Brothers in Occupational TherapyBrOT: Ross MacDonald, Adam Westenhofer, Greg Carden, Jake Gilliland and Phil Nelson.You may see Ross MacDonald wearing a shirt with “brOT” on the front and “We are a rare breed” on the back.  But make sure you pronounce the acronym correctly.

“The girls in our class find it amusing to pronounce it ‘brot’ like bratwurst,” said MacDonald, a first year UAB Occupational Therapy student.

brOT, Brothers (or Bro for short) in Occupational Therapy, is a national movement started by two students, Josh Springer and Houman Ziai, in Pennsylvania focusing on promoting inclusion within the profession whether it be gender or cultural diversity. MacDonald was reading OT Practice magazine when he learned about the movement in an ad featuring two male Occupational Therapy students with the caption, “Join the brOT-initiative.” He approached another classmate and they agreed to buy the shirts.

MacDonald understands why a lot of males are not familiar with OT. If you had asked him a few years ago what an occupational therapist does, he would tell you he had no clue.

“Like most males, I hadn't the faintest idea as to what exactly Occupational Therapy was,” said MacDonald. “I knew I wanted to pursue something meaningful and in-demand. So, after doing a bit of research of my own, it seemed like the obvious choice for me.”

Occupational Therapy (OT) is a female-heavy profession. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), there are 140,000 OT practitioners in the U.S. with 92 percent being female.

“Traditionally most of the ‘helping’ professions such as nursing, OT and physical therapy have been female dominated,” said Neil Harvison, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, director of Accreditation & Academic Affairs for AOTA. “It actually leaves a lot of opportunities for the guys who enter the profession.”

Harvison says male OT practitioners have stayed at 8 percent for the last 20 years.

BrOT-2Deek Cunningham demonstrates for his students.OT Assistant Professor Deek Cunningham remembers entering the program as a student at UAB.

“The class of 1998 had seven males which was a record at that time,” said Cunningham, MS, OTR/L, SIPT, ATP. “OT was a popular field to go into during that time period and still is today. There are so many different paths an OT can pursue, from hand therapy to geriatrics to pediatrics. This, along with a variety of venues an OT can work, makes it more appealing for someone who wants to go into the health care profession.”

Adam Westenhofer was one of those students interested in a career in the health care field. He started researching all of the programs available at UAB from the type of work to job outlook for each profession.

“I chose OT because it involves both the physical and mental health of others, and there are many diverse fields in the profession itself,” said Westenhofer, a first year OT student. “I was also concerned about if I could find a job easily and what kind of salary would I have. The outlook for OT was good in both areas.”

Jan Rowe, DrOT, OTR/L, interim chair of the UAB Department of Occupational Therapy said it doesn’t take long for her graduates to find work.

“Our grads are 100 percent employed within three months of graduation,” said Rowe. 

Chris Eidson, MS, OTR/L, an assistant professor and academic coordinator of field education for the department, said it’s an advantage to be a male OT.

“Being a male working with kids can be an asset,” said Eidson. “Kids tend to make connections with males just like a male teacher can have a positive influence over certain children.”

BrOT-1OT faculty member Chris Eidson shows a technique to his students.All the OT’s agree their profession can be more successful with a diversified workforce which is the driving force behind the brOT movement.

“The diversity of the clients demands a more diverse workforce,” said Greg Carden, a first year OT student. “For example, a male client would be more at ease with a male OT helping him with toileting.”

There seems to a surge of males entering the OT program, at least at UAB. MacDonald’s class of 2013 has broken the record for the most number of males set by Cunningham’s 1998 class. There are eight males this year and they all wear their “brOT” shirts proudly.

“You can see us at the School of Health Professions Open House on April 27 promoting the BrOT initiative because males can make a huge difference in the community,” said Phil Nelson, a first year OT student.

Eidson says he remembers the camaraderie he and the three other males in his class had when he was a student at UAB and knows it will be the same for the new class.

“These guys have created a bond that will last them a lifetime,” said Eidson.