; and reflected in the memorandum of understanding (MOU). It is recommended programs work very closely with their legal counsel before suggesting students volunteer for public service to meet educational requirements.
Q: The university is closed, and our program will remain online throughout the summer. Do we need to file any requests with ACOTE?
The US Department of Education is providing broad approval to institutions to use distance education modalities to accommodate students on a temporary basis, without going through the regular approval process. ACOTE is upholding the Department’s recommendation and allowing this flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. ACOTE recognizes this flexibility may extend into the summer.
Q: If we decide to re-arrange classes due to cancelled fieldwork placements or to ensure lab components are met, will we require any special approval from ACOTE?
ACOTE is allowing programs to make minor program changes as outlined in the ACOTE policy ACOTE Policy IV.B.1. Additions or Changes to accommodate students on a temporary basis. Programs do NOT need to notify ACOTE if they are making a minor program change to the admission requirements and selection criteria to include, reduction in frequency of student admissions (e.g., not admitting students for one admission cycle or reducing admissions from once a year to every other year); changes to the curriculum delivery model or content for less than one third; curricular adjustments. Programs must consider the curriculum design when shifting courses to ensure that that changes are in alignment with curricular threads and educational goals. Programs will be required to report on how they modified their programs to accommodate students on the annual report.
Q: Physical therapy (CAPTE) waived two weeks of their clinical experience. Why won’t ACOTE waive the requirement to complete the fieldwork placements during the pandemic?
Physical therapy does not require a defined number of weeks to attain certification and/or licensure within their regulatory guidelines. Unlike physical therapy, occupational therapy has 25 statutes/mandates that specify the length of fieldwork for occupational therapy. This standard ensures that students can be licensed in all states and territories. In addition, the statement regarding the World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT) Minimum Standards for Education of an Occupational Therapist related to the COVID-19 epidemic published on 3/27/2020, maintained the minimum requirements of 1,000 practice placement hours during the pandemic. WFOT noted the importance of adequate preparation in professional reasoning, professional behavior and knowledge, skills and attitudes to the level of competence required of qualifying occupational therapists.
ACOTE encourages programs to look for inherent flexibilities within the ACOTE Standards to satisfy fieldwork requirements for students who have 10 or less days to complete their 24/16-week Level II fieldwork requirement. Graduation may be delayed for some students who have not meet this requirement.
Q: Are there alternatives for completing Level II fieldwork requirements, such as video-based visits and assignments?
There are acceptable alternative options for completing Level II fieldwork requirements without physically returning to the original site. Ultimately, the faculty must determine if the strategy(ies) being used by their program meet the accreditation requirements for successful completion of Level II fieldwork. Each case is unique, one strategy does not fit all, and the program must ensure each student demonstrates entry-level competency and the experience meets the Standards required of Level II fieldwork (i.e., total length of time, required supervision, evaluation of performance, etc.). The complete experience does not have to be at one site.
Q: What can ACOTE do to help programs?
ACOTE has been monitoring the COVID-19 situation and is in constant communication with USDE, other accreditation agencies, and AOTA. We will continue to meet to determine potential solutions for assisting programs in understanding the accreditation standards and the inherent flexibilities the program may use in delivery of its educational components.
Q: If a student is removed from their current Level II fieldwork placement can they be made to repeat those weeks?
There is nothing in the current ACOTE Standards that requires students to repeat the weeks they have already completed. This is at the discretion of the academic programs. Students are able to complete Level II fieldwork in a maximum of four different settings for OT students and 3 different settings for OTA students. Traditional evaluative measures can be used or an equivalent measure, developed by the program, can also be used to evaluate student performance on Level II fieldwork.
We appreciate all of the work that you do and your dedication to provide quality OT/OTA education. Please stay well and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.