The first cohort of new program for business leadership in occupational therapy share their experience

Learn about the first cohort to complete the dual MBA/MScOT degree, as they discuss their impactful roles in large organizations and private practices, showcasing how their unique blend of business and occupational therapy expertise is set to transform health care.

Jennifer Fitzgerald - 11 December 2023

The graduates of a unique program that combines a master of business administration with a master of science in occupational therapy (MBA/MScOT) is equipping students to tackle modern healthcare challenges through a combination of clinical expertise, business strategy, and innovative thinking.

We spoke with three MBA/MScOT students, who earned two degrees in just three and a half years, providing them with a unique edge in the health-care industry.

Christiana Reitsma

Christiana Reitsma’s experience in the MBA/MScOT program gave her a new perspective and skills to work in leadership in both a large organization and a small private practice. 

She found value in working on projects during placements that not only benefited from her therapy background but also required a keen business sense. “I worked on proposals addressing employee safety in therapeutic settings, balancing therapeutic concerns with financial and administrative considerations,” she says. 

Reitsma’s diverse placements allowed her to apply her combined skills expanding programs into schools at CASA Mental Health and assisting in the expansion of business strategy for Action OT, a private practice.

Her placement on the occupational health and safety team at CASA involved closely working with staff on various projects, including ergonomics. “The team valued my therapy perspective, and my insights into ergonomic proposal development were well-received,” says Reitsma. 

At the private practice, she says, “I encountered challenges like managing insurance providers and adjusting services based on client demographics. 

“I was able to conduct business analyses, develop proposals, and answer questions for the organization”

The journey through the MBA had some hurdles. “Despite enjoying math in high school, the complexities of finance, statistics, and accounting are not areas typically practised in occupational therapy. I now feel more able to understand ways of streamlining various processes to enhance efficiency,” she shares.

Reitsma plans to start her career at the Northwest Child Development Center in British Columbia, focusing on working with children. “I look forward to stepping into leadership roles as opportunities develop, while also continuing to hone my clinical skills. Completing the MBA and MScOT gives me confidence to think that someday I may also open a private practice!” she says.

Julia Roth

As Julia Roth nears the end of the MBA/MScOT program, her recent placement at Calgary's Mustard Seed, a non-profit dedicated to helping adults facing homelessness, proved to be immensely valuable. She wasn't just interacting with clients; she was involved in program creation, development, evaluation, and even operational tasks such as setting up shelters and formulating policy manuals.

Roth notes that success in non-profit environments often stems from a passion-driven approach. "Working collaboratively, actively pursuing your interests and voicing your goals is key. I would also say to future students, stay open-minded, embrace new challenges, and leverage every opportunity to learn and grow.”

“My focus was on transitioning shelters from being emergency-focused to housing-focused, addressing the growing issue of homelessness,” she explains. Roth conducted extensive research on this new model and developed new policies and procedures for the Mustard Seed. 

The short-term project-centric approach of her placements proved effective. “I was able to play a role in the recent establishment of a new shelter exclusively for women, vitally addressing a gap in services,” she mentions.

Roth's unique blend of MBA and OT training helped her facilitate collaborations with professionals during her placements. “I could easily understand the domains of finance, HR, policymaking, and client interaction, which is a benefit of this MBA program,” she adds. 

“This placement has boosted my confidence significantly. Initially, I questioned whether my education was sufficient and if combining an MBA with my career was wise. But seeing occupational therapists excel in leadership roles, I've gained clarity and confidence in my future career path,” she says.  “I believe learning to think flexibly is crucial. In my experience, both the OT aspect and the business side heavily involve problem-solving. Practicing this skill in a safe environment, I've found, is the most effective learning experience one can have.”

Jillian Slamko

Jillian Slamko’s initial interest in the business world was ignited by her father, a chartered accountant. Encouraged by him, she saw the MBA as a means to bridge her interests in OT and business, and the experience has reshaped her career aspirations. “This route turned out to be a perfect crossover,” she says. 

Her placements provided her with a wealth of experiences. “At St. Michael's Health Group, specializing in long-term care, I worked with geriatric populations, focusing on a variety of services ranging from wheelchair consultations to wound care. The day's tasks could vary significantly, but we focus on the importance of client-centric care,” she says.

Another of her placements was at CBI Health, a private clinic. “While I may not have applied hard business skills like finance or SWOT analysis directly, the leadership and soft skills I developed during my MBA training were instrumental,” she adds.

With increased responsibility came invaluable growth for Slamko, but the relationships she built — both with colleagues and clients — had the biggest impact. She collaborated with speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and educators in educational environments and joined forces with physical therapists, psychologists and other professionals at CBI Health. “I believe at the heart of OT, and perhaps any profession, is the connection we build with those we serve.”

“I was initially attracted to a government position, but now I find myself drawn towards private practice, particularly its intersection with mental health,” says Slamko. “The collaboration between OTs and psychologists fascinates me.”

A new way forward

Slamko envisions a brighter future for OT professionals with business backgrounds. “As health-care decisions become more complex, there's a pressing need for individuals who understand both the clinical and business aspects. Being able to merge these worlds can provide valuable perspectives, especially when it comes to policymaking and advocacy at higher organizational levels,” she says.

Slamko and her peers are pioneers in this program. "When I would mention to my preceptors about taking a year off for the MBA, they were surprised,” she recalls. “Many in the private practice world did not know this program existed, and said how helpful a program like this would have been to them early on in their careers.” 

As the first students of this unique program complete their placements, we can expect more professionals, like Slamko, to challenge norms and explore new and innovative practices in OT, says Shaniff Esmail, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy. “Congratulations to the first cohort of the MBA/MScOT program!” says Esmail. “Their commitment and flexibility in their academic studies and clinical leadership placement showcase their potential to influence the future of the profession.”