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MCPHS Occupational Therapy student Lindsey Barrows.

Lindsay Barrows: An Advocate for Diversity within the Field of Occupational Therapy

  • Lindsay Barrows, Master of Science in Occupational Therapy ’22 candidate, was selected into a national position for the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD)—she was previously the chapter chair of the MCPHS Chapter of COTAD. 

    According to the website, COTAD works towards a common goal of promoting justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, anti-racism and anti-oppression within the occupational therapy workforce and increase the ability to occupational therapy practitioners to serve an increasingly diverse population.

    “This is a prestigious position for an MCPHS student to have,” says Douglas Simmons PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, director of the  Occupational Therapy program  and a professor in the  School of Occupational Therapy.

    Barrows has also been awarded the 2022 "Campus Compact for New Hampshire Presidents Leadership Award” along with MCPHS COTAD Chapter members in the class of 2022 and 2023. The award is given by Campus Compact for New Hampshire to a student or student organization within the state of New Hampshire that has made outstanding contributions to community service, service learning, and/or civic engagement efforts on their campus.

    The Path to Occupational Therapy

    She was first exposed to the field of occupational therapy when she would visit her mom at the school where she was working. There, she was able to see an occupational therapist work with children and she was intrigued by the hands-on nature of the job as well as how fun the job looked.

    “I really like working with children and I like that you get to do one-on-one stuff with them. I really like games, crafts, and stuff and I feel like I’m still a kid at heart,” she says. “I also like that you are helping them gain the skills to be more independent and functional at school.”

    Diversity in Occupational Therapy

    As a first-year student, Barrows joined the MCPHS Chapter of COTAD and became chapter chair shortly thereafter. One of her greatest accomplishments as chapter chair was leading a campaign to increase awareness of understanding and respecting people’s pronouns. The team held several presentations at MCPHS and also presented to the New Hampshire Occupational Therapy Association.

    “What we did was try to get pronouns added to people’s signatures and being able to edit your name and your pronouns on your MCPHS Blackboard and Zoom accounts,” she says. “You can now add your pronouns to your email signature if you contact Information Services and ask that they put them in your signature for you.”

    Barrows said that she is passionate about increasing diversity in the field of occupational therapy because it is important to understand the communities that clients come from.

    “You’re helping people regain their skills so you need to understand how they style their hair or how to help them with a head wrap if that’s something they need or like. You also need to understand the holidays that they practice in case they want to cook something to celebrate. You really have to be open and willing to learn or already knowledgeable so you can serve people better,” she says.

    She explained that the lack of racial and ethnic diversity must be addressed within occupational therapy. A 2019 national American Occupational Therapy Association survey shows that nearly 84% of OT practitioners are white, and 74% of OT students are white, with Black, brown and indigenous communities being the least represented.

    “It’s not a diverse profession, there’s not a lot of men or people of color so we have got to make more people interested in it and make it a more accessible profession,” she says.

    Next Steps

    With her new role as the capsule ambassador for the national COTAD organization, she is responsible for working with chapter chairs to advance their leadership skills by planning events for them to attend.

    “One of my projects for this year is to build a framework for our chapter chairs to be able to speak to their organizations about having tough conversations around the topics of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion on campus, and within the profession,” she says. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

    Barrows is a level 2 fieldwork student and is set to graduate this May. After graduation, she hopes to find a position as an occupational therapist working with children at a school.