Loretta Foster, MS, COTA/L
Describe your journey of leadership. Where and when did you begin? What made you want to be involved in OTA leadership?
After I earned a master’s degree in management and a graduate certificate in health care administration in 2004 from the University of Maryland University College, I received a letter from the Dean, congratulating me for my accomplishment.
The message in that letter conveyed that with my degree, I could be a leader and achieve goals either at work or in my community. Although I was not interested in pursuing a job in management at the time, I thought I could make a difference if I became involved in my state professional association. That was when I made the phone call to Robin Klein, the Maryland Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA) president at that time, to volunteer for the OTA Representative position. I was accepted. While assuming that role, I tried to find ways to increase OTA membership and involvement.
Did you have mentors?
Judy Blum, vice president of MOTA, and the Director of the OTA Program at the Community College of Baltimore County at Catonsville, offered suggestions and was supportive of my ideas.
How did your mentors help you become a leader or a better leader?
As MOTA OTA Representative, I was invited to meet and greet OTA students at the Community College of Baltimore at Catonsville. We felt this would give the students an understanding of the professional organization of their state. This gave me the opportunity to plan and organize as I brought OTAs already working in the field to visit the students. Judy also advised me to plan meetings and suggested speakers that were willing to present so that CE credit could be earned.
One of my goals as OTA Representative was to bring more attention to our state association among OTA students. My idea of presenting gift bags to OTA graduates was well received by the MOTA executive board as well as the OTA program directors from the Community College of Baltimore at Catonsville and Allegany College of Maryland.
Why is OTA leadership important? How does OTA leadership benefit the profession?
I believe OTA leadership is important because OTAs have a tremendous amount to offer to our profession in the consumer advocacy area, and in serving as role models for OT and OTA students and new graduates. As an occupational therapy practitioner, I see firsthand how vital OTAs are to our field. With personnel shortages, it is critical for consumers that OTAs continue to provide services and that they do so to the fullest extent possible, according to state regulations. With insurance and political issues, as well as regulatory concerns, it is paramount that we, as OTAs, stay informed, so that we can act or react as needed to keep our profession as we have come to know it.
What advice would you give someone who is considering a leadership journey? What are some first steps that OTAs, who are just starting out, can take?
I believe it is important for OTAs to become members of their professional organizations, at the state and national level (AOTA). Once they are members, it is a good idea to volunteer for a committee so they can meet and get to know others in the field of OT. Everyone has something they can offer. As new practitioners become involved, it will strengthen the volunteer-based committees.
How do you plan to continue your leadership?
I will continue my involvement in both MOTA and AOTA. Technology, e-mail, and the Internet all make it easier to participate in volunteer roles. As the OTA Representative on the AOTA Ethics Commission, I meet with other committee members via telephone or e-mail. I am learning about the Ethics Standards that guide those in our profession and hope to continue this work.
I also volunteer with MOTA by retrieving telephone messages for the association and relaying messages to the appropriate people. I can perform these tasks from home using telephone and e-mail. I benefit from every position I choose to accept as it helps me to become more knowledgeable about our profession.