Today we’d like to introduce you to Bryant Edwards.
Bryant, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I earned my Masters of Public Health from The Ohio State University, and after having worked in Health Behavior and Education for a hospital system, decided to return to school to pursue my Masters of Arts and Doctorate in Occupational Therapy from the University of Southern California. Upon graduation, I began my professional career as an occupational therapist (OT) working in a pediatric outpatient hospital setting. I remained in the pediatric realm, transitioning to a school district. It was around this time that a friend of mine from graduate school asked if I would be interested in joining as a volunteer leader for the Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC). That was over ten years ago, and I’ve been actively involved with OTAC since; moving from committee chair to Secretary, Vice President and now President.
Has it been a smooth road?
On the whole, it’s been a pretty smooth road. I’ve been so fortunate to have a wonderful support network, personally and professionally, who have helped guide me along my pathway. The amazing thing about OTAC is that it’s comprised of volunteer leaders – occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapy students – all of whom are working to support, promote and advocate for the profession and those we serve. And the Association, being statewide, provides opportunities to collaborate with folks from up and down the state who are facing different challenges, and it allowed me the space to learn and grow. The biggest struggle is knowing that, as a professional association made up of volunteer leaders, we serve the entire profession within the state with limited resources.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Occupational Therapy Association of California story. Tell us more about the business.
As I mentioned, OTAC is a member-based, professional association serving the profession of occupational therapy. This is probably the best time to highlight what exactly occupational therapy is. Occupational therapy works with people to ensure they are able to participate in and perform meaningful daily activities (which we call occupations). We do this on an individual basis, and at group, community and population levels. In 2017, occupational therapy as a profession celebrated our 100-year anniversary, and OTAC was at the forefront of that celebration, leading an effort to have a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade. More recently, OTAC has been active in supporting our profession through the COVID-19 crisis, addressing a multitude of legislative and practice-related issues through advocacy and education, as well as taking a more proactive and strategic approach to addressing systemic racism within our profession and as it impacts our clients.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
We are definitely at an inflection point! COVID-19 has radically altered how all of us engage in meaningful occupations – from grocery shopping, engaging socially with friends and family, participating in education, and accessing healthcare. So, with that in mind, I’d foresee a shift in providing care virtually start to increase within occupational therapy. This actually has the opportunity to provide better access for folks who otherwise might not be able to access in-person services. Another shift I hope we can facilitate is addressing diversity within the profession. Our profession is predominantly comprised of white women; and especially in Los Angeles, that is not representative of the clients we serve. So, we need to make changes within the profession. And then, I hope to see OTs take on greater roles in population- and systems-based interventions that provide more opportunities for people of all abilities. The more we create a culture and environment that facilitates health, well-being and meaningful engagement in cherished activities, the better our outcomes are from a physical health, emotional health and economic standpoint.
The Zoom screen grab is a photo from an OTAC Board meeting, courtesy of Heather Kitching.