The last few months I have been struggling with a decision all nationally certified occupational therapists must deal with now every three years. That is, whether or not to renew my NBCOT certification. Is it worthwhile to throw down my hard earned money to an organization to keep a few letters after my name simply because it had enough foresight to copyright said letters?
When I graduated from the MOT program at Nova Southeastern it wasn’t something we all considered. It was automatic. At the time, the late 90’s, the AOTA and NBCOT were nearing the end of a bitter legal battle involving the ownership of the OTR and COTA credentials. At the end of it, NBCOT walked away with the rights to the credentials and the AOTA won the right to create it’s own credentialing body and the right to continue using other trademarks that NBCOT was suing for. Most importantly, the hardship placed upon the budget of both organizations was over. That left occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants with the requirement to register with NBCOT initially, since they had control over the certification exam. Originally, renewal was every five years, later changed to every three years.
While renewal of the OTR and COTA certifications with NBCOT is not required to practice in the field as long as your state licensure is kept up to date, there are reasons for retaining them. As NBCOT puts forth on their website, they ensure that certificants remain serious about continuing professional development and evidence-based practice. They claim to serve the public interest by ensuring that all practitioners that use the credentials adhere to a minimum set of standards set by the organization which is run by a board of certified therapists. NBCOT is charged with continuously updating the certification exam and ensuring that it meets the current needs of the practice nationwide. They also offer competency tools via the NBCOT website to determine areas that might need additional study for those pursuing or maintaining their certification status.
AOTA, now relegated to the status of a professional association, offers some of those same benefits to those who choose not to renew NBCOT certification and join the AOTA. The AOTA website also offers competency tools and now specialty certifications to those serving in some of the numerous areas which OT’s and COTA’s are known to frequent. Additionally, AOTA provides vigorous support of the OT profession under the auspices of the AOTPAC, which seeks to influence legislation in favor of all practitioners.
While it may seem as if I have crafted a reason to choose affiliation with one organization over the other, that has not been my intent. In truth, one can remain a competent therapist without either organization. Or you can choose to affiliate with both organizations and give your practice and your profession the best possible chance at success in a landscape of constant challenges and change. I, for one, have chosen the option of renewing my national certification and my AOTA membership. I believe that supporting both organizations ensures that I will retain the means to do so. I see both as equally valuable. With the tumultuous environment that is the U.S. healthcare system, I want someone to ensure the integrity of my credentials, help with maintaining a competent knowledge of the field, lobbying congress so that my profession is not ignored by lawmakers and supporting the research that will keep me and my colleagues on the cutting edge of evidence-based practice. After all the rhetoric that is thrown around, we must remember why it is we do what we do. Yup, it’s all about the clients.
Please leave comments below on your choice, or lack thereof…