This month’s blog addresses the WFOT congress in Paris that took place from the 28th until the 31st of August. Three of the board members, Megan (Outreach), Ulrik (General), and I, Kira (Blogger) were able to attend this event. Firstly, we would like to thank ENOTHE for giving us the opportunity to represent SPOTeurope at such a big event. We are very grateful for it! At SPOTeurope we aim to promote students to look beyond their country’s border as upcoming OTs. What better way to do that than visit the biggest congress the OT world has to offer? The following text is a recap of that experience:
Who we met
The WFOT congress takes place every four years. Being able to attend it as students was an awesome opportunity for us! There were over 2500 delegates from over 100 countries present aswell as speakers from over 60 countries and sponsors from around the world. As you may have seen on our social media, we met professionals, researchers, and students in the OT area from many different countries. These face-to-face discussions meant the most to us.
We had the chance to exchange thoughts with students from France (they were the supporting volunteers at the congress). We met the President, Flora Calipari, as well as the Vice President, Julie Collet, of the Union Nationale des Associations des Etudiants en Ergothérapie, UNAEE. And we talked to students from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and a member of miniSPOT Hacettepe, Rana Aydemir. For the first time, we met OT students from the USA. It was very interesting to hear of their study program. We are looking forward to further collaborations with them!
We also had the chance to meet OTs such as Hanneke van Bruggen from the Netherlands, Anu Söderström from Finland (President of COTEC), Carol McKinstry from Australia (President of Occupational Therapy Australia, OTA), Marylin Pattinson from Australia (former President of WFOT), Samantha Hunter from Australia (Chief Executive Officer of OTA), Arnaud Schabaille from France (President of the French OT association, ANFE), Ritchard Ledgerd from the UK (Executive Director of WFOT), and many more.
Yohannes Assefa, an OT and teacher from Ethiopia, told us about the start of OT in Ethiopia in 2018. He is part of establishing the first OT study program which is starting this fall at the University of Gondar. Enrique Smith-Forbes, an OT from the US, has the aim to realise direct access for the public. Perhaps in a few years we will hear of his developed program for OT students. Abi Swidergal and Yvonne Randall from the USA, both gave us an insight on the profession of an OTA (OT Assistant) which is not yet established in Europe.
We were also finally able to meet ENOTHE members in person, such as Soemitro Poerbodipoero (President of ENOTHE), Lisette Farias (ENOTHE board member), Marlies Nijenhuis (founder of SPOTeurope), and Vanessa Röck (former Student Board member).
Our student gathering in Paris
On the last day of the congress, we were able to organize a meeting for OT students where they could connect with each other and spend a relaxed afternoon together.
While participating in many conversations, we were reminded of our goal as part of SPOTeurope: to unite OT students internationally. This face-to-face meeting, which we are not used to having, showed us how much easier it is to network and exchange ideas in person. We are grateful for every single student who decided to join, and we hope to meet many more of you in the future!
What we learned
Furthermore, our experience at the WFOT provided us with a greater understanding of relevant and future issues within the OT field in different countries and on the importance of international exchange for the future of OT. With the general theme of “Occupational R-Evolution” the lecture topics were set around encouraging the development of OT by being part of the revolution taking place such as OT’s working in disaster risk management, in times of war and humanitarian response.
What we (as future OT’s) need looking forward
We got to experience first-hand how international exchange can affect the quality of OT positively. Looking across borders to seek out new ideas for our daily practice, trying newly developed assessments or training methods, starting projects that have been proven to be successful in other countries, contacting OTs from the other side of the world to exchange information on research projects and so on. All of this is possible through our globalized world, and it can transform our work as OTs. Every student who joins platforms such as SPOT or local student organizations contribute to the change through exchange.
One thing that we will take with us is that there is a shortage of OTs in most countries of the world. So, everyone, stand up for your profession, spread the word! We have such a diverse field of work, so much to offer, let’s find a standing as future professionals and keep fighting for acknowledgement.