Maintaining Competency on Your Own

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Maintaining Competency on Your Own

Catherine Verrier Piersol, MS, OTR

Cathy Piersol

How do OTs working in home health maintain their professional competencies while independently practicing in the field?

Opportunities to increase knowledge and clinical skills through in-services and conferences are greatly increased when one is an employee who can attend these events that are happening at the site at which they work, or when employers agree to compensate for the expense of attending workshops. Conversely, independent contractors are responsible for seeking and attending continuing education on their own, which, at times, is demanding on one’s time and wallet.

AOTA’s web page, a great source of information (, reports that state regulatory boards are responsible for establishing criteria for continuing education requirements necessary, if any, to practice within that state. The state boards determine what is an acceptable form of CE and who can provide it.

But even if you practice in a state that does not require CE, the need to maintain current in theory and practice skills is paramount in this changing health care environment. Here are some conventional and creative suggestions for locating and attending continuing education opportunities, especially for self-employed individuals.

* State OTA programming: You can gain a great deal of information from your state association regarding statewide or regional annual conferences and/or local district-sponsored meetings, lectures and workshops. As an independent contractor, I find my state association membership a necessary link to the profession and a great avenue for networking.

Many state and regional conferences are advertised in OT publications and can be attended by non-members. A two- or three-day conference is an efficient way (and typically not too expensive) to attend a wide variety of sessions and to obtain current information and practical skills.

* AOTA programming: Most practitioners are aware of the annual conference in April. Having the opportunity to attend this event is event among thousands of OTs is a thrill. Our annual conference offers the chance to learn from experts in the field, share experiences and meet practitioners from around the country.

AOTA also holds the SIS Practice Conference in the fall in which home and community health issues are specifically addressed. The association presents a variety of workshops across the country, as well as on-line and clinical workshops.

* Independently sponsored seminars and workshops: If you are on one mailing list, you are probably on many and receive numerous workshop offers.

If not, you can check out the calendar sections of our weekly publications. There are a multitude of workshops sponsored throughout the year sponsored by individuals and professional groups.

* Agency/institution-sponsored programming: Home health care agencies and institutions typically provide in-service training for their staff and contractors. Mandatory in-services are scheduled on an annual basis, as well as opportunities to attend in-services on a variety of current topics. As an independent contractor, you should be eligible to attend these events, which are free of charge.

Locate the individual who is responsible for scheduling continuing education and ask to be included on the mailing list or voice-mail notification. Attending a one- to two-hour in-service that teaches clinical information is invaluable.

Also, providing your own in-service to nursing, social work and home health aide staff is an ideal opportunity to further educate health care professionals about current OT practice trends, as well as a way to repay the agency.

* University- and college-sponsored opportunities: If you are living in an area of the country where there are occupational therapy education programs, often the schools will offer educational seminars or workshops to the local OT community. In addition, the schools may offer educational opportunities to their alumnae.

* Foundation and society-sponsored events: Nationally recognized organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation or the Multiple Sclerosis Society often offer low-cost conferences or workshops designed for the consumer and professional. I have attended such events and found them enlightening and very worthwhile. Placement on the mailing list is one phone call away.

This discussion would not be complete without highlighting the importance of maintaining a current list of the continuing education experiences that you attend each year.

Certainly computer technology offers the clinician efficient methods for devising a tracking system. If you have other creative suggestions from your area of the country or any comments or questions, please send me an email.

Cathy Piersol, MS, OTR/L, has worked as a clinician, clinical educator and manager in a variety of clinical settings. She is currently academic fieldwork coordinator at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science and maintains a private practice in home health care. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected] or at ADVANCE at [email protected]

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