Advocacy is a staple in OT because we are trained to advocate for our patients in all areas of their lives. We can train them to advocate for their own health care, community resources, social justice, and opportunities for growth. This also extends to OTs advocating on behalf of patients who do not have the capacity to do so themselves.
In short, advocacy is a core part of occupational therapy and isn't exclusive to any one practice area. The role of the advocate is a role most therapists assume naturally, as helping others in such a direct way is often what draws individuals to OT in the first place!
What is advocacy in OT?
Advocating for patients
In hospitals and nursing homes, OTs may be seen advocating for patients so that they receive the assistance they need from other professionals. This may take the form of making a speech therapy referral for a patient who is having difficulty articulating his thoughts but is too timid to say anything or doesn't know who to ask. This may also include finding resources for those patients who cannot do so themselves or empowering and educating patients to start the process on their own!
Proper advocacy is a large factor in achieving patient wellness. But why should advocacy stop when you step outside of the clinic? In many ways, OT can be likened to an underserved patient population: lesser-known and often overlooked in favor of other healthcare professions. So we have to put our advocacy skills to work for ourselves as well. Over the course of my OT schooling, several professors taught my cohort the importance of advocating for yourself as an OT.
Advocating for yourself
One professor used the example of seeking a job opening in case management that required a nursing license. She called the facility, gave a pitch about OT, and was asked to come in for an interview. During the interview she asserted that there was a need for occupational therapy in the population, and discussed the aspects of an OT's skill set which would allow her to complete the job duties and more.
She got the job.
She has been a strong advocate for her patients, herself, and the profession ever since.
Looking for other great resources? Check out our fantastic list of podcasts for new grad OTs!
Whether I realized it or not, my career has taken a similar path. I took up writing as a hobby; however, I started to seek out guest posting opportunities on healthcare websites, and this in turn led to me educating others about their health and occupational therapy. In addition to my full-time therapy job, I am currently a regular rehab columnist for two healthcare websites, and I get to act as an advocate both in and outside of the clinic each and every day!
All of the freelance healthcare writing opportunities I have had started with a pitch about OT and a writing sample. These opportunities have also provided me valuable connections with healthcare professionals in similar roles which will continue to help me grow.
As an occupational therapist, I've come to learn that the opportunities for entry-level jobs in the profession are endless. We are fortunate to have a diverse field that provides many rich experiences and roles, however, as your experience grows, you might be inclined to test roles that do not have the traditional titles of “occupational therapist” or “therapy supervisor.”
“Self-advocacy is one of the most powerful tools you have, and it can lead you to experiences and opportunities you otherwise may not have.”
Entering roles outside of patient care often proves difficult, as many people are blissfully unaware of the purpose of OT. This issue is especially true with regards to mental health, where OT roles are the minority despite psychiatric therapy being the root of the profession. Mental health rehabilitation is largely dominated by social workers, licensed mental health counselors, activity therapists, and substance use disorder counselors. Those in charge of hiring are typically unaware that an OT can encompass many of those roles in addition to completing ADL and IADL training.
Make your voice heard
Self-advocacy is one of the most powerful tools you have, and it can lead you to experiences and opportunities you otherwise may not have. Numerous opportunities that could be a suitable fit for an OT are waiting, but they are only available to those who seek them out.
I have heard stories from other OTs who are paving the way for their career and their profession. From fellowships at large acute care hospitals to becoming rehab supervisors, OT peers are taking part in some processes that are integral to the field. Perhaps you are taking part in advocacy for your career already and you don’t realize it!
Whether it be advocating for funding in your facility, advocating for a streamlined documentation process to improve the efficiency of therapists, or advocating for patients to receive their preferred appointment time, these are all stepping stones for larger advocacy roles.
These roles may include becoming a rehab director, project coordinator, clinical consultant, or any other positions which allow OT to benefit a wider range of settings. Advocacy at any level is integral to the profession, as it will give occupational therapy the notoriety and credibility it deserves.