How AOTF is Building Evidence to Improve OT Practice and Health

How AOTF is Building Evidence to Improve OT Practice and Health

We’re thrilled to feature this guest post from the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) to showcase the great work this non-profit does for the OT profession (and you) with ways we can all help support this crucial organization! 

Evidence-based practice has transformed occupational therapy and the need for more evidence grows every day. Since 1965, the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) has been the nation’s leading non-profit investing in new OT research and the future OT workforce. Today, AOTF is one of the few places that OT researchers, clinicians and students can obtain financial support and resources for practice.

All of the work accomplished by this stand-alone organization is made possible through the philanthropic generosity of a community of donors. Why is AOTF important to our profession and your practice? Let’s find out.

The mission of AOTF is “to advance the science of occupational therapy to improve both practice and health.” Our vision is to build a vibrant science of occupational therapy where all people, regardless of age or ability can participate in the activities of their choosing, that give their lives meaning.

To accomplish this goal we work in three main areas:

1. Fund new research grants to build OT evidence
2. Support future OT professionals, be they clinicians, scientists, educators or entrepreneurs
3. Disseminate information to the profession and the public

AOTF Funds New OT Research

To meet the growing demand and provide the evidence clinicians, clients, caregivers, policymakers and payers need, AOTF has created three distinct research grant programs to address areas of high priority.

1. Intervention Research Grant

The Intervention Research Grant (IRG) is a unique, early-stage, seed-funding grant that provides an opportunity for OT researchers to collect pilot data and build proof of concept for new and novel ideas. The IRG addresses a critical gap that exists in OT research and has opened an important pathway for OTs to be Principal Investigators on early-stage research grants.

Thanks to the support of AOTF donors and partners, the IRG program has funded 40 studies over the last 8 years covering almost two dozen topics. The IRG program has been a success by a number of metrics including follow-on funding in excess of 10 times our investment, publications and presentations, support for younger OT researchers and career advancement.

The IRG programs is making a significant difference in the amount of new and validated OT evidence, cultivating interdisciplinary research teams, enhancing inclusion of underserved and diverse populations in research and building bridges between research, evidence and practice.

2. The Health Services Research Grant

The Health Services Research Grant (HSR) was created in 2019 to also support early-stage research that examines how people get access to health care, how and what care is delivered, the cost of that care, and what happens to patients as a result of receiving or not receiving care – all through an OT lens. Specifically, HSR is a multidisciplinary field that studies how social factors, financing systems, organizational structures and processes, health technologies, and personal behaviors affect access to health care, the quality and costs of health care, and ultimately, the health and well-being of health care consumers.

aotf health services research grant

Health Services Research has a high value to both individuals and society. Past research has yielded information on intervention trends and risk factors, outcome of treatments, and patterns of care.  It has established new health policies and to the development of new therapies.

No other organization is funding OT-specific HSR like AOTF.

The initial HSR grant program was made possible by a generous philanthropic gift from National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) in 2018 and the program was renewed in 2021 for another three years thanks to ongoing support of NBCOT. This will allow HSR grants to continue through 2024.

3. The Implementation Research Grant

The Implementation Research (IR) Grant program was created in 2019 also through a gift by NBCOT because it has so much potential to directly improve the delivery of care to clients and is one of the most common challenges for OTs.

We know that it takes on average 15 years for new evidence to become widely adopted throughout medical practice. This delay in implementation increases costs and decreases quality of care. The IR grant specifically supports research that is focused on helping occupational therapists take evidence-informed practice from theory to reality in their practice setting. This research grant develops and evaluates the processes used to implement, sustain, and or scale-up evidence-based practice into routine care with an end goal to improve the quality and effectiveness of care.

The Planning Grant Collective

In addition to soliciting research proposals from OT scientists, AOTF is also working to generate new research ideas through a special program, the Planning Grant Collective (PGC). The PGC was created in 2017 to bring together OT researchers, other healthcare specialists, stakeholders and funders for a 2-day workshop that unpacks current research on a specific topic, explores gaps that exist and formulates teams that can craft new proposals. The PGC gives OT researchers a unique environment to engage and collaborate with other specialists and stakeholders so that their ideas and perspectives can be included in the development of new research proposals.

We have held 4 PGC’s so far on the topics of Mental Health, Cancer Survivorship Roles, Aging in Place and Telehealth. Our next PGC will be on the topic of Fatigue.

The Impact of OT Research

  • Identifying and supporting key areas of need for OT practice
  • Demonstrating that occupational therapy interventions meet the criteria as evidence-based practice
  • Advancing early and mid-career researchers, including tenure achievement
  • Building collaboration with specialists in other fields as research partners
  • Raising the visibility of OT among health care providers, policy makers and the public
  • Forming partnerships with corporations, other non-profit organizations and research foundations

Supporting the Future of Occupational Therapy

We know that the cost of an OT degree continues to rise and this cost can be a barrier for many who wish to pursue this career. In 2018, the OT Student Assembly told AOTA that 50% of OT students were graduating with $30,000-$50,000 of student debt. With over 50 scholarships and fellowships to OT students and researchers, AOTF is committed to supporting the future OT workforce and building research capacity.

All scholarships have been made through philanthropic gifts by individuals, organizations, companies and state associations. To see a full list of scholarships and list of state associations supporting OTs in their state, be sure to visit this list of available scholarships.  

Students Supporting Evidence-Based Practice

The St. Catherine’s Challenge, an annual, student-led fundraising initiative, raises money for the Intervention Research Grant program. Each year OT students from across the country and their schools work to raise money for this AOTF research grant program. The Challenge began in 2013 when students from St. Catherine’s University wanted to do a philanthropic project that would benefit the OT profession. They reached out to about a dozen programs to join them in a friendly competition and helped raise over $18,000 that first year. Now, around 50 schools compete annually in the Challenge, and in total the Challenge has raised over $355,000 for OT research.

This year’s goal is to raise $65,000 which will fully fund an IRG. The top three schools earn prizes and recognition at the AOTA Conference. There are many ways students fundraise and we find that the schools that do the best have the most alumni engagement. So, with one gift you can support your alma mater and new OT research. The current 2022 Challenge is underway and ends on February 28, 2022. To see if your school is participating or to donate, please visit the St. Catherine Challenge page here.

2022 SCC Pledge Create Team Join

AOTF For Everyone

AOTF also has resources, events, and information for all OTs:

  • Join us at AOTA Conference for Foundation Friday to hear from dynamic speakers on a range of important OT topics
  • Breakfast With a Scholar
  • Research Career Excellence Symposium
  • State of the Science Symposium

The Breakfast and Science Symposium are ticketed events open to everyone, even if you don’t register for the AOTA Conference. The Research Career Symposium is a free event included with Conference registration.

Sign up for our free monthly newsletter, Research Resources and the latest in OT research news and funding opportunities.

Support the Future of OT by Supporting AOTF

As an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit, AOTF is a charitable, scientific and educational organization governed by an elected Board of Trustees consisting of members from the public and from the profession of occupational therapy. We have a number of volunteer committees as well that help us fulfill our mission.

If you have an interest in helping support the work of AOTF, please consider joining one of our committees:

  • Audit Committee
  • Awards & Recognition Committee
  • Development Council
  • Finance Committee
  • Investment Committee
  • Scholarship Selection Committee
  • Scientific Advisory Council
  • Standing for Research, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (STRIDE) Committee
  • Volunteer Development & Nominating Committee

AOTF is investing in the OT research and the future OT workforce that our profession needs. Across a number of practice areas, emerging demands and the changing landscape of care, AOTF is a unique leader who is helping add new knowledge to the OT profession. But this is mission can only be accomplished with the philanthropic support of a community of donors. With growing demand for new OT evidence, we need your support.

If you believe in the importance of evidence-based practice that will improve the delivery of care, please make a gift this year to support our work.

You can also visit us at to learn more on how AOTF is advancing the science of occupational therapy to support people’s full participation in meaningful life activities.

Here at My OT Spot we want thank those of you who support AOTF and help to support our profession! We hope to see you at the upcoming AOTF events at the next conference.

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