Be Part of the Future of Occupational Therapy and AOTA
Molly V. Strzelecki
There is a wealth of strong leaders within AOTA and the profession as a whole, but yet there is one voice that is not being heard loudly enough: new practitioners.
It goes without saying that today’s new practitioners will be tomorrow’s leaders. The time is now, then, for new practitioners to start honing their leadership skills, but the question is, how? Becoming a leader takes time, of course, and those first few steps can be intimidating.
To help foster emerging leaders and strengthen the voice of new practitioners and thus the future voice of occupational therapy, AOTA launched the Emerging Leaders Development program in 2009.
The program resulted from a Representative Assembly (RA) charge to look at leadership within the profession. As the representative for student voices on that first committee, Tim Wolf, OTD, MSCI, OTR/L, was the first chair of the Emerging Leaders Development Committee, and explains that creating a new pool of leaders for the future of occupational therapy is critical.
“I had an interest in looking at how we could get new practitioners involved in the professional association,” Wolf says. “We have a flood of student members who are interested and want to help, but then we lose them after they graduate. We see a sharp decrease in leadership numbers when it comes to new practitioners, and we don’t really pick them up again until several years later, and often they don’t have the same enthusiasm they had when they first went through.”
“Our future depends on our students and our new practitioners,” adds Maureen Peterson, MS, OT/L, FAOTA, chief professional affairs officer for AOTA, and staff liaison to the Emerging Leaders Development Committee. “We need to continually refresh our pool of leaders, and in order to do that we must take an active role in finding them, then help them develop as leaders, help them find their niche within AOTA, as well as develop leadership skills that they can use in their professional and personal life.”
The Emerging Leaders Development program pairs new practitioners with a seasoned leader in a particular area, such as someone on AOTA’s Commission on Education or Commission on Practice, or a Special Interest Section Standing Committee member, to name a few examples. Applicants for the program must be either in the last year of their educational preparation or fewer than 5 years postmatriculation. The committee members look for emerging leaders who have shown initial dedication to service in the profession and to AOTA. They look at each applicant’s thoughts on his or her own leadership trajectory within the Association and the profession, as well as their individual leadership development goals.
The committee also recruits seasoned leaders for the program.
“A very important piece of the project is our successful ability to identify willing mentors,” explains Peterson. “For this program to work we have to have mentors who are current leaders and who are willing to mentor the emerging leaders.”
“We’re looking for mentors who have an established record of service within AOTA, and also within their state associations,” Wolf adds. “They also need a willingness to have someone involved with them for the next 10 months, and show them the ropes a little bit.”
The accepted applicants for each year are announced in late fall, and during the month of January the mentees attend a 2-day leadership seminar at AOTA focusing on leadership development and other components of the program.
“This program is important on so many levels, the first one being that we as a profession have the opportunity to capitalize on reaching out to a group that is really motivated and wants to be involved, but for the most part has been missing within our profession,” Wolf says. “New practitioners provide a different perspective on things that we are working on as a profession, especially as we move toward the Centennial Vision.”
“We need people now who will come into leadership positions over the next few years and will then move us beyond 2017 and the Centennial Vision,” Peterson notes. “And we need to get the new leaders ready for that.”
“We need that new group of people who want to be involved and who want to help,” Wolf adds. “This program provides that opportunity for new practitioners to get involved and feel vested in the profession and the Association.”
- Stanford-Blair, N., & Dickmann, M. H. (2005). Leading coherently: Reflections from leaders around the world. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Molly V. Strzelecki is the senior editor of OT Practice.