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History in the making: WVU School of Medicine celebrates first class to graduate from Occupational Therapy Doctoral program

As a first-generation college student, Loryn Frame has made a habit of going first. Now, she’s part of the first class of students to graduate from the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) program.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to help people, and I knew I wanted to be a Mountaineer,” said Frame, a Buckhannon, West Virginia native.

As a soon-to-be occupational therapy graduate from WVU, she’s achieved both dreams.

Growing up, Frame experienced multiple family members go through rehabilitation to get back to their lives after sustaining injuries. This sparked her initial interest in the health care field, but she didn’t know what that career could be. Then, during an undergraduate class, she had her “ah-ha” moment.

“During that class, I learned that occupational therapists work on specific skills that a client needs,” Frame said. “It was exactly the career I had been looking for. Since then, I’ve found my passion in occupational therapy. This career is extremely rewarding as you get to directly impact the lives of your patients by helping them do the things that make their lives meaningful.”

Frame was drawn to occupational therapy because of the person-centered, holistic approach practitioners take, focusing not only on physical barriers patients face but also cognitive and psychological barriers.

She explained that anything a person does in a day is an occupation. There is a misconception that occupational therapists get people back to the workplace, but that is a very small percentage of what they do. Occupational therapists aid people in completing everyday tasks such as brushing their teeth, learning to drive again, taking care of a child, or even playing the guitar following injury, illness, or disability. They also help with mental health-related activities such as managing medications or aiding with coping skills.

For Frame, the decision to go to WVU and join the first cohort of OTD students was easy.

“I wanted to go to OT school at WVU because of the many opportunities I knew this program would provide,” Frame explained “WVU’s OT program is part of a medical school, which isn’t the case for all programs. That gives students different opportunities like the cadaver lab. The program's biggest advantage is the hands-on practical skill focus that has made me feel more competent when entering fieldwork.”

The WVU Division of Occupational Therapy has offered a master’s of occupational therapy degree since 1999. Diana Davis, Ph.D., OTR/L, OTD program director and associate professor said the decision to add the doctoral program was in response to the changing nature of occupational therapy practice. They also wanted to ensure students could obtain the degree without leaving West Virginia.

“The OTD program has an additional focus on leadership, advocacy and practice in emerging areas,” Davis explained. “Occupational therapists are more frequently offering care outside the traditional medical model and are now working in community-based settings such as sober living, services for individuals experiencing homelessness, aging in place, driving rehabilitation and wellness.”

The program’s focus on nontraditional medical settings has been a highlight for Frame. During her time at WVU, she has had the opportunity to conduct fieldwork with the unhoused population, athletes and those with substance use disorders.

In addition to the traditional 24 weeks of fieldwork education required for MOT and OTD students, OTD students complete a capstone project in a specialized occupational therapy area. The capstone experience allows students to develop advanced skills in project development and evaluation, clinical practice, research and advocacy.

Frame said her capstone project focusing on WVU Athletics has been the project she’s been most passionate about. The project explores what life looks like for athletes who are in transition from leaving their sport.

“My project specifically looks at athletes beyond the field,” Frame said. “Some struggle as they transition out of their ‘athletic identity.’ I work with them on skills to help them cope with this. I’ve also created a cohort called ‘Athletes in Medicine,’ where former athletes interested in entering the medical field can learn to be more competitive applicants to programs.”

After graduation, Frame hopes to continue to advance the field of occupational therapy in athletics. In the future, she also envisions herself using her unique set of skills to help individuals with substance use disorder by opening a sober living house.

“Loryn exemplifies the type of student we envisioned would obtain the OTD degree when we created it,” Davis said. “She is a West Virginia native who wants to use her skills, talent and OT knowledge to improve the health and wellness of West Virginians. She has demonstrated high drive and motivation to make a difference since she entered the program and we are confident that she will excel. The students in this cohort embody the WVU motto of ‘Mountaineers go first.’”

The OTD program is fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), making it the only fully accredited doctoral program of its kind in West Virginia.

Learn more about the occupational therapy programs at