As I mentioned in this post, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2015 ASD Annual Meeting during the AOTA Annual Conference in Nashville this year as a delegate for my OT program. If you’re wondering about what the Assembly of Student Delegates is, I’ll refer you to their page on the AOTA website for the most concise, up-to-date information. However, the ASD’s purpose and goals are outlined in the following excerpt:
“The Assembly of Student Delegates provides a mechanism for the expression of student concerns, and offers a means whereby students can have effective input into AOTA affairs. The mission of the Assembly of Student Delegates is to support student members of AOTA by communicating their interests and advancing their professional contributions. This Assembly upholds the AOTA mission, promotes Association membership, and provides a forum for the development of student leadership and political awareness to enhance the viability of the profession.” (AOTA, 2015)
Last year when I volunteered at the Baltimore conference, and this past year, I searched for information about the ASD and couldn’t find much about what actually happened at the meeting. The presentation slides were posted, and social media accounts had photos, but beyond that I couldn’t find much. Hopefully this post will help shed a little light on what goes on, and inform future delegates about what they can expect.
This post is a bit long, but so was the meeting! In it, I’ll cover topics such as
- Delegate responsibilities
- Meeting structure and content
- Major takeaways
Read on to learn all about my experience as an ASD Delegate!
As an ASD delegate, you are expected to perform several duties before and after Conference. This includes:
- Traveling to the conference site one day before the conference officially begins to attend the ASD meeting
- Bringing information from the annual ASD meeting back to classmates
- Maintaining a dialogue between peers and AOTA leadership
- Promoting AOTA programs, resources, and opportunities for students
- Disseminating information about important profession-wide issues to peers
- Supporting ASD initiatives and programs and encouraging student involvement
More specific responsibilities for delegates may be determined by a program’s Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) program, but the expectations for delegates can vary widely across programs. Additionally, each program has two delegate positions available, for one primary delegate and one alternate.
As a delegate, you can also expect to get cool swag made just for you, such as fancy notebooks, cool pens, buttons, stickers, resource lists, etc. It’s a pretty sweet deal!
ASD Meeting Structure
The meeting takes place on the Wednesday before Conference begins, and it lasted all day, from 8 AM to 5:30 PM. Students are expected to travel to the conference location to attend for the whole time, and they are NOT reimbursed or provided with extra funding by AOTA or ASD to do so. This can be a deterrent for some students, but many SOTAs do fundraising specifically to send their delegates to Conference. Other students are expected to pay for it out of pocket. My advice to students is to select delegates at least 3-4 months before Conference in order to allow sufficient time for them to save or raise money to cover their expenses.
So what goes on during these meetings, you ask? A whole lot! There were multiple presentations on a wide variety of topics, and presentations ranged from 20 minutes to an hour long. There was also a “town hall” style discussion in which AOTA leadership answered student questions and responded to student concerns. Most of the time we were seated around our tables and watching presentations, but occasionally there were more interactive activities.
Surrounded by Students
Perhaps my favorite part of the entire meeting was the fantastic opportunities I had to interact with students from OT and OTA programs all over the country. Strangely enough, for most OT students, there is little time in their schedules or curriculums during which they interact with other OT students. Although many programs emphasize interprofessional education with PTs, SLPs, and others, we rarely get to hear about the cool projects other OT students are doing, their personal successes, or even fun things like cool student blogs or international experiences.
However, at the meeting I was able to talk to students from California, Illinois, Oklahoma…and these were just the people at my table! It was great getting to hear about their unique interests, talents, fieldwork experiences, and learning experiences, and I wish that kind of conversation was available to me every day.
Although I thought it was fantastic to be able to interact with and learn from so many other students, I kept running into a strange phenomenon I’ve dubbed “school shame.” For example, as I approached and began chatting with a couple of girls, I asked them where they were from and what program they attended. I was quite surprised when the one girl looked at me nervously and said, “We go to [PROGRAM]…if you’ve ever heard of it.” In a room full of such energy and excitement, a little rain cloud had come to cast a shadow on my day.
Despite the fact that there are program rankings readily available on the internet for anyone who’s interested to look, and the fact that most conference attendees are aware of which are the “top-tier” OT programs, I firmly believe that it’s not where you come from but where you’re going that counts. Certainly, people “ooh” and “ahh” when they meet students from certain well-known programs, but I think that any student (or clinician, for that matter!) should take pride in the fact that they are working towards attaining a graduate education in a vibrant and valuable profession, and never apologize for the school from which they’re earning this hard-won degree!
Of course I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought this year’s speakers were fantastic! We heard from new graduates, AOTA president-elect Amy Lamb, OTD, OTR/L, FAOTA, advocacy leaders from Capitol Hill, and current ASD Steering Committee members. Our speakers ranged in experience from less than one year in practice to those with 20+ years of experience to those who weren’t even OTs! And after listening to all the different presentations, I came away with several major themes that were common threads throughout the program.
- Mentorship: Multiple speakers stressed the importance of making connections and meeting people in the profession (and perhaps outside it) that can support your personal and professional development. They also spoke about how their role models were the people who picked them up after they lost an election or missed an opportunity, and how their mentors encouraged them to pursue their passions and introduced them to people who could help get them where they wanted to be. If you don’t already have a mentor who is providing this kind of support for you, make an effort to find people in your life who can help you achieve your goals.
- Leadership & Engagement: This was one of the most important takeaways of the entire meeting. All of our speakers got to where they are because they made a choice to be active, engaged professionals. They all contributed their talents to different levels of the professional sphere, including being active in local, state, and national OT organizations over the length of their careers, and the fruits of their labor are obvious. Nobody gets anywhere by sitting back and watching, and only by taking steps to get involved professionally will you begin to be a change agent.
- Advocacy: Before attending OT school, I never considered myself a “political” person. However, after attending events like Hill Day, following the news about legislation that affects OT, and seeing positive outcomes that are a direct result of efforts by AOTPAC and AOTA’s “policy people” (as I call them), I now understand just how vital it is to be involved in the political sphere, however that may look. For example, some people prefer to send messages to their representatives through AOTA’s Legislative Action Center, and others prefer to attend Hill Day and advocate in person. However it happens, my roles as an OT student and future professional cannot be separated from my role as an active, educated advocate for OT.
- “Therapeutic” Use of Self: Much of what was said at the meeting centered on finding what it is that you are good at, and then deciding how you can use your skills and talents to benefit others and the profession as a whole. So, the same sort of reasoning and processes you would use to determine how best to use your person to benefit your clients can also be applied to your process for determining how best to apply your abilities to your professional life and which opportunities would be good for you to pursue.
The Vision for the Future
Amy Lamb, AOTA president-elect, spoke at length about the occupational therapy distinct value statement and how it is being used to ensure that OTs have a seat at the table for current and future discussions about healthcare, policy, and professional practice. Although I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the statement before the meeting, hearing her talk about how it is a direct answer to the demands of the current healthcare and political climate helped clarify the way in which this statement can be used to our benefit today and in the future. More information is coming out about the distinct value statement soon, so stay tuned!
Much of the meeting also centered on discussions about the future of occupational therapy, and topics like the Centennial Vision, the potential transition to the entry-level doctorate, and OT’s inclusion in important legislature were discussed in depth and at length. I felt like I was getting an “insider look” at the profession’s internal (and external) dialogue about these topics, and it was pretty cool to be privy to conversations that were both very present and very future-oriented.
One of the most important things I took away from this meeting was the sense that our professional leadership is really listening to what students have to say, and their interested in responding to our concerns. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every suggestion – such as lowering conference prices for students – is going to result in change, but it was good to be a part of the ongoing dialogue and feel like student opinions and experiences mattered.
As I mentioned before, there was a town hall style discussion that took place during the meeting, at which point students were given a chance to ask any question they desired and a panel of AOTA leaders were able to respond. In spite of my extreme nervousness, I went up to ask a question, and I’m glad I did! Several people afterward thanked me for asking, and I was proud of myself for doing it. My advice to any students who have something to say is to not be afraid, and to just go ahead and speak their minds! Our leadership is listening, and I truly believe that they will take what we say into account as they continue to make decisions and guide the profession.
In conclusion, I am so thankful that I was able to attend this meeting and represent my classmates at a national conference. I encourage any students who are interested in joining the student-leadership conversation to become a delegate, run for a position on the ASD Steering Committee, or to contact the ASD directly to voice their concerns. Your experience as a student gives you a valuable perspective, and your ideas, thoughts, and opinions are in high demand!
Whether you’re a first year, second year, or non-traditional student or a new grad, you can make a difference. The ASD is awesome, and I’m looking forward to a year of making new friends, finding new opportunities, and making a difference for my profession!
There isn’t much information out there about the experiences of current or former ASD members, but here are some links that provide additional information.
- OT Connections: Kerri O’Rourke, former OT Vice-Chairperson of the ASD Steering Committee, shares about her experiences in this position.
- AOTA/NBCOT National Student Conclave: This link has more information about the upcoming Student Conclave meeting that will take place in Valley Forge (suburban Philadelphia) from November 13-14, 2015.
- ASD on Social Media: You can follow the ASD on Twitter to stay up to date with events and happenings that are of importance to students.