Healthcare Equity and OT (P.S. Happy OT Month!)

Hello, friends! Happy OT Month! Did yall know that April is Occupational Therapy Month? Though I am technically not an active student yet nor a practitioner, I still think I can contribute to this space! This month is a month celebrating, honoring, and advocating for occupational therapy (OT) in all aspects. One aspect that I hope to be an advocate for as a soon-to-be student and a future practitioner is diversifying the field of OT to ensure that it is an equitable and inclusive profession and service for all people. Why am I so passionate about healthcare equity? Well, if you haven’t noticed yet, I am a Black woman entering this profession – already placing me among the 5% of us who are OTs. Because I am quite underrepresented myself, I would hope to be passionate about ensuring that people who look like me know more about OT and have the same access to OT services just as other non-underrepresented groups do.

I’ve always found myself in spaces where my Blackness was not represented adequately – in my schools, at my church, and within my healthcare experiences. Believe it or not, I often questioned my passion to pursue an advanced healthcare career. My ethnic identity and socioeconomic status appeared to be incompatible with my career aspirations due to the lack of representation I had been continuously acquainted with. During my volunteering in healthcare settings, I rarely saw healthcare professionals, let alone occupational therapists, that looked like me or came from a similar upbringing as myself. Don’t get me wrong – I learned a great deal of information from the OTs I shadowed during my shadowing days, and they were all very kind and willing to teach. However, there were times in which I found it quite challenging or essentially impossible to talk about how my identities can be an asset to the way that I navigate the profession to best support my future patients. There is just something a bit more special that comes with seeing my identity being represented in spaces important to me.

During my study abroad experience in Ghana, I quickly recognized the importance of advocating for this profession – particularly in places that do not traditionally have access to available OT services in the community. The organization that I interned for (an organization for people with various disabilities) did not have any occupational therapy, let alone other rehabilitative therapy services present. I witnessed how so many of the organization’s residents could have benefitted from OT, ultimately promoting greater independence and improved quality of life for them. Interning and reflecting on my experience at this organization enabled me to critically analyze the power of stigma, misinformation, and lack of resources as barriers that prohibit many underserved communities such as in Ghana and my respective communities from receiving the transformative power of occupational therapy. That is why I believe that promoting the profession through an inclusive, multi-perspective framework is so important to ensure that folks like my companions in Ghana, my home community, and many others can also receive OT to better experience a life of independence and fulfillment.

Again, I know I am not a practitioner or even a student yet, but I am comforted to know that there are already organizations out there that also encapsulate the vision and goals that I hope to contribute to the field of occupational therapy. For instance, an organization that I discovered later last year called the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) has been such an instrumental resource that has educated me on pertinent issues around healthcare inequities, systemic racism, and occupational injustice apparent in our field. Being a COTAD mentee myself has reaffirmed the intersectional beauty of holding my underrepresented identities within the field of occupational therapy. I hope that with a coalition of OT students, practitioners, and other folks involved, we can revolutionize the healthcare field in ways that will better promote the profession inclusively and equitably.

Peace and love,

Irene

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