Knowledge + Power = Activity Professional
By Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

As a paid profession, the world of therapeutic activities in long term care is a relatively new one, having been formally in existence just forty-four years. The term “activities” was introduced in the 1974 federal regulations for nursing homes which officially mandated our service. Our professional status was strengthened by the founding of the National Association of Activity Professionals in 1981, followed by the development of the national activity certification program through the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals in 1986. Our current job title, Activity Professional, was coined in 1992 when revisions to the federal regulations adopted the title. Having just celebrated my thirty-ninth year as an activity professional, I am proud to see how far we have come as “professionals”. However, the truth remains we are still working to earn respect for our programs and the positive outcomes evident in our approaches. Although we have grown tremendously as a profession, we still have a long way to go.

What can you do to ensure our continued growth as a profession and to work toward gaining respect for the work that we do? The first step is to get certified. The National Certification Council for Activity Professionals is the premiere certification program which certifies individuals providing therapeutic activities for elders in long term care settings. The certification is recognized in the Federal regulations for nursing homes as a qualifying credential, as well as in many State regulations. If you are not currently certified, consider developing an education plan to help you to achieve certification. If you have not yet taken the MEPAP (Modular Education Program for Activity Professionals) course, find a local instructor and information about their course schedules. If such programs are not available in your area – check out some of the alternate delivery methods for the course.

NCCAP has grown with the profession since its inception, strengthening the certification standards through the years as the demands on the activity professional have increased. NCCAP is now introducing Engagement  Certifications which focus on interpersonal competencies with our older adults. The first Engagement Certification is the Montessori Dementia Engagement Certification (MDEC). NCCAP has expanded into Home Care services with a Home Care Certification (HCC). This certification is for the care giver in the home which focuses on activities and quality of life approaches.

Once you are certified and have taken the standard coursework for the activity professional – you need to maintain your certification and professional status. Many activity professionals share difficulty getting out to classes and seminars. There are many options for alternate delivery methods for the busy activity professional such as on line, webinars, independent study courses where the learning can be done around a busy schedule. To maintain your national certification, individuals must attend 10-20 contact hours per year. My website offers independent study programs, approved by the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals. Current topics include professional development, motivation, programming concepts, quality assurance and documentation. New programs are added monthly.

Is certification the only answer to professional growth of the individual and our profession as a whole? Obtaining national certification is just the beginning and will provide the activity professional with a foundation of knowledge and understanding to continue moving our profession forward. We each need to become the expert on therapeutic activities and person centered care in our communities. This does not mean become a “know-it-all” but someone who is knowledgeable about the interventions, outcomes and current preferences of our elders. Knowledge and power are best intermingled. Sir Francis Bacon said it first in the 1600’s – “Knowledge is Power”. Being knowledgeable and sharing that knowledge in a positive, productive way is influential. Power is the ability to influence others to act.

Another way to contribute to the strength of our profession is to join the activity professional associations in your local area as well as state and national associations. Most activity associations have conventions, seminars, newsletters and web sites to support the activity professional. Nationally, they represent the activity professional in legislative matters and keep us informed of regulatory changes, survey processes and news. Locally, our State and regional groups foster active networking and communication amongst working activity professionals. There is a listing of National and State associations on my website. If your state has a group that is not listed, feel free to send me information and I will include it in the listing.

Our National Association for Activity Professionals (NAAP) is a great resource for all working activity professionals. As a member, you have access to helpful information, free monthly webinars, downloadable in-services and various tools for your department. All which provides a great return on the annual membership fee. Once you are a member of your local, state and national associations – it is time to take an active role. All organizations seek active involvement of their members through writing articles for the newsletters, volunteering at  conferences and workshops and even presenting. As you grow in your profession, you can transition from being a spectator to being a leader within the association and your profession.

The activity profession will continue to grow and prosper if we nurture our never-ending desire to seek out new ideas and to provide the best programs for our elders; participate in continuing education whether you have been in the profession one year or twenty; work cooperatively with fellow activity professionals and interdisciplinary staff; and continuously commit to the values of our profession.  Remember the words of Frances Bacon : “Knowledge is Power”.