OT Day at the Massachusetts State House - what we've learned

Reflections from doctoral students, Nikki Murgas, Natalie Petrone, and Grace Kelso

Occupational therapy practitioners and students are consistently working to create greater awareness and understanding about the scope of occupational therapy practice. These efforts include changing Facebook profile pictures, posting on Twitter and Instagram stories about our practice, hosting events to educate the public on our work, writing to legislators to repeal the therapy cap, writing letters to Editors to ensure that articles portray occupational therapy practice accurately, all with the goal of demonstrating the distinct value of OT to as many people as possible. Our occupational therapy program at Boston University has highlighted the importance of advocacy efforts, both to increase the public’s awareness of our scope of practice as well as to strengthen our skill at advocating for our client’s abilities to access services. This advocacy-centered curriculum at Boston University provided us with the opportunity to organize meetings for our classmates with Massachusetts State Senators and Representatives. During these meetings, students engaged legislators and their staffers in discussions regarding the distinct value of occupational therapy and the need to support future legislation that allows occupational therapy services to be more widely available and accessible.

As students without a background in political science or government, we and our classmates were apprehensive beginning this process. What if the legislators did not respond to our emails and phone calls? What would we say during the meetings? What if they asked us something we did not know the answer to? With the support of our advocacy mentors, Sarah McKinnon and Karen Jacobs, we quickly discovered that this process was much easier than anticipated, and we were more prepared than we initially believed. We began by calling and emailing our representatives and senators with information about occupational therapy and requesting a meeting. After we had meeting times setup, we organized our classmates into small groups of 4-5 students and provided them with background information about what to expect about the format of the meeting and established roles. These included introducing what occupational therapy is, telling a personal story about the distinct value of OT, responding to questions, and taking a photo at the end. After each meeting, we sent a follow-up email, thanking the legislators for their time and providing them with specific bills that we would like them to support. Additionally, AOTA has excellent resources and templates that guided our letter writing and meetings.

The point of this article is to encourage other students to increase their advocacy efforts. Although meeting with local legislators seemed daunting, in reality, legislators were more accessible and receptive to our stories than we initially imagined. In our four semesters in the OTD program, we each developed our own articulate, concise, and encapsulating answer to the question, “so, what is occupational therapy, anyway?” Powered and inspired by our fieldwork and personal experiences, we were able to provide legislators and their staffers with concrete examples of the role and value of OT on the healthcare team, and how we support our clients to live functional and meaningful lives. We were prepared to communicate the value of our future profession to the individuals who make the laws that influence our practice and our clients.

Occupational therapy is a career focused on empowerment of the individual. As practitioners, our goal is to empower clients to do what they want to do, need to do, and are expected to do. Advocating for occupational therapy and the clients we serve is a chance for us to empower ourselves, giving us an opportunity to promote the career in which we are all so passionately invested.