“Pulling from her diverse experiences and passion for occupational therapy, Dr. Turpin is contributing to a doctoral program rooted in hands-on learning, community, and service.”
by Sarah Murphy
The Occupational Therapy Doctoral (OTD) program at Presbyterian College may have just entered its second year in January 2022, but one could argue its beginnings go back much farther. In fact, Dr. Melissa Turpin ‘08 first set foot in Bailey Hall, the building now home to OT, when she was just ten years old.
“I attended a soccer camp at PC as a kid, and I actually stayed in Bailey Hall during the camp,” says Turpin, who today is both an associate professor and admissions coordinator for the OTD program. “It’s funny to think I stayed in the same building I’m working in now.”
Since childhood, Turpin has found her way back to PC twice. She attended the college as an undergrad, completing her bachelor’s degree in 2008 with a major in psychology and minor in biology. In 2020, Turpin was given the opportunity to return to PC and be part of the new OTD program, which welcomed its first cohort in 2021. Turpin’s OT expertise, unique background, and passion for the profession has been pivotal in the foundation of the OTD, now in its second year.
Making an International Impact
After leaving Clinton, SC in 2008, Turpin worked in the Charleston area for 10 years in a variety of practice settings, including school-based OT; early intervention home-based services; skilled nursing; assisted living; and acute care. She received her Master of Rehabilitation Science Degree in Occupational Therapy from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in 2011 and completed five international medical mission trips to Nicaragua with OneWorld Health between 2015-2019. While in Nicaragua, Turpin served as therapy team lead, educating both patients and doctors about the benefits of OT—a profession that isn’t readily available in Nicaragua, if at all. This experience fueled her desire to return to school.
“I went back to MUSC for my doctorate because I saw this lack of support for children with special needs in Nicaragua,” says Turpin. “These children often just stay at home. I knew there was more that could be done.”
Turpin was part of the first cohort of MUSC’s Post-Professional OTD program. She incorporated her experiences from her medical mission trips in her capstone project, where she designed and implemented a professional development program for teachers at a school in Nicaragua for children with special needs. Not only is the project being brought to life in Nicaragua, but the program abstract was selected from over 3,000 submissions to be presented at the World Federation of Occupational Therapists Congress this August 2022 in Paris.
Nicaragua isn’t the only international community Turpin is impacting through her OT work. She is currently serving as an adjunct faculty member at the University of the Southern Caribbean – Trinidad campus. Using virtual instruction, Turpin will teach both adult and pediatric health conditions. She will also collaborate with Dr. Patty Coker-Bolt of MUSC, who is completing her Fulbright Scholarship this summer in-person in Trinidad, to develop the pediatric curriculum for the summer semester OT courses.
Bringing OT to PC
Since returning to PC in 2020, Turpin has used her collection of experiences to help lay the building blocks of the PC OTD program. She also still clocks time at the clinic, working as an occupational therapist at a skilled nursing facility in nearby Laurens, SC. The majority of the PC OT faculty are practicing clinicians as well, which helps them to stay on top of what’s relevant in the field.
“If I work at the nursing home on Friday, I can come to class on Monday and bring my students a very relevant case study,” says Turpin. “Our faculty hasn’t lost touch of what is going on in the field, and we can easily get our students out into the community that we’re a part of.”
Turpin also touts the renovation of Bailey Hall, once home to her childhood soccer camp, as another major benefit for PC students.
“Our entire building was designed specifically for occupational therapy education,” says Turpin. “Whereas other programs share their space with other health sciences, Bailey Hall is all OT. The building has four lab spaces that are specifically designed to provide students with experiential learning opportunities.” This includes a kitchen, grocery store and more.
Turpin and her fellow faculty members are working on a grant to develop a student-run clinic within Bailey Hall that would provide occupational therapy services to persons in the Clinton community who are uninsured or underinsured. The EXPLORE Center, as they call it, would have four separate treatment spaces to include driving rehabilitation and pediatrics.
“We do a lot of hands-on learning—very rarely do we lecture,” says Turpin. “Plus, our class sizes are small, which allows us to get to know our students better and really meet them where they’re at.”
For Turpin, returning to Clinton this third time has felt extra special. Now able to draw upon years of her own education and a wealth of experiences from around the globe, she’s thankful to be able to play such an integral role in a program and community that feels like home.
“This has been an incredible experience for me from the beginning,” says Turpin. “I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to build a program and curriculum from the ground up while also still doing what I love: being with students in the classroom.”
To learn more about the Presbyterian College Occupational Therapy Doctoral program, visit the program page.