The 2024 AOTA Elections are HERE! Voting is open from February 2nd to February 23 at 11:59am EST. (So – if you’re on Pacific time, you should probably just vote on the 22nd).
This year, I decided to do our first ever Amplify OT interview series with the candidates! I interviewed all four president-elect candidates and the two vice president candidates. This is the transcript for my interview with Natalie Chang Wright for the 2024 AOTA Elections. You can also watch/read my interviews with the president-elect candidates and the vice president-elect candidates at amplifyot.com/elections.
Participating in AOTA elections is crucial for shaping the future of our profession. And this election is a biggie! Not only do we have four candidates running for president-elect, but we have two for VP, three for board member, and numerous other positions that are on the ballot! Board members will serve 3-year terms starting in July, which means they’ll be at the table to shape the 2030 vision for AOTA and help establish the strategic priorities.
In our interviews, we discuss their perspectives on AOTA, membership, advocacy, leadership, and more. I encourage you to watch the two vice president-elect interviews in addition to the president-elect interviews because there are so many ways in which these candidates overlap in vision, but many ways in which they differ as well. Even if you think you know who you’re going to vote for, I encourage you to listen to their different perspectives anyway. You’ll either reaffirm that you’re making the right decision, or you may find another candidate who interests you!
**Please note that Amplify OT does not endorse any specific candidate on the ballot**
If you are a member, you can vote at aota.org/elections.
Below is the transcript for my interview with Natalie Chang Wright. I have removed the intro and outro from the transcript so it just contains the interview and bio. Natalie’s full bio is at the end of this article. I also added headings to indicate where questions were asked to help you navigate the large body of text.
Natalie Chang Wright Bio
[00:02:53] Clarice Grote: Our next interview is Natalie Chang Wright who’s running for VP of AOTA. Natalie Chang Wright is an accomplished leader with over three decades of experience in occupational therapy. She holds an MBA in Healthcare Management and is a C-O-T-A, or COTA.
[00:03:12] Throughout her distinguished career, she has been honored with several military ribbons and prestigious awards, including AOTA’s Roster of Honor and OTA Award of Excellence. Natalie’s expertise lies in leadership, strategic management, and program development, with roles ranging from clinician to clinical director of operations and academician. She is a dedicated advocate for equity and inclusion.
[00:03:36] She holds certificates in related fields and actively engages in volunteer work. She is the current chair of AOTA’s inaugural DEI Committee. Natalie is a proud member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, a service-based organization that aims to empower women through service and sisterhood. She contributes leadership, strategic planning, marketing, and education in her role as the chair of her local chapter, the Advocate for Social Justice Committee.
[00:04:01] Natalie’s leadership philosophy rooted in servant leadership emphasizes creating thriving environments through service confidence and empowering collective spirit. Her 30-plus year commitment to occupational therapy reflects a passion for positive change, advocacy, and making a meaningful impact beyond titles. So I’m happy to welcome Natalie Chang Wright to the Amplify OT Podcast.
Start of Interview with Natalie Chang Wright
[00:04:23] Clarice Grote: Well, welcome Natalie to the Amplify OT podcast. I am so excited to have you here today. You are running for vice president of AOTA on the board, and I would love for you to tell our community a little bit about yourself. Looking at your bio, you’ve done a lot of different things from the military to DEI, and you were telling me about how, you know, you grew up in both Jamaica and the US, so you have a lot of different stories building your perspectives.
[00:04:46] Natalie Chang Wright: Well, hello, Clarice. Thank you for having me in this space and giving me the opportunity to share with the occupational therapy community about who I am. So as you mentioned, I’m Natalie Chang Wright. I am an occupational therapy assistant. I’ve been one for, this year will be 34 years in the profession.
[00:05:10] I started off in the military, in the United States Army, and I tell people that occupational therapy found me, because like plenty of us who entered the field of occupational therapy, we may not have either known about it until someone presented it to us, or didn’t have much experience in that area.
[00:05:33] And true story, I wanted to add, the age that I joined the military, I wanted to pursue a career as a child psychologist, and the recruiters thought that occupational therapy would have, you know, been a good segue for that. So fast forward to today, obviously, I did not become a child psychologist.
[00:05:54] And I do have some experience working with children, but just for a short amount of time. And I realized, although that’s what I thought I wanted to do, it was not. So most of my experience in occupational therapy, from the clinical side, has been in hand therapy.
[00:06:15] I did a lot of hand therapy in the army. And that’s fairly common, or it was when I was in the army. I spent a long time working in inpatient rehab facilities. I think that’s my love. And I also worked as a civilian for the army, working with wounded warriors or wounded servicemen and women for the Warrior Transition Battalion.
[00:06:41] And my role there was more on the end of working on coordinating transition into different areas, opportunities for gainful employment, be it staying in the military and maybe reclassifying to another job, or addressing different aspects of the job that they were currently doing. Or working on transitioning out of the military, whether the role of a student learner or into a job that was similar to what they were doing in the military or something totally different.
[00:07:20] Nonetheless, we hope to foster, like, goal setting and really affording the service members to have a voice in terms of their future. Which is something unique based on my experience in the military, you know, being able to have a voice.
[00:07:38] Natalie Chang Wright: And so, thereafter, I transitioned into the academic setting full time. I worked as an OTA program director for a long time, and I really enjoyed it. I was very apprehensive about transitioning into that space full time because I’ve done some adjunct teaching, guest lecturing, in different capacities. My primary worry was, am I going to get the same type of rewards as when I work with clients who have physical or neurological or cognitive disabilities or disorders?
[00:08:19] And the answer was, yes. It was very fulfilling working with students. The rewards show up differently. Sometimes the rewards would show up when you ask a question or there’s conversation and you see the lights go off where they have this aha moment. Like, yes, OK, they understood. Or, you know, in the culmination, of course, is watching them go across the stage at graduation.
[00:08:46] And then when they come back and say, “Thank you for helping me. Thank you for your guidance,” and those sorts of things. Actually one of, a former student, posted something on my LinkedIn page about me being the best. And it just warms my heart, you know, contributed to her learning and in some small way, her success in what she’s doing in the profession.
[00:09:10] So that’s, you know, in terms of my work with OT. But on a more personal level, I am a mother, I am a wife, I’m a volunteer, and I think I’m a pretty good friend.
Why are you running for AOTA vice president, and why now?
[00:09:34] Clarice Grote: Well, that’s fantastic. And what a diverse and interesting background. In some ways, really kind of being at the root, right, of OT, where we got started in that kind of World War I, World War II era of helping, service, and kind of find their purpose after war. So I think that’s really fantastic, and seeing that in the modern age.
[00:09:53] And so, this begs the question of why are you running for vice president and why now?
[00:09:59] Natalie Chang Wright: Well, that’s a good question. Why not? Now is the time, right? Seize the moment and, you know, and the opportunities that present itself. But I’m running for vice president because I have an unwavering commitment to advancing the profession of occupational therapy. And those who know me or have heard me speak before, I also am very committed to advancing the standing of occupational therapy assistance in the profession.
[00:10:33] You know, I recognize that there are several pivotal moments, you know, throughout our lifetime, and there’s one right now where we’re facing both challenges and opportunities. And, you know, I think now is the time for a continuation of strong leadership. I will say that throughout my career in occupational therapy, I have been very impressed by the leaders, the people who have been elected or appointed into leadership positions within the association.
[00:11:05] And, you know, I have more than 30 years of experience in the clinical setting. And well, you know, I should say a combination of 30 years of clinical academic and leadership experiences that I can draw from. I don’t think that people put the two terms, leadership and OTA, in the same sentence, or, you know, even in the same conversation. And I would like to be an example of perseverance.
[00:11:38] Clarice Grote: Yeah.
[00:11:38] Natalie Chang Wright: An example of being brave, and example of, although in my personal life, I tend to be a more risk-averse… You know, this is somewhat of a risk, right?
[00:11:49] Clarice Grote: Yes.
[00:11:49] Natalie Chang Wright: Myself out there, and hoping that people will have an understanding of who I am and what I’ve accomplished, and what I would still like to accomplish in the future. Especially in, you know, such a highly visible and important position within the organization. But I’m confident that my track record and my dedication, and that my vision aligns with the current needs of the profession. So I think I would be an ideal candidate for the role in this moment, at this time.
[00:12:26] Clarice Grote: Well, good. And I definitely can endorse your perspective on showing that OTAs are absolutely qualified and important to get involved in leadership, and I think that’s a really great example and, you know, it’s always nice when you can kind of see yourself in someone else. And so I love to see the representation of OTAs in that way.
[00:12:44] Natalie Chang Wright: Yes.
What would be your ‘day one’ priorities as AOTA vice president?
[00:12:44] Clarice Grote: So what would be your kind of day one priorities, right? Like when people run for president of the United States, they have these kind of day one priorities. What would be the things that you would want to focus on if it was up to you?
[00:12:57] Natalie Chang Wright: You know, on day one, I think my immediate priorities revolve around strengthening communication chat channels within the association. And I say ‘strengthened’ because I think the communication channels are already strong.
[00:13:12] However, I also know that there’s always opportunity and room for improvement. And I think recently that’s been some of the criticisms that the association has received in terms of how information is communicated with others, or how advocacy effort or efforts are communicated or should be communicated, you know. In terms of an actual day one, you know, is just a small…
[00:13:44] … a snippet of some of the things that I would like to work on, to address within the association. And so because some of this stuff is new to me, you know, you see my bio, or if you look at my resume, you will see that I don’t have a lot of association experience in terms of volunteer leadership.
[00:14:11] And people might wonder why, well, why would she be running if she doesn’t have the experience, you know? And honestly, I have experience in a lot of things that align with the role of vice president for the association. And so I understand that things currently exist… I would love to be able to review the existing programs so that we can determine as a board if it’s relevant, if it’s effective. Is it working on collaborative initiatives with key persons of interest?
[00:14:52] And I believe the answer is yes, but I would like to take a deep dive to be able to see these things for myself to be able to then have a better understanding of how to position and align myself in the role as vice president, which one of the primary roles of the vice president not only is it to support the president of the association, but also taking ownership of leading and guiding the conversations and the steps and the strategic planning for the association and for the profession.
[00:15:28] So I seldom enter into new situations like I know everything. I don’t know everything, but I want to know as much as I can, as much as possible. And so one of the ways of doing that is communicating like, what have we done? What have we accomplished? Sure, I can read those things, but actually having, you know, open and honest and transparent conversations about what have we done? What have worked? And where are opportunities for improvement? I think fostering open communication, again, assessing the efficiency of the programs and the initiatives and advocacy efforts, laying the groundwork for collaboration.
[00:16:15] I think there’s lots of opportunities for us to collaborate with other entities and, you know, just really addressing the immediate needs while setting the stage for long term success. What I try not to have in any situation that I’m in, whether it’s a volunteer role or a, you know, a paid role is that upon my departure… Let’s say I am voted in for vice president and it’s a three-year term, my goal is that my successor or successors would have a ground, a framework outlined for them so they can, you know, with guidance, take the ball and run with it and not have to recreate the wheel. And I trust that that exists, that those systems exist within the organization, within the association.
[00:17:12] But if not, I’ll be doing lots of hard work, lots of reading, you know, to get caught up. I also think another year to focus on – not necessarily accomplish much on day one, and really, cause what can we accomplish on day one, you know? Except doing deep dives into what has happened, what we would like to happen, and then making plans to get there?
[00:17:39] But, you know, addressing advocacy issues, especially, decisions about health care and our standing in the community, you know, different policies that are currently in congress that affects our profession. So really, day one, I will have on my swimsuit, and I’ll be taking a dive. Taking a dive in.
What do you believe is the primary role or mission of AOTA within our profession?
[00:18:09] Clarice Grote: Well, I think that transitions very well, and you’ve kind of summarized this. What do you think is the primary role or mission of AOTA within our profession?
[00:18:20] Natalie Chang Wright: You know, I think the primary role is to advance the work of occupational therapy. We, in doing so, we have to advance and really showcase the quality of work that we provide to OT consumers, our availability. And, you know, sometimes we say, you know, OT is all encompassing.
[00:18:46] We can be in everywhere, you know, and in every space. And while we can, I think we have the opportunity to kind of reset in some areas and re-establish the ownership of what occupational therapy, like, the distinct and unique value of what we bring in the healthcare arena, right?
[00:19:11] And I know that we have branched out from traditional healthcare into, you know, emerging opportunities, but at the crux of the matter, we really have to hone in and take a look at it. Why are we here? What is our purpose, right? And our purpose is to, you know, provide the best quality healthcare, to contribute to the health and wellbeing of the public that we serve, and to help to educate those about what we bring to the table.
[00:19:45] I think also, you know, in mission, the mission is operationalized or activated through our advocacy efforts, through professional development and, you know, collaboration across different sectors of our profession as well as the other professionals that we work closely with and the ones that we want to work closely with, where the opportunity might not have presented itself. But we have to make ways, you know, for that to happen.
[00:20:23] Clarice Grote: Yeah, I’m hearing that overall theme, right, is that strengthening that foundation while then looking for opportunities to branch out.
[00:20:30] Natalie Chang Wright: Exactly, yes. I think AOTA plays a pivotal role in shaping policy, promoting research, and making sure that the profession is growing and is being recognized as an essential healthcare profession. You know, I have said this before, that occupational therapy is like the best kept secret. And it’s time for that secret to become a rumor. [laughs]
[00:21:05] I like that. It’s time for us to start whispering in other people’s ears, right? About occupational therapy. My dream for OT is that we will be a household, we’ll be recognized in every household, you know? And when I think about every household, what does every household have? A television and a computer? So, you know, those are the spaces that we have to get into people’s minds and hearts. And I believe our profession is gonna blossom once people know about, more people know about who we are and and what we bring
Workforce and Membership Concerns: How can we address this?
[00:21:40] Clarice Grote: And I think it brings up such a good perspective of how we can try and get people involved as well as spread awareness. And I think that, you know, will allow me to jump a couple questions ahead of, you know, within our last workforce survey that was conducted by AOTA, it showed that 25 percent of practitioners are considering leaving the field of occupational therapy, and additionally, AOTA also had a 7 percent drop in membership this past year. So do you think these issues are related? And in your opinion, what do you think would be the best way to address these issues within our workforce and within the association?
[00:22:13] Natalie Chang Wright: I believe there’s likely a correlation between practitioner dissatisfaction and a drop in AOTA membership. And that happens, you know, I would be naive or anybody else, I think, would be naive to think that every single member is happy [laughs] with what we offer, right?
[00:22:34] I mean, even in small spaces, I think about, you know, relationships with people. You know, whether it’s work or play, and there’s always going to be some type of dissatisfaction in some area. And I think part of it is because people might not understand how the association can actually help them in their profession.
[00:22:57] I think to address some of the dissatisfaction, we really have to do a comprehensive analysis. And I know that the staff at AOTA as well as some of the current board members have been working on, you know, addressing, labor force challenges and, you know, decreasing membership within the association.
[00:23:23] I believe we have to engage members so that we can understand their concerns. You know, it’d be interesting to know if, when a member decides to depart, similar to if someone decides to resign from their job, that there is an exit interview of sort. And I’m hoping that something like that exists so that we can get a better understanding of why the individual decided to no longer be a member, because I think that can help to shape some some initiatives to help to maintain the membership that we have currently have, as well as opportunities to recruit more members.
[00:24:12] You know, AOTA offers a wealth of professional development, and I think that we could do a better job, the association can do a better job, at advertising that more. You know, I think that’s one of the reasons why people join national and state associations, for the benefit of professional development.
[00:24:30] I also think there’s a great opportunity to offer higher level certifications for OTAs, especially for those who are practitioners. You know, I think that would be attractive, especially if it’s, you know, cost-effective.
Why do you feel that AOTA membership is so important?
[00:24:47] Clarice Grote: Yes. The little piece in there, right? And you’ve already said that you believe that membership is important, but I’d love for you to explain why you feel so passionately that membership, whether it be an AOTA or also potentially in our state associations, is so important.
[00:25:04] Natalie Chang Wright: You know, I have for – ever since my childhood – I’ve always been involved in some sort of civic engagement or, you know, something along the sort. So, you know, I think probably like most little ones either, you know, our parents put us in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, you know, something of the sort. And for those who go to church, you know, some kind of, you know, adventure club at church or something of the sort. And so, you know, I have been a part of these types of organizations since childhood. And so for me, it’s commonplace. It’s like a no brainer. It’s like, this is a priority in my budget. You know, is to pay my membership dues because I want to contribute to our profession in a broader way.
[00:26:00] And, you know, there have been times where all I had the bandwidth for was to pay for membership. And that was it, you know. And then there are times where I’ve had opportunities that, you know, my personal life or my professional life was not so demanding, like times like now where I can do something more than being a member, than simply being a member. When I… I’ll make a reference to that.
[00:26:18] So, when I was fully engaged at church, well, I shouldn’t say fully engaged for many years, because I was doing so many things. I considered myself a bench member at church, right? So, you know, I show up, I pay my tithes, I, you know, do my thing and then I go home.
[00:26:55] And then at some point I said, you know, “I need to contribute on a greater level.” And so then I just did, you know, and I felt so great about it. Not that I felt bad when I was just a bench member doing that, because that is what I had the capacity of doing. However, I know that my contributions, my financial contributions, even finite, helps to contribute to the advocacy efforts that we so much need in this profession, you know?
[00:27:28] I think AOTA advocates for us in various spaces and for various policies to help support the profession. Like workforce diversity, you know, we’re advocating for federal policies to improve diversity. Although let’s not use that word in Florida, of the workforce, you know, by increasing the number of practitioners, you know, we are working towards that.
[00:27:56] Reimbursement and coverage and payment policies, you know, as we know, the Regulatory Affairs Department, they advocate like nobody’s business. I mean, they are some powerful people working for association and volunteering for association. They’re advocating for us to have fear coverage, you know, payment policies, and referrals, you know. And sometimes, federal or state or county policies can impede consumers’ ability to receive OT services because of reimbursement challenges. You know, I could not fight that alone.
[00:28:42] Clarice Grote: Yeah.
[00:28:43] Natalie Chang Wright: You know, our membership dues contributes to being able to advocate on that level, you know. There was just a session that the advocacy of your department had, and they were talking about healthcare access and telehealth. You know, I wonder how many of our OT practitioners who are providing telehealth services are aware that those services might not receive reimbursement at the end of this year, you know? And so, who else is going to be the voice for us, right? Our membership dues contributes to that and so much more. So, you know, I think our advocacy efforts for the association is definitely aligned with the mission to advance the work of OT. And again, to advance the, enhance the health and wellbeing of the consumers that we serve. And without this level of advocacy, honestly, where would we be in our profession?
Why should someone vote for Natalie Chang Wright?
[00:29:44] Clarice Grote: I can’t agree more. You know, it’s a big part of what I say as well. And so I want to thank you for coming on, but before we leave, my last question for you is why should someone vote for you?
[00:29:54] Natalie Chang Wright: So, I say someone, not someone, everyone. Everyone should vote.
[00:30:01] Clarice Grote: I appreciate that, yeah. So why should everyone vote for you?
[00:30:03] Natalie Chang Wright: Yes, I say, everyone should vote, right? If you meet the criteria for voting, which in AOTA it means that you would be a member of the association, then I think everybody, everyone should vote. And I’m really hoping that the voting community of AOTA, that we’ll show up in drill. Actually, you don’t have to show up. You have to click, you know, log into the website and choose Natalie Chang Wright for vice president.
[00:30:12] But in all seriousness, I will say that based on my proven track record of leadership, of dedication to advancing occupational therapy and promoting greater inclusion for occupational therapy assistance, I have a vision for a stronger and more united association as well as profession. And I have over a decade of experience in academia and, you know, a total of three decades in the profession.
[00:31:09] I think I bring a strategic mindset. I have a commitment to inclusivity. As you may know, I’m the chairperson for AOTA’s DEI committee, and I have a wealth of experience that I believe will contribute to the continued success of our profession.
[00:31:27] Clarice Grote: Fantastic.
[00:31:28] Natalie Chang Wright: So I would like for you to vote and vote for Natalie Chang Wright, and I promise you I’ll showcase my dedication to posturing an inclusive and thriving occupational therapy community.
[00:31:43] Clarice Grote: Well, that was a fantastic stump speech, and I want to thank you for coming on today. It’s been so great to let people hear from you, and I agree. Everyone should go and vote in today’s election. And we can, I think together we can increase the normal participation that we see that’s a little unfortunate in most elections. So hopefully we’ll see some better engagement. So thank you so much, Natalie. I really appreciate you coming on.
[00:32:04] Natalie Chang Wright: Thank you, Clarice. It was very great being here.
About Natalie Chang Wright, COTA/L
Natalie Chang Wright, is a dedicated leader with over three decades of experience in occupational therapy, showcasing proven expertise in leadership and strategic management. Holding an MBA in Healthcare Management and being a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant/Leader (COTA/L), she has been honored with several military ribbons and awards and with AOTA’s highest awards, including the Roster of Honor and OTA Award of Excellence.
Throughout her career, she has excelled in initiating and developing diverse programs, ensuring compliance, and championing equity and inclusion values. With roles such as Clinician, OTA Program Director/Chair, Team Leader, and Clinical Director of Operations, she has demonstrated proficiency in program development, leadership, and collaboration with healthcare and educational institutions.
With a diverse skill set encompassing leadership, strategic management, program development, compliance, and accreditation, she holds certificates related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and health coaching, and she is also involved in volunteer work. Natalie’s commitment extends beyond her professional roles, as evidenced by her leadership appointments in organizations like the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, where she currently serves as the chairman for the DEI Committee and the Advocate for Social Justice Committee (respectively). Engaged in advocacy and mission alignment, Natalie actively contributes to various initiatives and joyfully serves communities where she engages in work, rest, and play.
Over her 30+ year career as an Occupational Therapy Assistant, Natalie embraced leadership as more than just a title—rather, it’s an action rooted in service, confidence, and empowering collective spirit. Natalie’s leadership philosophy aligns with servant leadership, prioritizing service to create an environment where teams thrive. In occupational therapy, leadership involves influencing positive change through advocacy, policy development, program creation, education, and research. Great leaders embody mentorship, integrity, and a commitment to continuous growth for themselves and others. Ultimately, leadership is about service and making a meaningful impact beyond holding a position of authority.