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Occupational Therapy Day draws crowd to Minnesota Capitol

Dr. Florence Clark speaks with Erin Babb and Heidi Dryfhout, MAOT students, after her lecture in Jeanne d'Arc Auditorium on March 1.
Dr. Florence Clark speaks with Erin Babb and Heidi Dryfhout, MAOT students, after her lecture in Jeanne d'Arc Auditorium on March 1.
Photo by John Fleming.

More than 50 students from St. Catherine University represented the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health at the Minnesota Capitol on Feb. 29, 2012, as they lobbied during Occupational Therapy (OT) Day.

Professor Karen Sames, MBA, OTR/L, FAOTA, who also serves as the government affairs chair for the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association, worked with practitioner Lindsay Ginter to recruit a team of students to lobby at the Capitol during OT Day.

Only in its second year, the initiative garnered participation from nearly 100 people, including students from three occupational therapy assistant (OTA) programs and all three master’s level occupational therapy programs in Minnesota. In addition to a large representation from St. Catherine University, students attended from occupational therapy programs at the University of Minnesota, College of St. Scholastica, Anoka Technical College and Herzing University.

otday2The day’s events included a speech by Florence Clark, Ph.D., president of the American Occupational Therapy Association. Later that evening, Clark was the featured speaker at St. Kate's Interprofessional Recognition Event, and she presented the prestigious annual Sister Genevieve Guest Lectureship at Jeanne d’Arc Auditorium on campus the next day. (Right, Dr. Florence Clark. Photo by John Fleming.)

Students had the opportunity to speak with Clark directly, both at St. Kate's and the Capitol on Feb. 29.

“OT Day helps to educate students about what occupational therapy does in the political arena,” said John Fleming, EdD, OTR/L, a professor of occupational therapy at St. Catherine University. “It’s a really enjoyable day for them, and it’s more likely to keep students in an active role after they graduate.”

Paul Maki MAOT ’13, led occupational therapy students in their efforts to coordinate the event. Using his experience in community organizing, Maki worked with faculty members and his peers to schedule a full day of lobbying at the Minnesota Capitol.

One voice to spread awareness

After months of planning, students spent the day visiting legislators from their own districts to discuss the importance of occupational therapy. They passed out fliers from the American Occupational Therapy Association,  carried folders that said “Ask Me About OT” and shared key messages with legislators during individual appointments. 

Maki said any time people can come together to lobby a cause, it’s a good thing. But he noted that it’s especially important for students and practitioners in occupational therapy to actively engage in the advocacy process.

“It’s important to OT because, being a healthcare field, a lot of the funding and practices can be influenced by public policymakers,” said Maki. “They can determine what you’re going to get reimbursed for, or how many hours you can provide a service, or what services are even acceptable to be covered.”

Brittany Hubbard MAOT ’13, was one of many students who turned out to lobby in spite of the freezing rain that covered St. Paul on that day in February.

“My experience of OT Day at the Capitol was valuable to me personally, professionally and educationally,” she said. “I learned a lot about how to present myself with leaders in politics, as well as how important it is to continually educate the public about what OT is and how important it is for thousands of individuals."

“I think it was a big success,” said Sames of OT Day. The St. Kate's professor said it took students and faculty from all five institutions to make that kind of impact, though she credited St. Catherine University students for doing the hard work it took to organize the event.  

Students even took a break from their lobbying activities to attend a hearing of the Health and Human Services committee in the Minnesota Senate. The audience at the hearing was so large that facilitators stopped to ask if anyone wanted to speak about the issues on the table.

“There was a demonstrable presence there, and that was noticed,” said Maki.

With students, faculty and alumnae coming together in one voice to spread awareness of occupational therapy and its benefits, the group achieved their goals.

Fleming said the goals of OT Day tie back into the mission of St. Catherine University, and with the help of Catholic social justice teachings, students and faculty are empowered to make an impact in the profession of occupational therapy and the larger healthcare landscape.

March 28, 2012 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Healthcare, Leadership, Social Justice