State Association Presidents Attend Leadership Development Institute
By Ashley Opp
For the past year, AOTA leaders, staff, and members have been working very hard to show that the Centennial Vision is real, relevant, and achievable. Here is an update on the progress of our shared journey.
This Centennial Vision article (the first in a series) will focus on a particular objective of the Vision while simultaneously examining where the Association is and where it’s going. This article explores what Goal 1 of the Strategic Plan—“Building the capacity to fulfill the profession’s potential and mission”—means in practice, and what AOTA has been doing to bring such a bold goal to fruition.
What Does “Build the Capacity” Mean?
The basic intention of this goal is to position the occupational therapy profession and its workforce to be responsive to society, its issues, and its key drivers. AOTA’s efforts have been largely guided by six priorities identified by the Board of Directors (in no particular order): to (1) develop and promote a contemporary research agenda with the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF); (2) develop a model curriculum for OT and OTA educational programs; (3) increase public awareness and image-building activities; (4) heighten the focus on advocacy and reimbursement activities in key areas; (5) build stronger linkages between education, research, and practice; and (6) create a universal electronic outcomes database.
A significant part of this “building capacity” includes ensuring that there is an adequate and diverse workforce, which means that occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants fill roles as educators, scientists, or researchers, all of whom are prepared to practice and solve the occupational needs of society. “Having a diverse workforce also means that the profession begins to look like society and those whom we serve, so we need to increase the recruitment efforts for practitioners of diverse backgrounds,” says Maureen Peterson, MS, OT/L, FAOTA, AOTA’s chief professional affairs officer.
Ensuring a multifaceted and well-prepared workforce also means bringing a measure of consistency to occupational therapy education so that all graduates enter the occupational therapy field with the skills to contribute to the health and wellness of individuals, organizations, and communities. To this end, two model curriculum ad hoc groups have been appointed by AOTA President Penny Moyers, EdD, OTR/L, BCMH, FAOTA. Both groups—one for occupational therapists and one for occupational therapy assistants—are charged with developing guidance for a model curriculum that also raises the bar for students. In another education-related effort, in the coming months AOTA’s Commission on Education will work on a number of recommendations relative to improving various issues related to fieldwork.
In addition to addressing education, “we need to build the capacity of the profession to develop science and scientists to analyze the core issues of occupation, generate the evidence to support practice, and teach the next generation of clinicians the importance of using science and evidence in their practice,” says Fred Somers, AOTA’s Executive Director. To achieve this goal, AOTA is actively recruiting for a newly created research director position. The AOTA and AOTF Boards of Directors also have jointly approved the creation of a Research Advisory Panel (RAP). The presidents of both organizations have appointed members to this panel, whose first goal is to closely examine the profession’s research priorities and determine whether they align with the current priorities of funding agencies, particularly federal funding agencies.
One of the last pieces of building occupational therapy’s capacity is to remedy the leadership shortage across the profession and to position occupational therapy practitioners in leadership arenas internally and externally. The initial steps toward realizing this goal were taken together by AOTA/AOTF through a Leadership Mentoring Program, which addressed the critical need to systematically enhance the emergence of new leaders within the academic community. Eighteen emerging academic leaders received fellowships to participate in this highly successful 9-month leadership mentoring process. AOTA is now planning a leadership training session with a small group of state association presidents who will be selected by an application process. Consultants for the leadership session are currently being interviewed.
“These leadership activities are the first step of what we hope will be an entire leadership development and training initiative for the Association,” says Peterson. In its ongoing advocacy work in state capitals and in Washington, DC, AOTA continually promotes leadership by individual practitioners. For example, more than 100 occupational therapy advocates visited with senators and representatives during AOTA’s Capitol Hill Day on September 17.
In terms of promoting the profession, extensive media coverage of occupational therapy has been achieved recently in media outlets such as the Washington Post, Newsweek, CNN, and Real Simple magazine. “People really need to understand the value of who we are and what we do. In order to do that, we really want to clarify, define, and standardize the occupational therapy message and promote it through active public relations activities,” says Christina Metzler, AOTA’s chief public affairs officer. A nationally recognized public relations firm has been hired to create a message and develop ways to disseminate it over the next several years.
In regard to creating an outcomes database, a phase-one ad hoc committee worked to identify appropriate constructs for occupational therapy outcome measures, and reviewed several existing measurement systems. Their final report is available online. For phase two, the committee recommends using the “Areas of Occupation” that appear in the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process as constructs, and have recommended AOTA partner with one of the existing organizations to develop and manage an outcomes database.
This flurry of activity illustrates a shared purpose to make the Centennial Vision real. “To me, the most exciting thing about the Vision is how all of the different constituencies and groups, including AOTA, state associations, the Representative Assembly, student organizations, program directors, the Board, and the membership, have aligned with the Vision and are developing strategic plans for how they can make it happen and contribute to its realization,” says Florence Clark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, AOTA vice president and chairperson of the Centennial Commission.
“AOTA wants members first and foremost to know about the Centennial Vision,” Peterson says. She recommends that members continually check the Centennial Vision Web page to see regular Centennial Vision “journal entries” from President Penny Moyers. She also suggests looking at immediate Past-President Carolyn Baum’s Farewell Address, which gave practitioners a template to look at their own practice—to see how Vision-oriented they are right now, and what they need to do personally to get ready for 2017. (See the November/December issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy for the complete address.)
“Every practitioner’s everyday activities are going to make a difference on whether or not we achieve the Centennial Vision,” Clark says. “It’s going to occur through the cumulative day-to-day decision making of all of us in the occupational therapy community to do things that are in alignment with Centennial Vision.”
“We want members to talk to us and share their stories,” Peterson says. “We want members to use evidence to find creative ways to meet societal needs. Essentially, we want members to be engaged in achieving the Vision because it is a shared one that came out of the entire community. It will not come to fruition unless all of us are working toward the same goal. It is a journey that is meant to be taken by all of us together.”
Spreading the Word
Moyers, Board members, staff members, and other leaders are giving Centennial Vision presentations around the country as requested by state associations. Clark is creating an annotated PowerPoint presentation that will be posted on AOTA’s Web site this fall.
Although all of AOTA’s staff and leadership efforts are a good start, the Centennial Vision really hinges on members disseminating the Vision to others. “They should become fluent in the key words that are associated with the Vision—like powerful, science-driven, evidence-based, diverse—and structure their day-to-day activities so that they become aware of how their actions move the Vision forward,” Clark says.
Ultimately, raising awareness about the Centennial Vision raises awareness of occupational therapy. As Clark points out, “A great thing about the Vision is that it is helping us to develop the messages, sound bites, and education materials so we can create long-overdue awareness of what occupational therapy is and can do.”
“Right now we’re building the foundation of the Vision. All of the initiatives that we’re currently pursuing will enable us to proceed to the next stage of the journey that will move us toward the Vision,” says Somers. “We’re building thoughtfully and purposefully.”
Ashley Opp is Senior Staff Writer at AOTA.