Membership to the American Occupational Therapy Association, a professional healthcare association for occupational therapists in America, is completely voluntary. So should you join?
First, we should understand what the role of a professional association is in general. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find as good of a description from AOTA compared to the ASHA, the American Speech-Language Association. According to the ASHA, role and responsibility of a professional association are to “Empower and support a particular profession, discipline, or trade, the interests of individuals engaged in that domain, and the public interest.”
More specifically, the principle activities may include:
- Academic Program Development
- Code of Conduct and Ethics Compliance
- Continuing Education and Professional Development
- Maintaining a Political Action Committee
- Publications and Resources
- Public Awareness and Engagement
- Scope of Practice
- Standards of Professional Practice1
What does the AOTA say related to the roles and responsibilities of a professional association? According to the AOTA vision, they “serve as a guiding light for the occupational therapy profession. Our mission statement guides us as we advance the work of occupational therapy practitioners, and our vision will lead the profession into the future.”
Their vision 2025 is, “as an inclusive profession, occupational therapy maximizes health, well-being, and quality of life for all people, populations, and communities through effective solutions that facilitate participation in everyday living.”
So some pretty ambitious ideologies with their verbs and adjectives of guide, advance, lead, inclusive, health, quality of life, facilitate. Scrolling down on the about page, there are headlines with the words transform, advocate, build.
Ah, so they use the word advocate, which is what the ASHA outlined in the role of a professional association. According to the AOTA, “the actions of policymakers, payors, and the public result in equitable access to, maximized utilization of, and fair compensation for occupational therapy services.”2 Which I agree, so this is very true of the nature of American politics, policy, even for the healthcare system.
Digging deeper, AOTA goes on to say that our membership “allows us to be a powerful voice for the profession. We protect your needs and create new opportunities by advocating on your behalf with the public, at state legislatures, and all the way to Capitol Hill. Our wins impact your everyday practice, from billing and compensation to the scope and reach of occupational therapy. AOTA also supports you, as you raise your voice on behalf of the profession and the people you serve.”
With the controversial overturning of abortion set by Roe v Wade in the June 24th ruling of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, I expect this advocacy issue to show up on the AOTA’s advocacy page, as they also mentioned recent issues such as telehealth and workforce diversity.
Separate from the AOTA membership, the AOTPAC, “is your doorway to collectively support candidates for federal office who support and understand the policy issues important to our profession—and the clients we serve. AOTPAC serves as an integral part of the AOTA Federal Affairs Team’s public policy strategy.”
Some critics of AOTPAC disagree with the politicians and policymakers that the money is going to – that is not necessarily in line with what occupational therapy fits among the healthcare professions.
Now contributions to AOTPAC, must like AOTA membership are also voluntary. Just in case you are curious, the AOTPAC legal disclaimer states,
“Contributions to AOTPAC are voluntary and refusal does not affect a member’s rights. Contributions or gifts to AOTPAC are not deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes. Corporate contributions to AOTPAC are prohibited. Corporations may make donations to AOTA to defray the expenses of administering AOTPAC, including the solicitation of political contributions. Donations made by corporate check will be deposited into an administrative fund established by AOTA for such purposes. Federal law requires political committees to use their best efforts to maintain and report the name, mailing address, occupation, and name of employer for each individual whose contributions aggregate in excess of $200 in a calendar year.”
As a student, you may even be required to enroll to be a student AOTA member. But afterward, some renew, and some don’t. I became a member as a student, stopped a bit after due to finances, and am now a member and get a lot of value from the AJOT, updates, and other resources. Then there are the advocacy and lobbying benefits as well.