AOTA and NBCOT: Working Together for a Strong Profession
by Laura Collins
Occupational therapy practitioners are aware of the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). But you may not be aware of the distinct role of each organization and how we collaborate to strengthen the profession and better serve consumers.
NBCOT is the national credentialing organization; passing the certification exam and being certified by NBCOT entitles practitioners to use the credential OTR® (Occupational Therapist Registered) or COTA® (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant). Yet some practitioners may be surprised to know about NBCOT's broader role. Paul Grace, MS, CAE, executive director and CEO of NBCOT, emphasizes that, "we are more than the test. The test is important, but state regulatory boards rely on us for data. We provide information on credentials, disciplinary actions, and regulatory and certification renewal issues.. This allows us to serve a broader mission and consumer."
AOTA is the national membership organization representing occupational therapy, and it "advances the quality, availability, use, and support of occupational therapy through standard-setting, advocacy, education, and research on behalf of its members and the public" (American Occupational Therapy Association, n.d.). Its current strategic priorities include facilitating leadership opportunities among members; promoting public awareness of the profession; continuing strong federal and state advocacy to maintain coverage and reimbursement for current and expanding areas of practice; promoting research outcomes and evidence; and fostering international collaboration.
Grace notes that "the organizations are different, but we work in tandem. When I hear of something going on I let Fred know about it, and vice versa. We act together and independently, depending on the situation. Sharing information and working together ensures that we're both reading off the same page of music."
AOTA Executive Director Fred Somers agrees, noting, "Paul and I have built a very good working relationship, and we are in contact regularly about issues of mutual concern. We exchange information on practice trends, state regulatory developments, and credentialing trends. We provide information relative to the broader trends. NBCOT shares information about practice trends based on their periodic practice analysis used to update their exam. This adds to AOTA's view of what's going on, and the kinds of professional development our members can use."
Collaboration is not limited to discussions between the executive directors, however.
Neil Harvison, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, AOTA's director of Accreditation and Academic Affairs, notes that Grace meets with the members of the Accreditation Council of Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) at their annual fall meeting to exchange updates. ACOTE/AOTA has supported an NBCOT board observer at each education standards review committee meeting leading to the development of the new education standards, and NBCOT has supported ACOTE/AOTA staff observers at the NBCOT practice analysis and test development workshops. The collaborative relationship and ongoing information exchange between ACOTE/AOTA and NBCOT has been vital in meeting the needs of the academic programs preparing entry-level OTs and OTAs, says Harvison. In addition, Grace provides a report to the education program directors at the spring and fall meetings, sharing the most recent data and outcomes on graduates sitting for the certification exams and any new products and services being offered by NBCOT. The presentations also provide the opportunity for an open dialogue between NBCOT and the profession's academic leaders.
Additional collaboration occurs during NBCOT's state regulatory board forum, in which AOTA State Affairs staff participate each year. Over the years, AOTA staff have presented on topics such a scope of practice concerns and legislative initiatives to upgrade state occupational therapy laws to licensure. AOTA staff have also contributed information regarding efforts to implement health care reform at the state level, outlining both challenges and opportunities facing the occupational therapy profession.
Frank Gainer, MHS, OTR/L, FAOTA, CAE, AOTA's director of Conferences, points out that in November 2012, AOTA held the sixth AOTA/NBCOT Student Conclave. "As a sponsor, NBCOT offers three sessions: one session on certification, and two breakout sessions on exam prep for OT and OTA students. These exam prep sessions are consistently ranked among the top three of the Conclave each year," he says.
Because of this success, NBCOT is working with AOTA to offer exam prep sessions at the Annual Conference & Expo for the second year, in San Diego. NBCOT also exhibits at the Expo every year, providing practitioners with the opportunity to ask questions.
"What I value most is [NBCOT's] openness in looking at new ideas and ways to collaborate," says Somers. "The most recent example of this is our collaboration on a new exam prep product being created by AOTA Press."
"We believe that the profession needs a strong professional association," adds Grace. This is a profession that faces a lot of challenges, including changes in the economy and health care. United we stand."
American Occupational Therapy Association. (n.d.). Mission statement. Retrieved from http://www.aota.org/About.aspx
Laura Collins is the communications director of AOTA.