Student Reflects on Fieldwork at AOTA

Clarice Miller from the Class of 2017 has been completing her 3rd optional fieldwork this fall with the American Occupational Therapy Association.  She wrote a reflection on her time at AOTA and its impact on her future plans:

My experience at AOTA has been amazing. Everyone is welcoming and I am an active member of our team. I primarily work with our Federal Affairs Team and occasionally collaborate with our Regulatory and State Affairs Team. My typical week involves attending and reporting on Congressional Hearings on the Hill, attending meetings with Congressional Staff with AOTA lobbyists, and meeting Congressmen and women who are supportive of occupational therapy. Additionally, I participated in numerous other educational opportunities such as attending the Learning and Action Network (LAN) Summit on payment reform, meeting with AOTA employees and AOTA Board Members, attending coalition meetings, attending events about the Opioid Crisis and Center for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) payment reform, and various other projects. It has been a “choose your own adventure” type of fieldwork and I chose to focus on issues primarily affecting Medicaid and Medicare.

It has been wonderful to see all of the work that AOTA does to support occupational therapy practitioners and the care and research that goes into the materials AOTA produces. I have learned so much about how federal legislation is developed and how AOTA works with other organizations and Congressional Committees and staff to negotiate the content of a bill to best support occupational therapy practitioners and their clients. A majority of our meetings involved negotiating a solution to the therapy cap and advocating for our home health bill which will permit occupational therapists to open home health cases.

For my personal projects, I follow health news closely and look for anything that may impact our profession. One of my main projects has been to thoroughly research Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and assess the role of occupational therapy in those payment models. I will produce a report of my findings and identify how occupational therapy practitioners can meet the goals of an ACO and where there is potential for emerging areas of practice. Additionally, I researched and reported on the new HHS and CMS rule about the HCAHPS pain management survey questions and wrote a blog post on OT Connections about my personal journey to become more politically engaged.

Moving forward, I plan to enter the field as a practitioner while continuing to advocate for occupational therapy at both the state and federal level. I will pursue opportunities to work on my state senator’s campaign, work with my state association on legislative goals, and continue to seek opportunities to work with AOTA. After this fieldwork, I have a better appreciation of AOTA and have a better understanding of what it means to be an occupational therapy practitioner. I feel more confident in my ability to define occupational therapy and communicate why it is vital that our services continue to be valued and supported by payment reform and value-based care incentives. My exact path and what future degrees I will pursue is unclear, but I know that advocating for the inclusion and advancement of occupational therapy in the changing healthcare structure is my main goal, no matter the job title.

Watch Demos of the New Technology in the OT Lab

Dr. Dawn Nilsen did demos of some of the new technology available in the new OT lab, including interactive applications for teaching anatomy, and ways to make PowerPoint presentations more interactive.

Watch the demos here:


Columbia OT Lab Grand Opening

The Columbia University Programs in Occupational Therapy hosted a grand opening for our new OT lab space yesterday.  Alumni, university and hospital colleagues, and fieldwork supervisors joined the faculty and staff to see the ADL practical areas and the new teaching technology.


The ADL areas include a bathroom with grab bars, seats, and a removable shower head, a kitchen, and bedroom with a Murphy bed, dresser, and closet, as well as the CUOT bodega, and a pediatric area.

The new teaching technology includes a camera that can magnify and project so everyone can see demonstrations from around the room, and a smart board with a variety of teaching applications.

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us and who made the lab space possible.  This will provide fantastic learning opportunities for our current and future students.

Columbia Circulates Form Letter for OTD Mandate Abeyance

Please personalize, save, and email this letter using the fillable fields if you have concerns about the OTD mandate. This will take less than 5 minutes of your time. Please add your credentials at the bottom. Please note that you can customize the last bullet for other comments and concerns.

OTD Mandate Abeyance Request Form Letter

Please email your letter to:

The letter needs to be sent by 11/25 at the latest, but the sooner the better.

Lastly, please share this link widely to colleagues and stakeholders who may also have concerns: Please use social media, chat boards, message boards, etc. to share this link extensively.




OT Students Organize Bus Demo

Photo courtesy of Barrier Free Living

Our students have been working hard all summer at their Level II fieldwork placements in Mental Health, Physical Disabilities, and Pediatrics and accomplishing wonderful things.  One group of students completing Level II Mental Health fieldwork at Barrier Free Living ( wanted to increase their client’s access to transportation.  They invited an MTA bus to come to the transitional housing site to educate the residents about the accessibility of the bus system.  OT student Amanda Rubin, who spearheaded the project, explained that a majority of the residents use motorized wheelchairs or scooters and were often dependent on Access-A-Ride, which sometimes came too late or too early.

More than 10 residents took part in the demonstration.  They all had the opportunity to enter, settle, and exit the bus with the assistance of the OT Department and an MTA bus driver.  Each person had different needs based on their specific disability and adaptive equipment.  They also learned how to communicate with the bus driver in order to get their needs met.

The entire day was dedicated to helping residents learn their rights, how to best advocate for themselves, and how to independently use public transportation.


Dr. Dawn Nilsen Participates in Lehman College Public Health Minute

Dr. Dawn Nilsen participated in the Lehman College, CUNY public health minute segment with Dr. Bill Latimer, Dean of the School of Health Sciences, Human Services and Nursing.  Dr. Nilsen spoke about the stroke motor review she and Dr. Glen Gillen are working on with AOTA.  You can listen to the segment at the link below:

OT Faculty Honored at CUMC Luncheon

Several OT faculty members were honored at the annual P&S Honors Luncheon today.  Lee Goldman gave remarks thanking the faculty for making Columbia a top notch place to be, and medical students played a musical selection.

The faculty honors include:

Sharon Gutman, PhD, OTR for her promotion to Professor of Rehabilitation & Regenerative Medicine (Occupational Therapy) and as a grantee of the Virginia Apgar Academy of Medical Educators.

Dawn Nilsen, EdD, OTR/L for her promotion to Associate Professor of Rehabilitation & Regenerative Medicine (Occupational Therapy).

Katherine Dimitropoulou, PhD, OTR/L for her 2016 Irving Institute Clinical Trials Office Pilot Award.

Janet Falk-Kessler, EdD, OTR as a grantee of the Virginia Apgar Academy of Medical Educators.

Glen Gillen, EdD, OTR as an Apgar Scholar of the Virginia Apgar Academy of Medical Educators and for delivering the keynote address at the 2017 Vermont Occupational Therapy Association’s Annual Conference.

Lenin Grajo, Phd, EdM, OTR as a recipient of the Provost’s Grant Program for Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery.


MS2 Students Present Their Older Adult and Grantwriting Projects

Last week, the MS2 class presented posters about their projects for their Older Adult and Grantwriting classes, run by Professor Phyllis Simon and Dr. Lenin Grajo.  The students used the needs of their Level 1 Older Adult fieldwork sites to generate grant proposals and suggested funding agencies that might accept the proposals.  The students also ran programs at their older adult fieldwork sites, which included senior centers, day programs, NORCs, and home visits.   They met with their sites in the fall to do a needs analysis, and then returned once a week for ten weeks for their fieldwork this spring.

Students were divided into groups, and each group presented for an hour to their classmates, the MS1 class, OT and PT faculty, OT program staff, and staff and participants from their fieldwork sites.  One of the fieldwork site staff members who attended said that having the students, “was a wonderful learning experience for everyone.  The students, our staff, and the participants.”

Many of the students ran programs around falls risk and assessment, home safety, and activity participation.

Melissa Aponte and Ivy Vega ran a bilingual group about nutrition and healthy eating at a local senior center.  Several of their participants had low literacy, so they created a visual nutritional assessment appropriate for their population.

Margo Stoner and Michelle Hogan teamed up with the Center for Hearing and Communication to bring a hearing screening van to their fieldwork site, a local NORC.  Forty residents received hearing screenings, and Margo and Michelle followed up with those who had hearing loss.

Other groups focused on life reviews, stress, participating in meaningful activities in daily life, and technology.  One group helped facilitate a member run talent show, which helped increase participation in other groups, and showcased a wide variety of talents among the seniors at their site.  At least one group started by the students is being continued as a member run group.  Overall, the students did an outstanding job.

March/April Faculty Update

Dr. Lenin Grajo published a chapter, “Occupational Adaptation”, in Perspectives on Human Occupation: Theories Underlying Practice.  

Amanda Sarafian will be attending a workshop as part of the the Research CP initiative to set a patient-centered research agenda for cerebral palsy (CP).

Dr. Emily Raphael-Greenfield and Dr. Sharon Gutman published an article, “Effectiveness of a supportive housing program for homeless adults with mental illness and substance use: A two-group controlled trial” in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Dr. Glen Gillen and Dr. Dawn Nilsen presented at the Cornell Stroke Symposium.

Amanda Sarafian and Dr. Lenin Grajo are working with AOTA to do a systematic review of evidence for pediatric OT interventions to determine their effectiveness on learning and academic outcomes.

Dr. Glen Gillen is one of the featured medical experts in Healing the Broken Brain by Dr. Mike Dow and David Dow.  The book asks clinicians all of the questions that stroke survivors and their families want to know the answer to.


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