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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 222-227

Continuing education offerings and conferences among state occupational therapy association

Department of Occupational Therapy, School of Health Professions, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA

Date of Web Publication12-Dec-2017

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Hon K Yuen
Department of Occupational Therapy, School of Health Professions, University of Alabama At Birmingham, 1530 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35294
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijhas.IJHAS_160_16

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CONTEXT: Limited information exists in the literature about how state occupational therapy (OT) associations fulfill their educational mission.
AIMS: The purpose of this study is to explore and seek a better understanding of how state OT associations fulfill the provision of professional development activities through continuing education (CE) offerings and conferences.
SETTINGS AND DESIGN: This descriptive study used a thematic survey design.
SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Eight presidents of state OT associations participated in an interview and answered open-ended questions related to CE opportunities their association offered. In addition, six current and past state OT association board members from different states participated in providing credibility and confirmatory feedback. Interviews were analyzed using content analysis.
RESULTS: Three themes emerged from the content analysis: (1). Changing models of CE delivery; (2). Changing management strategies on CE delivery; and (3). Weighing costs and benefits of delegation and partnership with constituents.
CONCLUSIONS: As revealed from the study findings, state OT associations are developing diverse models and management strategies to offer their CE delivery to meet member and nonmember needs. At the same time, they are weighing the cost and benefits of each of these methods and strategies before making decisions on which ones to adopt long-term for providing CE.

Keywords: Conferences, continuing education, occupational therapy, organizations

How to cite this article:
Yuen HK, Stippler WW, Burke KB, McClellan VT, Dudgeon BJ. Continuing education offerings and conferences among state occupational therapy association. Int J Health Allied Sci 2017;6:222-7

How to cite this URL:
Yuen HK, Stippler WW, Burke KB, McClellan VT, Dudgeon BJ. Continuing education offerings and conferences among state occupational therapy association. Int J Health Allied Sci [serial online] 2017 [cited 2024 Feb 24];6:222-7. Available from: https://www.ijhas.in/text.asp?2017/6/4/222/220520

  Introduction Top

State occupational therapy (OT) associations are affiliated with the national American OT Association (AOTA), but each state association is an independent organization. Functioning as the grassroots of AOTA, state associations serve to promote and market the profession at state and local levels and provide professional development opportunities through continuing education (CE) for members and nonmembers throughout their career.[1] The primary mission of state associations is to advocate and promote the profession through the establishment of or support for policies (including protection of the scope of practice) that have impact on OT practitioners and the services they provide at the state level.[2],[3],[4] Such policies establish and support require legislative or administrative actions through lobbying which is often costly.[3],[5] Other expenditures of state associations may include website development, maintenance and update, and membership benefits such as student scholarships and grant award programs.[6],[7],[8]

The secondary mission of state OT associations is to provide professional development opportunities through CE.[4] Such CE offerings by state associations not only benefit its members and nonmembers but also can provide a source of revenue. Membership discounts for CE, such as state conferences, serve as an avenue to recruit and retain members, with the membership fee often being the main source of revenue for most state associations.[7],[8],[9]

In order for the state OT association to grow and balance the financial aspects of fulfilling its key mission (i.e., advocacy, public policy/legislation, education, and/or research/scholarship), one approach state associations have adopted to attract and maintain more members is through CE programming.[9] According to the State Associations Conference List (2017) from the AOTA website (https://www.aota.org/Advocacy-Policy/State-Policy/State%20Policy%20Resources%20and%20Factsheets/State-Conferences-2016.aspx), about 60% of OT associations conduct at least one annual conference, and some have these conferences twice or more each year. However, limited information exists in the literature about how state associations fulfill their educational mission, especially related to the provision of professional development opportunities through CE. The purpose of this study is to explore and seek a better understanding of how state OT associations fulfill the provision of professional development activities through CE offerings and conferences.

  Subjects and Methods Top


This descriptive study involved the use of thematic survey, a qualitative research design.[10] This study (X141216003) was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


An official invitation requesting participation in an interview was sent through e-mail to the president of each of the 50 state OT associations in the United States using the primary contact information on its website. Fifteen affirmative responses from state associations were received to participate in this study, with eight actually completing the interview. Informed consent was provided by participants on agreement to be interviewed. Of these eight interviews, one was completed in a phone conversation, two were completed through video conferencing, and five were completed through e-mail exchanges. These eight associations represented diverse regions in the United States, with two from the Northeast, one from the Midwest, one from the Northwest, two from the Southwest, and two from the South.


Each interview began with general, open-ended questions about the overall goals of the association and its plan of action in the coming year. The topics of discussion for each interview were initially varied and broad, but as the interview went on the topic of discussion focused on professional development opportunities offered by the association, especially related to experience and planning of the organization's CE offerings and conferences. To maintain consistency across interviews, an interview guide was used as a starting point, not as a way to set limitations regarding conversation topics, rather facilitate discussion (see sample questions of the interview guide in [Table 1]). Depending on the flow of interaction in individual interviews, probes were used at times to guide the discussion. Interviews conducted over video conferencing were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The interview conducted over the phone was not audio-recorded, but extensive notes were taken on the interaction. E-mail exchanges followed the same protocol and procedure (including interview guide) as the interviews conducted over videoconferencing and telephone. Each verbal interview lasted for about 30 min. All interviews were conducted by three OT graduate students (WWS, KBB, and VTM), who had no relationship to any of the state OT associations, between March 2015 and December 2015.
Table 1: Sample open-ended questions in the interview guide

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In addition, current and past state OT association board members from different states participated in review and discussion of study findings. After extraction of categories from the transcripts, and composition of the preliminary summary of study findings, which included the emergent themes and interpretation from the interviews, a poster presentation was delivered in April 2017 at the AOTA Annual Conference and Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia. Six current and past state OT association board members (including presidents and conference committee members) from different states attended the session and provided feedback on the preliminary findings presented on the poster to further explain and clarify the issues and enrich the findings. These six members each appeared at a different time during the 2-h poster presentation, with no known discussions among them. Conversations with the six conference attendees were not audio-recorded. However, the poster presenter (HKY) kept detailed notes on the content of the conversation after interacting with each of the six attendees, and the feedback was included in the original data set which then underwent further content analysis.

Qualitative descriptive analysis

Interview transcripts, notes of the unrecorded telephone conversation, and e-mail texts were analyzed using content analysis to identify categories that were related to state OT association CE issues. All transcripts, notes, and e-mail texts were reviewed by three graduate student investigators independently to formulate tentative categories. Initial content or topic codes were manually assigned to phrases and sentences through open coding. The three investigators then organized codes by similarity of content. As analysis progressed, quotations with related codes were assigned to broader category labels that described coded responses (axial coding), and these were then merged into themes.[11] The preliminary findings were reported in a poster presentation at the 2017 AOTA Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

After the poster presentation, the first author (HKY) reanalyzed the data by incorporating the feedback from the six conference attendees about their experiences related to the planning and organization of CE offerings and conferences. The method of reanalyzing all the collected data was the same as the three graduate student investigators (i.e., open coding and then axial coding). However, with the feedback from the six conference attendees, the data analytic approach changed from merely exploratory toward thematic description with interpretation.[10] The findings provided a better understanding on how state OT associations delivered professional development activities through CE offerings and conferences.

In addition to the feedback from the six conference attendees to enhance credibility and confirmability (i.e., trustworthiness) of the results,[12],[13],[14] an investigator triangulation approach was incorporated.[15] The author (BJD) had experience serving on a state OT association board and assisting in the organization of state annual conferences. As well, this author had knowledge of qualitative research and was not directly involved in the data collection and served as an external auditor to review data categorization, interpretation, and conclusion (i.e., peer debriefing). After reviewing all the interview data independently, the author (BJD) met with the first author (HKY) several times to check the plausibility of the data categorization and to discuss the meaning of categories and themes until consensus was reached.

  Results Top

Two themes emerged from the preliminary analysis of the interview data with the eight state OT association presidents which were offering more accessible and affordable CE opportunities and delegating logistic and business aspects of CE events to others. However, after incorporating the feedback from the six conference attendees with the preliminary summary of the findings, and reanalyzing all the collected data, three new themes emerged. They were (1). Changing models of CE delivery; (2). Changing management strategies on CE delivery; and (3). Weighing costs and benefits of delegation and partnership with constituents. The three themes are depicted diagrammatically in [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Relationship of the emergent themes related to continuing education delivery. Note. CE = Continuing education

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Theme 1: Changing models of continuing education delivery

Some state OT associations have put in place methods to increase the caliber of conferences to attract more attendees while creating more affordable, convenient, and shorter duration CE options.[16],[17],[18] Association H has tried to put together its fall conference as more of an event than a CE offering. The association purposefully hosted the conference at a beach resort each year, immediately after the seasonal rate drop in room prices to make it more affordable for attendees. The fall conference of Association H “occurs over 3 days, but each day, educational offerings are only done for half the day – Friday afternoon and early evening, Saturday and Sunday morning. By doing so, it allows attendees to take off minimal time from work with the additional luxury of the beach.” In addition, Association H put an emphasis on high-quality speakers[17] and rotated its 1-day spring conference annually among three different metropolitan areas, so as to make the event more accessible. To attract more attendees, Association H deliberately scheduled its spring conference each year to immediately precede the state OT licensure renewal deadline for which the CE requirement is mandated.

Additional models to provide affordable, convenient, and shorter duration CE options from other state associations included two other associations (A and B) which have been offering small half-day events and another association (C) which sometimes included a short educational event at its “pub nights.”[18],[19] Association D supported “CE at local OT groups by 'sanctioning' educational presentations done by local groups, making them eligible for licensure worthy credits.” Association C also has had association representatives host or coordinate CE events in its districts.

Another method to offer accessible and affordable CE was to capitalize on distance learning or online CE courses.[20],[21] In the past, association E has offered online educational opportunities in the form of webinars. Association D has also made it a goal to offer members “live CE to remote location (s) during one day of (their) conference” and explore offering “recorded CE sessions” for practitioners in rural and remote areas. These prerecorded or live courses are short and can be completed in 1 h or over a lunchtime.

A third method described was through partnership with local academic OT programs. This is a natural fit, particularly for an all-volunteer based organization. Usually, academics have flexibility in their schedule and are able to assist the association to do some of the work that is necessary to organize a CE event. Two associations (C and H) have partnered with their state and/or local OT programs to sponsor low-cost CE classes every year. One OT district of association F has partnered with a local university, incorporating doctoral student presentations of their final capstone projects as CE programs. Association D also planned to partner with university faculty to offer affordable CE courses at local forums.

A fourth method was through partnership with other local and state organizations, or national CE providers. Association H has partnered with external agencies to offer preconference education events at their annual fall conference. One poster attendee also described partnership with the Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association to offer CE courses.

Theme 2: Changing management strategies on continuing education delivery

Participants shared that regional and/or statewide conferences were becoming laborious for board members. The business and logistic sides of the conference was becoming overwhelming and derailing organizational focus and energy. Board members felt their true objective of promoting OT was being compromised and getting lost in the planning process of large conferences. To remedy this, three associations (C, E, and F) have hired association management companies (AMCs) to handle the business aspects (advertising, marketing, and logistics) of association-directed conferences.[22]

Furthermore, some state OT associations were attempting to recruit those with nonprofit organization experience when seeking new board members. Board members with the previous business experience might be able to aid the executive board in making decisions for handling the business side of CE events and overall association management including financial planning and marketing.

Theme 3: Weighing costs and benefits of delegation and partnership with constituents

Some state OT associations have changed traditional methods of educational service delivery by creating more short, ½ day CE events throughout the year as an alternative to traditional conferences. However, some board members in other state associations prefer to maintain the traditional conferences;[16] one poster attendee verbalized that she did not want to give up the 3-day state conference in California. The president of Association H felt their fall conference model is more sustainable since organizing a larger scale conference would empower them to garner better vendor sponsors. He argued that “we would rather have larger numbers of active attendees and make less money per person, and we price our events low.”

Online educational opportunities are emerging in the CE marketplace but have not been as commonly used by state OT associations as traditional conferences that would be attended in-person. The most common concern of the associations with this format was problems with not being financially profitable and low attendance.[16],[23] In the past, association E had offered online educational opportunities in the form of webinars but commented that they were not very well attended. This becomes a big concern as the upfront cost of technology (video conferencing equipment and software programs) for setting up online courses is costly. Association H has considered offering online CE but has not pursued it for a handful of reasons such as lack of personnel resources (board members with significant information technology experience) and questioning the sustainability as competition is keen. “Probably the most relevant one is there are many-many online offerings out there, with a great deal of variability of quality, most of which are inexpensive. We are an all-volunteer organization, and I personally do not see us as having the personnel power to commit to develop this and be able to do it in a way that is high quality, competitive, something that would generate revenue, and offering something to OT practitioners in our state to which they do not already have access (to).” The president of Association H perceived the business model of offering a limited number of high quality and affordable conferences as a way to sustain proliferation than offering online CE.

Partnering state OT associations with local OT and/or OT assistant (OTA) academic programs at colleges or universities can be a viable option to offer smaller, more affordable educational opportunities. Such joint efforts can then involve students-in-training,[24] and the use of a university's learning management systems and spaces that may reduce costs for traditional CE courses, though much of this is contingent on the climate of support from the academic program's administration. One poster attendee cautioned that partnership with academic OT programs and use of the university's space sounds good, but accommodation/housing can be a problem as not every university has hotel accommodations that are within walking distance to the conference site. Commuting between the hotel and the conference site at a university can become a big problem when no hotel is within walking distance from the conference site as reflected on by that poster attendee regarding her experience when her state OT association organized such a CE event.

To conduct traditional conferences more efficiently, several state OT associations have hired AMCs as a way to reduce logistical and business workloads of board members. With the organization of conferences in the hands of the AMC, board members and conference volunteers are supposed to have more time devoted to promoting and reviewing poster and presenter applications and developing higher quality educational offerings. However, two poster attendees expressed major concerns of the high service charges from the AMC. Even though an AMC has assisted a state OT association to conduct conferences with some success, insufficient financial resources of the state association may mean they will not be able to continue the contract because of the high cost. Hiring an AMC to organize a conference would represent a significant ongoing expense, and without financial solvency, it would not warrant the state professional association taking that risk. As the president of Association H commented, “given the relatively small number of licensed practitioners (e.g., 2000) in some states relative to California and Texas, this model would not be financially sustainable.” One poster attendee expressed that her state OT association could not afford the upfront expenditures related to hiring the AMC.

Furthermore, there was a disappointment on the part of the state OT association regarding the AMC's assistance with organizing the conference and generating revenue. Some board members (the two previous poster attendees) were disappointed with the small amount of revenue generated from their conferences. The president of Association H echoed that “I have also heard cautionary tales from other state presidents about the effectiveness of AMCs.” One poster attendee also complained that the amount of work for the board members was still a lot even though they had hired an AMC to assist in organizing the conference. As a result, the association decided not to continue the contract with the AMC in the following year.

In an effort to run the association like a business and also promote OT, state associations may benefit from seeking executive board members with prior nonprofit organization experiences. Presidents of both associations (G and H) praised the value of board members with administrative acumen and previous management experience in nonprofit organizations and attested to the benefits of having such board members when planning and coordinating events such as state and regional conferences.

  Discussion Top

As revealed from the findings of this study, state OT associations are developing diverse models and management strategies to support their CE delivery and to meet member and non-member needs. It was clear that traditional conferences are no longer the only way to provide CE opportunities that state OT associations can offer. Some associations have changed traditional methods of educational service delivery by offering live and/or recorded segments from conferences, creating smaller, more affordable CE sessions such as half-a-day to a day event, having association representatives hosting CE events in their districts, and exploring distance learning and online educational offerings.[16],[17],[20],[21] It is hoped that such changes will increase attendees and provide a more accessible and affordable option for those who cannot make the time or financial commitment to a traditional full day or multiple day event. As the president of Association H summarized that the mindset of most state OT association board members is “to put together a conference or an event where people want to go and make it easy for them to attend.”

It seems that many state OT associations regularly looked at different models and management strategies and weighed the cost and benefit of each of these methods and strategies. Hiring an AMC to handle the business aspects of association-directed conferences may not be a viable and sustainable strategy especially for small scale conferences. Whereas, recruiting board members with previous business experience is ideal but not always feasible. Which models and management strategies a particular state OT association decides to adopt in providing CE may depend on a variety of factors such as the association's financial status, number of OT practitioners in their state, business expertise of the board members, commitment of the board members, goals and priorities of the association board members related to CE offerings and conferences. Further study should explore these factors.

Based on the information gathered from the current and past state presidents or board members of the OT association, we described how the state OT associations operate in relation to CE delivery. The findings may assist future presidents and board members on how they conduct CE delivery.

Limitations, strengths, and recommendations

A limitation of this study is the relatively small sample size with the main data collection (i.e., interview) confined to the state presidents of the OT association. Further studies should include systematic interviewing a larger pool of conference committee members and conference attendees to develop a more comprehensive picture about the success and failure of some of the strategies used to improve CE. The six attendees deliberately searched over 1200 poster presentations at the 2017 AOTA annual conference and attended our poster session because they wanted to know the study findings (narrative summary) as well as provide their opinions and reflect on their experience. This novel approach to confirmability and credibility as a means of validation is critical for the verification of the preliminary study findings. Another strength of this study is the addition of an investigator triangulation approach to further strengthen the trustworthiness of the findings.


The authors would like to thank the presidents of the following State OT association to participate in the interview: Alabama OT Association, Florida OT Association, Massachusetts Association for OT, New Mexico OT Association, OT Association of Colorado, OT Association of Oregon, Pennsylvania OT Association, and the Wisconsin OT Association.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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