Self-Reflective Leadership: AOTA Kicks off 4th-Annual Emerging Leaders Program


By Ted McKenna

AOTA’s fourth-annual Emerging Leader Development Program’s face-to-face institute, held from August 15 to 16 at AOTA headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, brought together 17 young occupational therapy professionals and students from around the country to learn how to better develop their leadership capacities.

AOTA's 2013 Emerging Leaders
AOTA's 2013 Emerging Leaders and Nancy Stanford-Blair, AOTA President Virginia Stoffel, AOTA Vice President Amy Lamb, and former Emerging Leader Midge Hobbs.

The program is based in large part on content from the book Leading Coherently: Reflections From Leaders Around the World, co-authored by Nancy Stanford-Blair, PhD, who co-leads the institute. Through presentations as well as group discussions, the participants focused on developing an understanding of core concepts of leadership and how they can apply them to their work as occupational therapy practitioners, to advance their careers as well as contribute to the goals of AOTA and the profession as a whole.

AOTA President Virginia Stoffel, PhD, OT, BCMH, FAOTA, who co-led the program, noted that it is able each year to incorporate emerging research on leadership development. A major theme of this year’s program concerned learning how to lead by applying the concept of “Your life is your message: How to become a leader who serves.”

“The latest research focuses on the ‘servant leader.’ It’s very much about developing capacity, and figuring out what you need to let go of,” Stoffel said. “Someone [might have self-doubts], and say, ‘I’m not really experienced enough to be a leader.’ But by recognizing your skills and letting go, you can be what you never thought you could be.”

Participants said the program helped provide perspectives from a wide range of practice areas and personal experience.

Caitlyn Synovec, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore who focuses on mental health practice, said the program gave her the chance for professional and personal reflection that she wouldn’t ordinarily have in her day-to-day work.

Emerging Leaders browse the 2014 AOTA Annual Conference Program.
The emerging leaders had the opportunity to view the 2014 Annual Conference & Expo program, which is in the process of being finalized.

“It’s an important and reflective process that you don’t really take the time to do otherwise,” she said. “It’s a way of helping set goals for yourself.”

Shain Davis, an OTD candidate at the University of Southern California Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, said that a major concern of his work centers on developing evidence-based practice, and that the program showed what others are doing in different parts of the country.

“It’s opened my eyes to get involved on a national level,” he said.

Maureen Peterson, AOTA’s chief professional affairs officer, also noted the benefits the program has for fostering participation in the Association itself.

“We are building the future of the profession and the organization,” she said. “These are the very individuals who will be in leadership positions throughout AOTA in just a few years, and we are in very good hands!”

Along with the leadership training, the program will provide ongoing mentorship while identifying needs for service within AOTA.

The 2013 AOTA Emerging Leaders Program participants are Matthew Bernardo, MS, OTR/L, senior occupational therapist at New York University Medical Center; Joseph Brey, an occupational therapy student at Washington University in St. Louis; Jennifer Cook, MA, OT, an occupational therapist at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital; Cheryl Crow, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Stepping Stones Occupational Therapy; Shain Davis, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapy doctoral student at the University of Southern California; Tracy Floyd, MS, OTR/L, rehab manager at Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Battalion; Sarah Grinder, an occupational therapy student at the University of Southern Maine; Carly Hasseler, an occupational therapy student at Dominican College of Blauvelt; Brittney Jones, LOTR, an occupational therapist at the Therapy Center of Jeff Davis Parish; David McGuire, an occupational therapy student at Tenessee State University; Cambey Mikush, an occupational therapy student at Washington University School of Medicine; Lauren Simhon, MS, OTR/L, an assistant supervisor at Rusk Rehabilitation’s Pediatric Occupational Therapy Department at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases; Samantha Simons, an occupational therapy student at Saint Louis University; Loretta Starnes, COTA/L, an occupational therapy assistant at Grace Rehabilitation–Hamblen Schools; Caitlin Synovec, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Johns Hopkins Hospital; Robert Walsh, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist and adjunct at the Thomas Jefferson University Department of Occupational Therapy; and Lauren Wengerd, MS, OT, an occupational therapist at the Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital–Greenville Health System.

Find more on the program here.

Ted McKenna is editor of OT Practice. He can be reached at