Document Type (Journals)

Original Research


Advocacy is a foundational value in occupational therapy, but uniformity in teaching and learning advocacy is lacking. This paper proposes and reports on the implementation of an advocacy course based on experiential education. The objective of the study was to evaluate student learning after an advocacy course with an experiential education component using an open-ended survey design. Participants were occupational therapy doctoral students, and the setting was a course taught in a health sciences university. Students voluntarily completed a four-item anonymous survey after participating in an experiential advocacy course. Written responses were coded into themes using an inductive approach. The primary themes identified were knowledge, skills learned, levels of comfort and intimidation, and motivation and self-efficacy. Before the course, students consistently indicated a lack of knowledge or skills, feeling uncomfortable and intimidated with policy and advocacy, and lacking the self-efficacy to affect advocacy outcomes. After the course, the students indicated a general increase in knowledge and familiarity with the advocacy process, feeling comfortable advocating because of their increased knowledge, and an increased interest in the advocacy process. Analysis of student responses after the advocacy course indicated increased student interest, confidence, and ability to engage in legislative advocacy. Because client well-being and scope of practice depend on occupational therapists having strong advocacy skills, students need to engage in experiential learning to acquire these skills. This study demonstrates students lacked skills and confidence related to advocacy but were able to learn those skills through an experiential advocacy course. We argue the observed transition from lack of ability to confidence and comfort was only possible through the experiential learning component.


Aaron Bonsall, PhD, OTR/L joined the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences as an Associate Professor in 2021. Dr. Bonsall earned a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Temple University in 2005 and his Doctor of Philosophy in Occupational Science from the University of Southern California in 2013. Dr. Bonsall’s research currently includes families and supporting parents through family-centered care. His publications include book chapters and journal articles in occupational therapy, family studies and disabilities studies. His commitment to the promotion of occupational science led him to serve as both the Treasurer and Communications Chair of the Society of the Study of Occupations: USA. Dr. Bonsall has experience teaching courses related to research and theory. He has worked with students on doctoral capstone projects and research projects. His experience as a therapist and a researcher allows him to apply theory and evidence-based practice to the learning process. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Bonsall practiced as an occupational therapist in the Los Angeles Unified School District, with preschoolers in Philadelphia and on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.

Rebecca Wolf, JD, MPH, OTR/L is Associate Professor and Chair of the Occupational Therapy Department at A.T. Still University. She holds a law degree from American University, a Master's in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health, and a Master's in Occupational Therapy from Midwestern University. She teaches professionalism, policy, and advocacy to MSOT and OTD students. Her research relates to maternal and postpartum health, as well as teaching advocacy skills to graduate students. She engages in legislative advocacy at the state level, and was successful in proposing, writing, and advocating for a bill in 2021 related to women's health and consent.

Abe Saffer, MPM has 15+ years public policy experience with Congress and Maryland’s General Assembly. A lobbyist for AOTA, he covers a range of federal policies: education, health, workforce, diversity, appropriations, small business, labor, and disability. He presents around the country as an expert on federal policy’s impact on local practice.

Declaration of Interest

The authors report no declarations of interest.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.