What motivation does a qualified, practising clinical therapist have to pursue a postgraduate qualification in their field of expertise? There are, in fact, numerous incentives to do so – several of which are unrelated to the acquisition of a different or more lucrative job. Trinity College Dublin, for instance, offers a taught MSc (Master of Science) in Occupational Therapy, which provides qualified practitioners with a number of compelling reasons to apply.
Dr Deirdre Connolly, Trinity’s co-ordinator of postgraduate studies in Occupational Therapy, explains: ‘The students we have in our postgraduate Masters are already qualified occupational therapists. So, the main thing they want to do at this stage is to develop their research skills. Secondly, they also want to get a deeper understanding of what drives occupational therapy practice – what theoretical perspectives they can look at (as) the base and the core of their practice. And they’re also coming to brush up on any new developments around occupational therapy theory and practice.’
Occupational therapy is a practice devoted to enabling people with limitations or impairments to take part in everyday activities. Applicants to the Trinity programme, which is pursued over two years in a part-time capacity, usually need to have two years of practical experience to secure a place. Dr Connolly believes the course will not take occupational therapists on a wildly different career path to the one they were on beforehand – but says it does open up good opportunities to make progress.
She says: ‘In terms of career possibilities, (the course) won’t lead them into a different career. It may, down the line, give them the opportunity to look at management positions. You have to have a Masters to become an occupational therapy manager now.’
UL (University of Limerick) offers a PGDip (Postgraduate Diploma)/MSc in Clinical Therapies – a course that is open to occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and speech and language therapists. Physiotherapy is a discipline devoted to the maintenance of good movement and functional ability in humans, while speech and language therapy is concerned with the treatment of people with communication difficulties.
This programme is offered to clinical therapists who are eligible for registration with the relevant Irish professional bodies: the AOTI (Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland), the ISCP (Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists) and the IASLT (Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists). Course director Kieran O’Sullivan says participants have a wide variety of motivations for pursuing the qualification.
He explains: ‘Most clinicians see the programme as a means of enhancing their critical analysis and clinical reasoning skills. Completion of the PGDip/MSc may facilitate promotion and enhance career prospects. Many local clinicians also complete individual modules without completing the entire programme, as they use specific modules to address their own individual learning needs.’
The programme is offered on a part-time or full-time basis over a maximum of five years. Those wishing to progress to the Masters programme must get at least a 2.1 in the PGDip. Successful completion of a thesis is required to be awarded the MSc qualification. Given that the course encompasses three different disciplines, the programme allows for a great deal of flexibility – as O’Sullivan explains.
‘Some modules are multidisciplinary – to replicate the clinical setting where these professions work together in multidisciplinary teams – and provide the opportunity to exchange ideas and approaches to clinical practice,’ he says. ‘Certain modules are also
discipline-specific, where appropriate. Within most modules there is the flexibility for participants to choose their direction of learning, to accommodate their individual learning needs and particular areas of interest.’
Indeed, flexibility is also a key element of Trinity’s Occupational Therapy programme – in terms of both the frequency with which the course content is updated, and the self-directed approach to learning it encourages among its participants.
Dr Connolly explains: ‘Occupational therapy has expanded a lot and become better known – and we have a lot more occupational therapists in the country as well. We try to reflect the current needs of practice when we’re designing the course. We do upgrade it and we change it.’
She continues: ‘I think the course is flexible, in terms of the students being able to customise it in terms of their own needs and their own practice areas. The research methods would be very much based on the area of research that they want to do. We do advise students to research an area of their own practice.’
Of course, the deployment of such an approach makes it necessary for programme participants to bring a good deal of practical experience into the course with them. Dr Connolly explains: ‘We like (participants) to be working for a minimum of two years, because it’s kind of a two-way process. We feel they have more to offer the course, as they have the practice experience behind them – and they can apply those practice experiences to the modules that we do.’
There are several other postgraduate programmes in clinical therapies available in Ireland. For instance, UCC (University College Cork) offers Postgraduate Certificate, PGDip and MSc qualifications in Advanced Healthcare Practice. These courses are open to occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and speech and language therapists. Candidates must have a professional qualification from approved schools, gaining a 2:2 or higher from their primary degree. Alternatively, they may have the equivalent professional diploma and two years of experience. The Certificate, PGDip and MSc qualifications are pursued over maximum periods of two, three and five years, respectively.
UCD (University College Dublin) offers a PGDip/MSc in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy for practising physiotherapists. Applicants must be eligible for ISCP registration and have two years of experience subsequent to obtaining their qualification. The course is conducted on a part-time basis over two years.
So, there are quite a few exciting postgraduate programmes in clinical therapies available in Ireland – almost all of which boast a pleasing willingness to adapt to their participants’ needs.