Taking OT to South Korea: My Journey to Become a 2018 Winter Olympics Volunteer

Send Lauren to South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics!

Check out my Fund My Travel page for updates, information, and to donate!

As an occupational therapist, I help individuals of all ages increase their independence, engage in meaningful activity, and achieve their personal goals. In addition to being a dedicated healthcare professional, I am an avid traveler. I’ve been to places all over the United States, Puerto Rico, and even Nicaragua! However, I’ve never had the opportunity to travel to the eastern part of the world and experience the culture, language, and opportunities that exist there. Between working, spending time with family, and volunteering in multiple organizations, it’s been difficult to find time to travel. But I’m always on the lookout for great opportunities to serve and explore the world!

Several years ago, I was watching the Olympic Games and wondering how such a large-scale, high-stakes international event was organized every couple of years. After doing a little research, I learned that Olympics volunteers were a huge part of the equation, and that thousands of people from all over the world were selected as support staff for each Olympics event!

Then my wheels began to turn…and it all made perfect sense! Healthcare professional + Avid traveler = Olympics volunteer! As soon as the 2018 Winter Olympics volunteer application opened in July 2016, I entered my information and buckled down for the long wait.

Click below to learn more about my journey to becoming a 2018 Winter Olympics volunteer, and how you can help send me to South Korea!

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Top 6 Reasons to Volunteer at the 2016 AOTA Annual Conference & Expo


Do you like…

Saving money?

Making friends?

Making a difference?

If so, then you should sign up to volunteer at the 2016 AOTA Annual Conference & Expo in Chicago, Illinois! I volunteered at the Baltimore conference a couple years ago for practically nothing, and it was easily one of the highlights of my early OT experience. I was also able to attend last year’s conference in Nashville, and the time I spent there just confirmed that I had chosen the perfect profession.

There were volunteers of all ages and stages at the conference, including retired OTs, veteran volunteers with 10+ years of experience, current and future OT students, and others. Don’t let your age, student status, or anything else deter you from serving in Chicago this spring! You don’t have to be an AOTA member to volunteer – but you’ll probably want to be one when you’re done!

In addition to helping support and promote one of the fastest-growing, influential, and dynamic professions around, there are several other benefits that come with being a conference volunteer. Read on to find out more about why volunteering will be the best thing you can do for yourself and your career in OT!

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  1. Meet some of the most influential people in the profession. As a conference volunteer, you have the chance to meet the people whose blogs you read, whose papers you’ve referenced, and whose Twitters you follow in person! Rubbing elbows with such accomplished (and really nice) people is a major high and a can’t-miss networking opportunity!
  2. Cut the cost of attending Conference. Conference attendees must pay nearly $300 simply to attend, and that’s the student rate – not including travel, food, lodging, and other expenses! But volunteers can view special exhibits, attend one or two sessions, and see the posters for FREE. As a volunteer, you won’t necessarily be able to attend the session of your choice or participate in all events, but you will get to experience many of the best parts of the conference without paying for much of anything! Pro Tip: Check with your OT program, graduate student association, or employer to see whether there are special funds available to help cover your travel and other expenses. 
  3. Attend the Expo for FREE! Where else in the world can you get a TON of free stuff in exchange for just a few hours of your time? Just think: in the time it took you to sit through one overly long OT school class, you could be having fun, making friends, and earning your way into the Expo. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that this is too good a deal to pass up! Note: Only AOTA Marketplace/Member Resource Center volunteers can earn this privilege. 
  4. Diversify your resume and grow your professional experience. Volunteering at the national conference shows that you are involved and invested in your national professional association and your profession as a whole. Whether you are planning to apply for a leadership or volunteer position with AOTA, a position in your state OT association, or even a job, having a record of service to the profession will definitely give you a boost.
  5. Make a difference and be an advocate for OT. Have you ever wondered how all those bags get stuffed, how all those signs get posted, or how an event with thousands of attendees seems to run so smoothly? It’s not magic – it’s volunteers! By serving as a conference volunteer, you can be a part of the team that makes the AOTA Annual Conference such an amazing experience for attendees from across the U.S. and around the world and have a great time while you do it!
  6. Network with students and faculty members from OT programs across the country. While I served as a conference volunteer, I had the opportunity to talk with fellow OT students, meet instructors from numerous OT programs, and exchange ideas and information with a variety of people. Volunteering at conference is a great way to meet people who may have similar interests to yours, so be sure to keep those business cards handy!

…well, what are you waiting for? Visit the AOTA Volunteer Signup page today and find your place! (And click quickly, because spots fill up fast!)

See you in the Windy City!


OT Resources for Students & Professionals: An Interactive Infographic!

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Are you an OT student or practitioner looking to improve your practice, increase your success, and give back to the profession of occupational therapy?

If so, check out my new interactive OT Resources infographic! In it, you’ll find information about:

  • OT scholarships
  • Research and grant writing
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Getting involved with policy, legislation, and advocacy
  • Improving your practice skills
  • Student leadership opportunities
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Advanced certifications
  • Understanding OT’s scope of practice

…and much, much more! So click on the image or the Resources tab above and check it out, and please share with your peers, coworkers, and friends in OT!

The Hand of Fate

Sensory Prosthetic Hand
An amputee uses a newly designed prosthetic hand to “sense” the shape and resistance of objects he cannot see.

I was out to lunch with a couple of friends today, celebrating the end of the semester and maybe the last time I’ll be seeing them for a while, with graduation right around the corner. We were chatting about our plans for the future and the crazy professors we’d had during school, and somehow we got onto the topic of neuromedicine and prosthetics.

In just a few seconds, a conversation about the CGI and facial-recognition software used in the Planet of the Apes and Avatar movies turned into a passionate discussion about how much my friend Jon and I wanted to be involved in work with prosthetics in the future! I’ve known Jon for about four years because we’ve been involved in the same club, but this is the first time I’d ever gotten the chance to talk to him about his career interests. I love getting to know people – and spreading the word about occupational therapy – so I definitely wanted to learn more about his experience with prosthetic technology and talk about my plans to work with polytrauma patients in the future.

Jon is a double major in neuroscience and kinesiology and he started telling us about DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), a military contracting company, and how it works to design and build the world’s most advanced, human-like and functional prosthetics (among many other projects). As he began explaining more about DARPA and a new type of prosthetic they might be trying to develop, I had an eerie feeling of déjà vu.

Why the déjà vu, you ask? This morning I was volunteering and I had JUST read an article in Rehab Management’s monthly magazine about the new technologies being developed and used in hand therapy. This article was particularly interesting because I had not known about the development of this amazing sensory discrimination prosthetic technology before. I thought the article was so cool that I made a copy and brought it home to read through and potentially write a blog post about. So it was crazy when I ended up at a burger joint this afternoon with somebody who knew about and who was just as excited about this sensory prosthetic technology as I was!

In order to give you a little background on what we were geeking out about, there is a kind of prosthetic being developed that allows the user to “sense” the texture and resistance of the objects being touched and Jon and I were both discussing how important this will be for making prosthetics even more functional in the future. Basically, researchers designed a prosthetic hand that interfaced with the user’s sensory nerves in his upper arm to allow him to “sense” whether objects he held while blindfolded were “soft or hard, round or square.” This sensory capability is very important, because the feedback we receive from our hands and other body parts as they contact objects in the environment lets us know how much pressure we should exert when picking them up, how much they weigh and whether or not they’re too hot or cold to touch. So I imagine that having this ability would certainly open new doors for people with prostheses and contribute to improved, more natural function. I’ve included the link to a Popular Mechanics article that goes into some more detail on the issue, and it also includes a link to the actual study (because it’s important to be evidence-based!) http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/prosthetics/a-prosthetic-hand-that-restores-the-sense-of-touch-16459137

I’ll also include the link to the Rehab Management article that introduced me to this topic: http://rm.alliedmedia360.com//launch.aspx?eid=5ef6d43b-86a7-4946-82bc-f9500415221b

It is a really engaging article, and it discusses many of the new developments in hand therapy, prosthetic technology and therapeutic treatments that I hope to learn more about in the future. Definitely worth the read!


So that was my day – I go out to lunch to relax with friends and end up getting all excited when I realize that everyone I know is secretly a nerd like me!

Have you heard about this “sensory” prosthetic technology being developed? Do you think it will be a useful development for people who use prosthetic limbs?

Image Source: spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/bionics/sensitive-prosthetic-hand-gets-a-grip

AOTA Conference 2014 Recap: Part II

Welcome to the Expo!

It’s me again! Back to finish up my long-winded commentary on the 2014 American Occupational Therapy Association conference in Baltimore, MD. If you didn’t check out the first part of this two-part blog post, you can find it here: https://gottabeot.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/aota-conference-2014-recap-part-i/.

This second part is going to be a bit different from the first in that it presents a more pragmatic and practical view of conference and the multitude of opportunities it presents. Again, I’m not a practicing therapist and at this point I’m barely even a student! But conference was a great learning experience and I feel like I gained some valuable knowledge while I was there that I’d like to share.

And so, I present without further ado, AOTA Conference 2014 Recap: Part II! Continue reading

AOTA Conference 2014 Recap: Part I

Well, even almost a week after conference I’m still basking in the glow and wishing I could go back. But I’m taking comfort in the fact that hopefully I will be headed to Nashville for the 2015 conference next year!

The following blog post is the first half of a two-part post on my conference experience. This first part will cover my own personal experiences and duties as a conference volunteer and “junior attendee.” In the second part, which is coming soon, I will discuss more of the pragmatic and practical aspects of conference-going (at least as I experienced them).

So if you’re ready, I’m ready! AOTA Conference Recap: Part I – GO!

My Life as a Volunteer

With this blog, it is my goal to add new perspectives and information to the wealth of knowledge that is out there about the wide and wonderful field of occupational therapy. To that end, I’m first going to discuss my experience as a conference volunteer – something I was unable to find ANY information about prior to attending!

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Good Evening, Baltimore

After several hours on the road, I’ve finally made it to the beautiful city of Baltimore, Maryland! I’ve settled in for the night and I’m preparing to get up early and take in everything there is to see and do at the Conference’s first full day tomorrow.

My job as a volunteer, as I understand it, is going to be pretty basic. I will be helping with the welcome area in the morning, monitoring one room/session in the afternoon and helping hand out bags during the keynote address. They said I would get a T-shirt to help people identify me as a volunteer – albeit one with very little knowledge of the actual conference goings-on – and I hope I get to keep it! If not, I’ll just pick up lots of cool stuff I hear is available at the Expo when I go on Friday. 🙂

Although I couldn’t afford conference registration this year with my very limited undergraduate student budget, volunteering seems like a great way to get a taste of the conference experience and give back to the greater occupational therapy community as well. For my one day of volunteering, I get to attend the education sessions taking place in the room I’m monitoring for free. I also get the chance to be there for the keynote address – featuring several wounded warriors and my hero the Army OT Guy! Finally, I’ll also get free admission to the amazing Expo on a day of my choosing. In addition to all of these perks, I can take part in any of the open sessions being held in the new “Networking Lounge” and learn more about a variety of topics while networking with other students and professionals. All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with the opportunities that are going to be available to me and I hope to take advantage of all of them!

I’ll also be trying to take pictures of the conference and my experiences there so I can have a record of my first real AOTA event. I’m not a particularly good photographer, so we’ll see how it goes. But if I get one picture with the Army OT Guy then I will consider my mission here BEYOND complete!!!

On that slightly stalkerish note, I’m going to head for bed and get ready to be the AOTA’s most excited and energetic volunteer ever tomorrow!

New Feature: “OT Observations”

The “OT Observations” feature describes my experiences observing and learning from various occupational therapists in practice. Currently I am volunteering at an outpatient therapy clinic and observing the work of the therapists there.

This past October, I began volunteering in a local pediatric and adult outpatient therapy clinic. Multiple therapeutic disciplines are represented, and there are adult and pediatric occupational, speech and physical therapists at the clinic. I spend the majority of my time observing and/or playing with the clients of the therapist I’ll call “Helen.” Helen is an amazing therapist, a fantastic role model and another person who has been instrumental in helping me learn about and become more passionate about occupational therapy!

Just a little bit about Helen, for context – she’s been an OT for 17 years and she works with children and adults. She’s worked in home health, hospital and private outpatient settings, and has the vast amount of experience one would think goes with such a long career in OT! She is the first therapist who I’ve seen administering feeding therapy, early intervention with an infant, sensory integration treatments and basically any kind of pediatric therapy. I thought I wanted to work solely with adults in the future, but Helen has had a large part in changing my mind about that!

Initially, I only planned on volunteering until the end of the semester, in order to meet a graduate program’s volunteer hour requirements. However, being able to see all of the therapists and their different styles in action has kept me there for the past 6 months! I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to leave, but I’m glad I have had the chance to see and learn about so many different things while I’ve been there.

I’m creating this “OT Observations” feature so that I can record and keep track of what I’m seeing now and perhaps link it to things I will learn in the future. Although my observations will be heavily inundated with my own commentary and musings, I hope they will be helpful for anybody interested in learning more about occupational therapy as well.

Conference, Here I Come!


In case you didn’t know, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Conference is happening next week in Baltimore, Maryland! When I found out about it several months ago, I applied to become a volunteer for this year’s conference. After a month-long wait, I was elated to open my email and find my volunteer assignment waiting for me!

I have never attended a major professional conference before, and I am looking forward to the chance to attend this important event and see what’s happening in the wide world of occupational therapy. I’ll be volunteering at the Hospitality Booth and as a Room Monitor, and then I’ll earn free access to the Expo on Friday. It’s going to be a great trip to Charm City, I’m sure!

While I’m in Baltimore, I have several goals. First, I would like to meet one of my OT role models and the person whose job I’d like to take — Captain Erik Johnson, who also goes by “Army OT Guy.” I’m so excited about the opportunity to meet and network with him, but I can’t imagine what I would even say to somebody like him. I think I might like to work with wounded warriors and veterans in the future, and his website, videos and news articles have been a constant source of inspiration to me. In case you’re interested, here’s the link to his website: http://armyotguy.com/armyOTguy.com/Welcome.html. Ultimately, I would like for him to schedule a visit to my graduate program sometime in the next year or so. He goes “on tour” and travels around the country visiting OT programs and talking to students about his experiences and expertise and I would love the opportunity to hear from him!

Next, I want to start networking with the students, faculty and alumni of the graduate program I will be attending. Because I tend to be overexcited and can never wait for anything, I wrote and asked if I could attend some of events my future classmates and professor would be attending — and they said yes! Clearly they don’t mind that their program has just accepted a super-creeper… O__O
In any case, I think it will be great to hang out with some of the first and second-year students and see the impact people in my program are making in the field.

Finally, I just want to take this time off from school to relax! My final semester has been a very hectic one, and I’m glad for this mini-vacation to help break up the last semester until I graduate. A couple days at Conference and hanging out in Baltimore will be just what I need to get recharged and ready to finish my senior year strong!

I’ll be posting next week about my experiences in Baltimore and at the Conference, so stay tuned!