$3.25 million national grant funds HRSA-MUSC Occupational Therapy scholarships

August 24, 2021
Students at a table.
Occupational therapy student ambassadors, from left to right: Madison Misenheimer, Dakota Flynn and Amber Linen. Photo provided

The MUSC College of Health Professions Division of Occupational Therapy secured a $3.25 million Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant in 2020 to fund the HRSA-MUSC Occupational Therapy Scholarship. Each year for a period of five years, a total of $650,000 in scholarships will be awarded to 10 to 12 students in each cohort from geographically or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. To date, 36 recipients from three cohorts have received scholarships.

The scholarship will cover half the tuition and book costs for the duration of each recipients’ studies in the entry level Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) program. 

Cristina Smith, OTD, admissions director of the entry-level OTD program, helped to spearhead the scholarship grant along with division director Craig Velozo, Ph.D., OT, and College of Health Professions director of Strategic Initiatives, Randal Davis.

“Scholarships, particularly in the College of Health professions, have been very limited,” said Smith. “We’ve known for quite some time that this was an area we wanted to grow –especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.” 

The HRSA scholarship grant program focuses on medically underserved communities and provides funding for students from socioeconomically and environmentally disadvantaged backgrounds. Additionally, MUSC’s Division of Occupational Therapy utilizes a holistic admissions process, which looks at a broad range of factors, such as age, gender, disability status, veteran status and underrepresented minorities.

“Both within the Occupational Therapy (OT) program and across the college, we are working on long-term initiatives for scholarship development. The cost of higher education has become insurmountable for many people who are bright, talented and passionate, who could be serving in our profession,” said Smith.

Today, nearly one year after the Division of Occupational Therapy received the interprofessional national grant, the 36 OT scholarship recipients are already making an impact.

Creating and progressing meaningful change 

As part of the scholarship, each recipient is required to attend the majority of his or her field work experiences in medically underserved communities. They are also required to work within a medically underserved community for at least two years post-graduation. 

“Working in these communities has really permeated the class in terms of being something that’s worthwhile and matters,” said Smith. “It’s a great outcome of this scholarship that we weren’t necessarily expecting.” 

Occupational Therapy Scholarship recipient Gordon Washington leans on a building. 
Occupational Therapy Scholarship recipient Gordon Washington wants to give people hope when it comes to health care.

Bailey Bullock, currently a third-year student and HRSA-MUSC Occupational Therapy Scholarship recipient, is looking forward to a pediatric rotation, working with cardiac patients in Salt Lake City, Utah – an opportunity that she wouldn’t have been able to pursue without the scholarship aide. “Ultimately, I really want to make an impact on my patients and the community I’m part of, and that relates directly back to the HRSA scholarship,” says Bullock. 

As an integration of science, psychology and sometimes even the humanities, occupational therapy works throughout the life cycle, helping individuals to find more independence to do safely what is meaningful to them. “We’re trying to make a positive change in people’s lives,” said Gordon Washington, a first-year student recipient.

“Whenever I look at the profession overall, I see change and progression. I want to be a light in my community and give others hope, especially when it comes to health care,” he explained. 

Paving the way for future OT students 

Securing the HRSA grant was just the beginning of the journey. In early 2021, Smith and the scholarship program leadership hosted a student advisory meeting with their first two cohorts of scholarship recipients to look for areas where they could improve: One recurrent area of concern was the subject of financial planning.

Through listening to the students, the OT Division worked with the College of Health Profession’s Office of Student Engagement to present a workshop on financial management during orientation for all students. They’re also working on a peer-to-peer program for the scholarship program recipients. 

“It’s definitely leading to new initiatives and new outcomes,” said Smith. “I’m very passionate about leadership and leadership development, so we’re potentially looking to add a component along those lines, both to the scholarship program and the department as a whole.” 

In addition to increasing leadership development opportunities related to medically underserved communities for current students, the department has considered the creation of a future leadership development program for prospective occupational therapy students in high schools and undergraduate programs.

Occupational Therapy Scholarship recipient Bailey Bullock stands in front of the hospital. 
Occupational Therapy Scholar recipient Bailey Bullock will work with children suffering from heart problems.

“If a prospective student has not heard of occupational therapy as a career, he or she will not choose OT as a career 100% of the time,” said Smith.

As a board member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, and the first board member of color in several decades, Smith is passionate about increasing diversity within and awareness about occupational therapy. It’s a sentiment that’s also shared by Bullock and Washington, as they each hope to increase awareness for future OT students. 

“You’re buying into something that’s going to have a huge impact on someone’s life,” said Washington. “Just the relationship aspect of being an occupational therapist and helping your patient through whatever it is they need help with – you can’t get that in other professions, not like this.” 

“It’s a beautiful thing to have found a career where I can wake up every morning and empower someone to be a better version of themselves,” says Bullock. 

Students interested in applying for the scholarship can find more information and submit their applications here.

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