Part 2: HOW OTs can continue their education and lifelong learning
Here at NewGradOccupationalTherapy, our mission is to empower new grads to maintain that initial excitement (and source of good nervous energy) that comes from being newly graduated in the field of occupational therapy. It takes a ton of commitment to become a newbie OT or OTA and keep your passion stoked throughout the beginning and continuation of your career. To that end, we try to supply you with articles on topics both clinical and career-focused, to give you opportunities to learn new things and spark discussion with your OT colleagues across the web!
Previously, we delved into why lifelong learning is not only important to our personal and professional growth, but why it is lucrative and essential to our well-being and ability to fulfill purposeful roles in society. From that we can agree that the term “lifelong learning” is more than just a buzzword and there are reasons that support why we should embrace it . . . but HOW?
In the “How” of our duology on Lifelong Learning, we’ll fill in the gaps of how to incorporate lifelong learning into your daily life as well as provide you with some valuable resources to get the ball rolling.
1) Read more
Reading provides us with opportunities to envision new worlds at the turn of a page — or push of a kindle button (haha!). Reading books of all kinds — fiction to nonfiction and everything in between (not just OT textbooks people) — can sharpen our ability to communicate or empathize with each other. Not everyone can afford an expensive membership to a continuing education site (or can you? scroll to the bottom for coupon code for MedBridge!) or to a fancypants weekend seminar, but an annual local library card is zero to little cost for a lifetime supply of books on multitudes of topics!
Furthermore, reading daily is linked to increased vocabulary skills, improved written communication skills beneficial such as writing a marketing report or a resume (check out this NGOT post about how to nail writing a great resume), as well as at the very least giving you something useful and tangible to talk about!
2) Explore new passions
Discover new passions and let the learning occur naturally in the context of the situation. Branch out to try different things and do them often. Leave your expectations and just be present. Travel and immerse yourself in new cultures to widen your horizons. Sign up for that computer technology course or that online Spanish course, or even better, study to become a Certified Specialist of Wine (no takers? Just me, well then . . . but it’s a real thing!). Allow the magic of neuroplasticity to occur as you exert your efforts in multiple contexts.
3) Attend conferences
Yes, they can be expensive, but conferences with like-minded people boost creativity, promote practitioner excellence, and increase “buy-in” to not be one of those stuck-in-a-rut, complacent therapists. Presenting at conferences or attending presentations sparks our inner desire to engage and advance in our learning. Peer-to-peer interactions can facilitate new connections and translate to an increased sense of community.
Make it a goal to attend at least one conference a year whether it be at the state or national level. See you in NOLA for #AOTA19?? (We should have beignets and au laits together — seriously!)
4) Be a mentor and a mentee
Nobody is asking you to know everything. In fact, that would go completely against the theme of lifelong learning — where, as the name implies, the learning is ongoing. Be vulnerable and meet up with eager interested preOT tract undergraduates. Give a brief presentation on your role as an OT practitioner in your setting. Go have coffee with a current OT/OTA graduate student. Arrange your schedule to volunteer to provide an inservice on fall prevention or whatever topic your interested in (OT is everywhere and includes everything) at your local gym or church.
Self assess how well you think you know a topic by teaching the concept or hands on skill to a therapist who may be newer to your specific practice setting. Putting yourself out there is an opportunity in itself to learn more.
Finally, seek mentorship because there is always someone who knows and is more experienced than you. If you are a new grad and are the only OT/OTA at your site, try seeking mentorship from other clinicians of other disciplines of course, but also make the effort to reach out to OT/OTAs in your community with experience in your setting. If that option does not suffice, you can at the very least listen to podcasts from experienced OTs (such as my personal #OTgoals Mandy Chamberlain’s “Seniors Flourish”) if you find yourself feeling on your own.
5) PodCAST your votes for your favorites
Podcasts belong in the realm of lifelong learning tools and are a surefire way to boost productivity on those commutes to school or work. They're especially great for auditory learners!
6) Engage in the present moment
Mindfulness is all the rage these days but for good reason (My mind is blown, too). When we are anxious, worried, sleep-deprived, in pain, thinking about our endless to do list . . . the list goes on, we are unable to adequately concentrate on our current task which exponentially limits our ability to learn, engage, or thrive. The learned skill of mindfulness increases our ability to accept ourselves where we are in our present moment thereby improving our self-awareness and ability to be fully engaged in the current task. Thus, practicing mindfulness regularly can significantly increase our personal skill acquisition in our learning endeavors.
7) Lights, Camera, ACTION plan
Commit to being actively engaged and write down your goals. It's simple, really: you cannot surpass your goals or work toward your potential in life (and I’m not just talking about your potential when wearing your professional OT hat . . . ) if you do not define them.
Lifelong learning is about challenging yourself to continually give your best everyday. Strive for progress, not perfection.
Articulate a 5 year plan, identify manageable short term goals, and problem solve what actions need to be completed to achieve them!! Reflect and reassess often in order to resolve any barriers and self determine when you need help (this is where mentorship comes into play).
8) Continuing education and connection
The aforementioned sources are all websites (not an exhaustive list!) that provide opportunities for online education at the tip of your keyboard in the comfort of your own home (cue snacks and pajamas).
We at NGOT want to briefly introduce MedBridge, which perhaps needs no introduction!
“Our mission is to improve the lives of patients and medical providers while raising the quality of healthcare globally by creating the most impactful educational content on an innovative learning platform."
—MedBridge Mission Statement
This online professional educational program serves several disciplines including occupational therapy in addition to physical therapy, speech language pathology, athletic training, and nursing.
Sooooo why MedBridge?
Learn from the Specialists
- Online courses and live webinars are conducted by clinicians with expertise in a specific area of practice are a frequent occurrence paired well with a downloadable PowerPoint presentation and Q & A sessions to wrap up the session!
Surpass Your Continuing Education Requirements
- MedBridge Continuing Ed emphasizes improving practitioner competence in the support to develop and nurture skills that promote eventual mastery. With almost 1,000 accredited online courses and interactive videos, you can fill your national and state CE requirements while maximizing your learning.
Say “NO” to Complacency and “YES” to Certification Programs
- Yes, you could just go through the motions and allow a webinar run while you're running errands, but what benefit does that provide to you or your patients? MedBridge offers certification prep to pass specialty board certification exams (although right now they're only for PTs and RNs — cue our next topic in guidance in how to become a lifelong learner) in addition to offering certificates that represent holding distinguished knowledge.
Customized HEP and Track Outcomes with Mobile Patient App
- Creating a home exercise plan just got a whole lot easier and much more streamlined. In addition to the ability to customize home exercise programs, MedBridge offers over 100 pre-made templates that are professional and can be tailored to the individual patient. These programs are easily printed or can be emailed or sent via text!
- MedBridge also developed a patient app in which therapists can design home programs with just right exercise or activity challenges and patients can view and interact with their assigned home program. Videos in the app are looped and timed to mirror a patient’s completion of the assigned exercise. Therapists can track activity and interaction, and notification reminders can be set to increase adherence and ensure patients are carrying out their programs!
9) Demonstrate excellence with AOTA Board or Specialty certifications
Nine Certification Areas:
- Board Certification (OT)
- Gerontology (BCG)
- Mental Health (BCMH)
- Pediatrics (BCP)
- Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)
- Specialty Certification (OT and OTA)
- Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM or SCDCM-A)
- Environmental Modification (SCEM or SCEM-A)
- Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing (SCFES or SCFES-A)
- Low Vision (SCLV or SCLV-A)
- School Systems (SCSS or SCSS-A)
In essence, we have the chance to stand out in our profession with Board or Specialty Certifications which demonstrates commitment, advocacy, and expertise in the area of choice. As a voluntary certification, these prestigious certifications through AOTA represent surpassing standard of care in effort to maximize knowledge, clinical skills, and ability level.
The certifications not only require extensive time and dedication to complete the application and requirements, but they are a surefire way to encourage lifelong learning in order to maintain the credentials provided. Certification is granted based on the results of a peer-review of applicants’ reflective portfolios which include a self-assessment, a professional development plan, as well as fulfilling the application itself. Most certifications require 5 years of clinical practice for eligibility.
There have been several excellent blog posts / podcasts that break down the certifications recognized by AOTA. See, for instance:
- Your Guide to OT Certifications and Specialties - OT Potential
- 20 Occupational Therapy Credentials to Advance Your Career - MyOTSpot
- Alphabet Soup of Occupational Therapy Credentials - NGOT
- Occupational Therapy Specialties - Seniors Flourish
10) Rack up on AOTA Digital Badges
Meanwhile, as new grads AOTA fairly recently established a digital badging program which are designed as “web-enabled representations of a collection of learning achievements” that can be embedded to your resume, email signature lines, blog website or added to other social media sites such as Twitter or LinkedIn.
Basically, the thought is that if you are busting your butt, spending time and energy (not to mention money) to invest in your continued training as an occupational therapy practitioner, why not complete a few designated AOTA continuing ed courses in a practice area of your choice and receive an easily verifiable, concrete picture of your learning achievements? This program is free to AOTA members.
As of April 2018, the following Digital Badges are available through AOTA:
- Cancer Rehabilitation
- Driving and Community Mobility
- Early Identification
- Emerging Leaders Development Program
- Falls Prevention
- Fieldwork Educator
- Fieldwork Educator Certificate
- Home Modification
- Low Vision
- Lifestyle Redesign
- Leadership Development Program for Middle Managers
- Path to Leadership
To learn more information go to the AOTA digital badges webpage!
That’s a WRAP!!
It should be duly noted this list like lifelong learning is meant to be continuous and will need to be added to and updated frequently.
In conclusion, lifelong learning looks a little different for every therapist (and any healthcare worker for that matter). Even new grad occupational therapists that work in nontraditional, non-direct patient care roles have new technologies, rules, regulations, and updated competencies that require continual retooling. We would love to hear in the comments what being a lifelong learner means to you and what steps you have taken to advance your learning opportunities!
Our MedBridge giveaway has ended! However, we're still giving away our NGOT discount code if you sign up for our newsletter by filling out the form below!