ECU top producer of recreational therapists


ECU senior Laura Gremore, far left, provides recreational therapy assistance at Rocking Horse Ranch in Greenville, where she completed an internship.(Photo by Chuck Baldwin)


By Kathy Muse
For ECU News Services

East Carolina University’s recreational therapy program has been ranked the largest producer of certified therapeutic recreation specialists in the University of North Carolina system.

Recreational therapists provide treatment services to individuals with illnesses and disabilities in rehabilitation, mental health, long-term care and other facilities. According to the North Carolina Board of Recreational Therapy Licensure, East Carolina University contributed 41 percent of the newly licensed recreational therapists in 2012.

“This accomplishment reflects both the ability of our faculty to educate quality licensed recreational therapists and the need for those specialists in the state of North Carolina,” said Dr. Glen Gilbert, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance.

ECU graduates have been successful in finding employment and prospects look good for the future. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that employment of recreational therapists will increase by 17 percent from 2010 to 2020 based on the therapy needs of an aging population.


ECU graduate Whitney Sauter works with equipment in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Gym at Vidant Medical Center.

Lacey Burgess graduated from ECU in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree from the health fitness specialist program and in 2012 with a master’s degree in recreational therapy administration and a certificate in aquatic therapy. Offered a few jobs before graduation, Burgess accepted a position at a psychiatric residential treatment facility for at-risk youth in Wilmington. Now she’s starting a recreational therapy program for the company’s new location in Charlotte.

“I am proud to be a part of the growing field of recreational therapy,” said Burgess. “When I first learned about it, I was intrigued that it involves all domain areas: physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual.”

Whitney Sauter earned a master’s degree from ECU in recreational therapy in 2011. She accepted a position in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation program at Vidant Medical Center.

Sauter was attracted to the program at ECU because of its concentration on evidence-based practice and research. “The curriculum provided me with the education and hands-on experience necessary to provide quality, goal-driven recreational therapy treatment services,” she said.

Jim Barrett, manager of the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at Vidant Medical Center, has worked with ECU recreational therapy students for 35 years.  “I have supervised hundreds of students and many interns,” said Barrett.  “The students I’ve hired are well versed in the field of recreational therapy and have a good background of hands-on experiences.”

The recreational therapy curriculum at ECU is “one of only a handful of programs that has earned accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs through the Committee on Accreditation of Recreational Therapy Education,” said Dr. Susan McGhee, professor of recreation and leisure studies. The program offers 16 recreational therapy courses in the undergraduate and graduate degree programs and two post baccalaureate certificates in aquatic therapy and biofeedback.

Eight faculty members in the program “are all nationally credentialed and state licensed,” according to Dr. Deb Jordan, chair of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.

“These are clear demonstrations of faculty talents and program quality,” she said.


ECU recreation and leisure studies professor Dr. Susan McGhee, pictured above, has served as a leader in curriculum development as the university’s recreational therapy program evolved from a bachelor’s concentration with only three specialized courses in the 1970s into an accredited program offering 16 courses with bachelor’s and master’s degrees programs as well as post baccalaureate certificates. (Photo by Chuck Baldwin)