Suena Olson

Suena Olson, COTA/L

Describe your journey of leadership.

When I was in school, our instructors told us about AOTA and the power of professional development. I was friends with the president and vice president of our state association. They were instrumental in having me join both associations and becoming a leader, first through committee work at a state level, then by running for Assistant Representative to the Representative Assembly (RA) for our state.

AOTA sent “Rep. Prep” materials and we had instructions from Carol Gwin our Staff Liaison to assist us. She made us feel welcome. My state is quite proactive in having AOTA speakers for Conferences and quarterly Continuing Education meetings.

Sharon Sanderson is a retired occupational therapist who began our state association over 40 years ago and she was instrumental in beginning the program at Oklahoma University. She and other instructors fostered me along the way. We developed a leadership program in our state association; we telecast continuing education to up to 4 sites per session; we aligned with AOTA for the Centennial Vision process and raised money to be used in meeting the Centennial Vision on the Hill in our state. We have leaders with relationships to our state legislators who help us with grassroots efforts and used our alignment with AOTA to assure our constituents that we are aware of national issues and our need to focus and support those efforts financially as well as with grassroots efforts.

Through my tenure as our State Representative, I have learned about the need for continued involvement at both a state and national level and I have been promoting it every way I can and everywhere I go. I strive to get constituent feedback via the listserv, executive board service, and networking at continuing education events, having booths at state conference, attending and being visible at state events, as well as through networking everywhere I go. I discovered that small numbers of constituents can be heard at a national level. This has encouraged me to try various means to increase the feedback from my state on national issues.

I have received significant support from Carol Gwin, Chuck Christiansen, Florence Clark, Carolyn Baum, Sharon Sanderson, and Yvonne Randall as well as numerous others. They have really made me see that you don’t have to be at the top to be heard there.

I learned that being an OTA doesn’t mean that you have less importance when it comes to being heard and presenting sometimes an opposing view on various subjects. I have found that these well-known OTs with national positions really care about OTAs and do not wish to diminish our importance with treatments or leadership development.

I do feel that OTAs with just the Associate degree have a much harder time meeting the criteria for national positions. The educators have an edge because they frequently are able to pursue higher degrees in other areas as their positions with colleges allow them to do so at a lesser amount of financial investment. The national positions are difficult to vet for as candidates. The Roster of Honor awards are almost unachievable as a clinician so these do not look so appealing to pursue.

I continually encourage new practitioners to join and support both their state association and AOTA, and to continue to be certified with NBCOT. I encourage them to do what they can to participate as committee members, run for state offices, and get in the position where they can take part with the RA, Committees for AOTA, and run for AOTA positions. I also encourage them to support the PAC and Foundation as they give us national awareness on many levels.

I ran for and did not win an election to serve as OTA Rep. to the RA. I am presently running for Alternate State Rep. position and would be happy to serve on another committee as a member. I feel that leadership is an ongoing process and we need to have continual participation at some level. 

Our state doesn’t have an educational bridging program, but I am 54 years old and do not feel that pursuing a Master’s-level degree would pay for itself. I shall have my professional development to be focused on continued volunteerism. I also have a daughter who is an OTA. I am fostering her along this path as well.