Alyson Stover's Journey to Occupational Therapy Was 'More of a Calling Than a Job'

Alyson Stover is an associate professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

A childhood family trauma introduced Alyson Stover, MOT, JD, OTR/L, BCP to the power of occupational therapy. A subsequent lifetime of study and practice convinced her that patient advocacy was every bit as essential as her technical practice of occupational therapy.

That would be a pretty full slate for most OTs, but it doesn't begin to describe all of Stover's accomplishments. Stover founded and owns Capable Kids, a private outpatient pediatric practice north of Pittsburgh that provides physical and speech and language therapy services in addition to occupational therapy. She's also an associate professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. In July 2021, she will begin a four-year term as president-elect/president of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), representing over 100,000 OT practitioners. Stover is the first Pitt faculty member to hold this national leadership position.

Stover earned a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation science and her master's degree (MOT) from Pitt. Like all licensed OTs, she passed the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification exam and met other Pennsylvania commonwealth licensure requirements. As if all that wasn't impressive enough, she also holds a Juris Doctor and a post-graduate certificate in health law, both of which provide a solid foundation for championing patients' rights.

Stover is one of the many outstanding educators you'll encounter as a student in Pitt's Online Doctor of Clinical Science (CScD) in Occupational Therapy program. This 100% online post-professional clinical doctorate degree requires no campus visit and does not require fieldwork. The highly personalized curriculum fosters advanced leadership and management skills through a course of study unique to each students' needs and objectives. Live online sessions ensure close contact with faculty and classmates, promoting valuable networking opportunities.

"The focus on implementation sets Pitt’s CScD in OT program in a category of its own."
The CScD in OT program also offers a one-of-a-kind, 100% online Advanced Practice Certificate in Implementation of Evidence in Clinical Practice. This 12-credit certificate is earned upon degree completion, but can also be earned on a standalone basis.

Qualified applicants must have an entry-level master’s degree in occupational therapy (e.g., MOT) from an Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accredited program, or a baccalaureate degree in occupational therapy from an ACOTE-accredited program and a master’s degree in occupational therapy or another field of study. Applicants who received their occupational therapy training outside of the United States must have completed their occupational therapy training from a World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT)-approved program and meet all necessary requirements for admission to the University of Pittsburgh. View all admission requirements for the CScD in OT program.

What inspired you to become an occupational therapist?

When I was growing up, my cousin, Robyn, experienced a traumatic brain injury. She was only four years old at the time, and I was both scared and confused for my favorite little cousin and our family. As I watched Robyn regain skill and ability, I fell in love with the profession that brought her back from lying in bed to playing Candyland and Eye Spy with me. Occupational therapy restored my hope in Robyn’s future. I wanted to find out how I could do the same for others.

As I continued to learn about occupational therapy, I grew more enamored with it. Here was a profession able to intervene at the physical medicine level and deliver psychosocial interventions. Promoting health and wellness by discovering meaningful and purposeful occupations seemed to be more of a calling than a job. Even after 15+ years in this profession, the practice of occupational therapy continues to inspire me daily.

What motivated you to open a private practice, and how has it shaped your career?

Completing a graduate degree and becoming an occupational therapist for an outpatient pediatric clinic in 2005, I thought I had finally achieved my dream job. However, after only one year of full-time practice, I discovered that medicine was only one lens through which to attack a problem. I realized that advocacy for my clients and the occupational therapy profession was just as vital as pure science.

The health system is challenging to navigate, even for those of us in health-related professions. Our clients are often denied or have limited access to medically necessary services to address their health and health-associated needs.

I took this as a call to action. Relocating to Mercer County, I encountered new barriers, including limited health care resources and child welfare epidemics that impacted children's quality of life. Opening Capable Kids was a response to these barriers; it provided a resource for families. Through innovative visioning, Capable Kids has provided advanced interventions and services, including unique group therapy approaches. We've also implemented cutting-edge sensory integration and psychosocial interventions that had not been routinely available in our rural area.

However, the mission does not end with general practice and clinical management. I developed relationships with over 10 universities, accepting students across various health care disciplines and educating future practitioners while encouraging talented, brilliant individuals to consider returning to serve our rural community.

As our client population continued to grow, we found creative and functional ways to promote health and wellness for the children we served. We continued to observe the consequences that various epidemics brought to our community. Feeling that we could not adequately bring healing and wellness beyond the youth at our clinic, we opened Capable Families to address community and population health initiatives.

Where do you see the future of the occupational therapy profession in the coming years?

2020 has taught us that change is rapid and inevitable, predictability is elusive at best, and adaptability is necessary to survive and thrive. Occupational therapy practice must transform so it can lead to intraprofessional, interprofessional and extraprofessional change. We must advocate for defending and increasing reimbursement, expanding our recognition among novel payor sources, and protecting our practitioners, educators, research scientists and students from productivity threats and burnout. Through innovation, we must change both practice and policy.

We need to generate equitable and inclusive policies and practices to enhance the diversity of our profession. Strong intraprofessional collaboration can create that change. We must demonstrate that the distinct value of occupational therapy is the most effective way to address not only clients' physical medicine diagnoses and mental health experiences but also the social injustices occurring within our nation. We must create opportunities to thrive in the future.

Are you involved with any other professional organizations?

I am involved in many community organizations, such as the Mercer County Overdose Workgroup and committees at the state level, such as the Stimulant Prescribing Guideline Workgroup. I also serve as the PI (principal investigator) for a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) grant that explores interprofessional educational opportunities using a novel SBIRT-Plus (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment) curriculum.

How did you become involved with AOTA?

I started as a student member and continued membership throughout my practice. As I attended more conferences and networking events, my mentorship circle continued to expand. Each mentor challenged and supported me in new ways, many of which led to opportunities to meet the needs of occupational therapy through the work of AOTA.** **

What are your goals for AOTA, as president-elect?

My goals include advancing occupational therapy as the powerful, influential driving force for larger health care change, advancing occupational therapy’s national and global relevance and increasing general awareness of occupational therapy’s role as a leader in policy development and implementation.

As president-elect, I would like to find new and innovative ways to ensure that AOTA reflects the priorities of all the members of the profession. It should also be the resource that meets the needs of all the profession's members. I would like to increase the equitable and inclusive policies and practices of our profession and enhance the diversity represented and be a national leader in these initiatives.

How have your professional and clinical experiences informed your teaching style, curriculum and coursework within the classroom?

Working within various clinical settings and starting my pediatric private practice, I encountered many barriers when trying to deliver high-quality health care to my clients. I soon understood that occupational therapy could only be an effective driving force for client and community health and wellness through large-system change. This catapulted my transition from clinical practice to clinician-educator and led to my desire to teach in the CScD in OT program.

My teaching is driven by my experiences at the intersection of health care practice and health care policy. These methods help develop occupational therapists with increased professional awareness and the ability to improve occupational therapy practice through system-level change. I challenge myself to be a partner in learning and exemplify growth in expertise. My teaching philosophy integrates innovation with traditional roots and focuses on the integration of flexible content and tools, targeted instruction, student reflection and ownership and data-driven decisions to provide a personalized learning experience that propels the student into a successful practitioner-advocate role.

What do you hope students will gain from the online CScD in OT program?

I hope that students will gain functional skills to transform their passion and experience into active change for communities, populations and the practice of occupational therapy.

What makes Pitt's CScD in OT program unique?

The focus on implementation and personalized curriculum to meet each student’s unique interests, strengths and desired areas of growth really put Pitt’s CScD in OT program in a category of its own. The expertise of occupational therapy professionals, as well as experts outside of our profession, brings an innovative holistic approach to learning and creates real change agents.

What's your advice for prospective occupational therapy students?

What are you waiting for? Do it! The CScD in OT program is designed to meet your needs, so there is no way to go wrong with earning your doctoral degree.

If you're a practicing OT professional looking to develop advanced leadership capabilities, bolster your evidence-based practice skills, or impact the future trajectory of occupational therapy, an online CScD in Occupational Therapy is the degree for you. Apply now.

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