In 1940 NYU's School of Education established a program to educate occupational therapists at the urging of Eleanor Clarke Slagle, then president of the New York State Occupational Therapy Association, making NYU one of a handful of university-level institutions to educate OTs. From 1941 to 1942 Susan Colson Wilson, Director of OT at Brooklyn State Hospital, taught the first OT courses.
In 1942, Frieda J. Behlen became the first full-time instructor of the OT program which she concurrently was developing, earning its approval by the Council on Medical Education of the American Medical Association in collaboration with the American Occupational Therapy Association (1943). During those first years of the program's existence, Behlen taught all of the applied OT theory courses. NYU's was the only OT school at the time to offer courses for both day and evening students and to accept male students and black students.
In 1953 NYU's Department of Occupational Therapy developed a post-professional master's degree program, and in 1973 it established the first doctor of philosophy program in occupational therapy in the world. In 1981, the Department developed innovative work-study post-professional master's programs that attracted students from around the world. A key aspect of these programs was the completion of master's research project related to practice specialization.
The Department began to phase out the bachelor's degree program in 1993, requiring that all professional-level preparation be done at the master's degree level. By focusing only on master's and doctoral students, the Department has reaffirmed its primary mission of innovative, quality professional education.
In response to changes in the profession, the Department launched a practice doctoral degree program in 2007. The Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program focuses on providing therapists opportunities to develop advanced knowledge and skills needed for competent and ethical practice.
The Department of Occupational Therapy's location in the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, with its extensive range of programs in education, health, and the arts professions, continues to provide opportunities to prepare innovative practitioners. Today, alumni throughout the world practice with the knowledge that their education has provided them with in-depth expertise to benefit members of society.