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Program prepares tomorrow's occupational therapists (3/3/97)

Occupational therapists work in one of health care's fastest growing professions, and The University of Texas-Pan American at Edinburg is helping to meet the demand with the Rio Grande Valley's first degree program in occupational therapy.

The inaugural class of 16 students began studying for their bachelor of science degree in May 1996, and will graduate in 1998. Students such as Jennifer Gillispie, who lives in nearby McAllen, welcome the opportunity. "I feel fortunate because now I can live at home with my parents, save some money, and be back in the Valley," she said.

The nearest similar program is in San Antonio or Galveston.

Funds from the South Texas/Border Health Education Initiative helped start the program. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which directs the initiative, shares its instructional program with UT-Pan American. Pan American has its own faculty, and coursework carried out in local clinics.

The two campuses are 230 miles away, but modern technology allows them to share key lectures by using two-way interactive television. Instructors can be in either city, and students participate as if they were in one classroom.

The South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative is a special legislative project in health-care education between The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and its partners from Laredo to the Rio Grande Valley and Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend of Texas.

Occupational therapists work with physicians to help patients regain their health, mobility and independence after illness or injury. Their patients range from infants to the elderly. They help arthritis sufferers, and stroke victims, infants and children with developmental problems, people with social or emotional problems, and patients confronting the difficulties of aging.

Students at UT-Pan American complete prerequisite courses in their freshman and sophomore years, then follow a two-year instructional program and perform nine months of field work at clinics, hospitals or other sites where occupational therapists are needed. With their degrees, the students are prepared to be certified and enter a dynamic field of health care.

Contact: Jim Barrett (210) 567-2570