This story is from annual selection of "Newsmakers."

This story is from our annual selection of "Newsmakers." Our newsroom selects a half dozen people each January to profile who may not be in front of the public every day, but are part of the key pool of citizens moving forward the projects and topics our area cares about.

FISHERSVILLE Imagine raising a crop of new education programs, job prospects, and a 55,000 square foot campus faster than it takes an orchard to bear apples.

That's what Linda Seestedt-Stanford did in planting Mary Baldwin's Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences on a knoll overlooking 30 acres in Fishersville.

The students who matriculated in June came from other states as well as across Virginia to be part of new doctoral programs in occupational and physical therapies for aspiring therapists, the first entry-level OT doctoral program in the state.

A master's in physician assistant studies, as well as an online nursing RN to BSN program that allows working nurses to upgrade their credentials with an in-demand bachelor's degree, start next August.

While Seestedt-Stanford downplays her role as "a process thing," her efforts will touch the lives of young professionals, employers and healthcare consumers in the Valley and beyond for years to come.

Filling a critical need

Occupational therapists help people carry out tasks when an injury or illness makes it challenging to do so, while physical therapists enable people to regain lost function. Experts predict shortages of both as our population ages and more people gain health coverage.

"The board did their homework well," said Seestedt-Stanford. "They did extensive feasibility studies and community outreach, and the concept received a resounding 'yes.'"

In 2011, Mary Baldwin's board began a search for an orchestrator, experienced in building new curricula. With 40 years as a faculty member, clinic director and founding dean of a college of health sciences, Seestedt-Stanford had that, and more.

Attracting top faculty

By 2025, occupational therapists will be expected to have a doctorate to enter the practice. But faculty to teach the groundswell of students eager to enter the field are scarce.

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