Student Fieldwork Experience at AOTA

The Medical College of Georgia

As a volunteer in the State Affairs Group at AOTA, I learned the importance of involvement for students as well as practitioners in their professional organizations. Some schools require students to be a member of both the state and national occupational therapy organizations as part of the curriculum.

I think that this effort to create involvement and awareness about the key roles of organizations plays an essential part in the advancement of the profession.

During my experience at AOTA, my understanding of the organization expanded beyond what I learned in the classroom and served to really enlighten me about the importance of active membership in such organizations.

Over the course of my 8-week commitment, I had many experiences that allowed me to understand the diversity of the organization and to see the many facets of occupational therapy that AOTA strives to improve.

I learned the valuable role that volunteers play in our organization. They guide the vision of the profession by serving as members of the Board of Directors, or as part of the Representative Assembly, or as members of various commissions and committees, or participating in any other bodies of AOTA. Members are called upon to be sources of inspiration, knowledge, and support for the advancement of the profession. I also learned that the staff at AOTA is not comprised of only occupational therapists, but of professionals from many different backgrounds who work toward one common goal: to serve the organization's members and to protect and advance occupational therapy as a profession.

As part of my assignments, I worked on monitoring state regulations related to occupational therapy. One of the key factors determining whether a profession will succeed is ensuring that laws are in place to protect a profession, and even to allow it to exist. This is one of the roles that AOTA plays in benefiting occupational therapy practitioners.

Students often see the benefits of AOTA in terms of continuing education, receiving a magazine, or getting answers to questions about practice; but the advocacy, promotion, and protection of the actual practice is often overlooked. It seems that the value of membership is often lost during the transition from student to practitioner.

After graduation from occupational therapy school, the most exciting part of entering the profession is being able to apply the knowledge you have learned to real-world contexts, and even more rewarding is the first real paycheck.

One of the last things new practitioners want to do is give away part of that reward, which they have worked so hard to receive. In practice, the concept of and appreciation for the professional organization is lost. People tend to forget that the reason they are even able to practice is that they have been able to attend adequately funded schools, the services they provide meet society's demand for the profession, and appropriate laws are in place to protect and promote the continuance of the profession.

Without organizations such as AOTA promoting, protecting, and advancing occupational therapy practice, there is a risk that appropriate funding and development of the occupational therapy profession would not exist.

AOTA serves as a sort of monitor for the profession. Directed by charges from members, different departments work to ensure that practice stays current with society's demands, that elected officials are aware of the need for funding occupational therapy services, and that the public is aware of the beneficial services provided by occupational therapy.

For example, on a daily basis, part of my responsibilities was to monitor state regulations affecting occupational therapy and report any concerns to appropriate state leaders. This interaction between AOTA and the state would set in motion a group effort to protect affected occupational therapy practice.

On a national level, AOTA often works with other organizations to promote and protect the interests of professionals who work with persons with disabilities. An example of this national collaboration is demonstrated by the reauthorization of IDEA. This collaboration enhances the opportunity for legislative outcomes to favor occupational therapy practice. These are just a few of the many examples of AOTA working on both state and federal levels to promote, protect, and advance the profession of occupational therapy.

To guarantee that the voices of occupational therapy students and practitioners will be heard on important issues affecting their careers, the professional organization must have strong membership. As a member, you are aiding to build a powerful profession and helping to ensure that occupational therapy will be respected by the public, politicians, and other professionals. This increased strength of the profession is exemplified in current law, expanded practice, and higher education.

My experience at AOTA gave me a first-hand look into the complexities of a profession and what it takes for occupational therapy to evolve so that it meets the demands of an ever-changing society. Each student and practitioner can contribute to this effort to protect, promote, and advance occupational therapy as a practice by joining their professional organizations on a state and national level.

Beth Barfield Walker
The Medical College of Georgia