Recently I had the opportunity to attend both of these conferences. The New Zealand Conference this year was in Palmerston North – not the easiest place to get to, but at the end of the day its being able to get together that matters. This was up there with the best of the New Zealand Conferences that I have attended. It seemed that people were all ready to do something about influencing the future of occupational therapy in New Zealand. There was a lot of celebrating and showcasing the core values of our profession, with an emphasis on occupation, and an awareness that as a profession we bring a different perspective and approach to working with others.
You might argue that we did not have the well known names of the profession as key note speakers (we have had them in the past and value their contributions) but there was something quite wonderful in having as key note speakers people who were researching but who were clearly still at the coal face engaging with clients or students, showing us that you can do both well.
The association continued its commitment to always have key note speaker who is a New Zealander. As a country of only 2,000 occupational therapists it has in the past been seen that conferences were a way to bring the experts from overseas in to tell us what they are doing. However in this decade we have seen the importance of not only learning and hearing from others, but celebrating what we are doing here, learning from each other and valuing this, alongside the insights from overseas.
So not only do we now always have a key note from a New Zealander but also no longer is our Frances Rutherford Award Lecture (for occupational therapists the New Zealand equivalent of the Eleanor Slagle Clark US or the Docker AUS) on the second or third day of the conference, but now on the first day of conference a true celebration of the contribution one of our own therapists has made to the New Zealand profession.
It was the first time that I have been to the Australian Occupational Therapy Conference and I have to say that this time round I think the New Zealand Conference was the better more focus, a greater pride and enthusiasm. So perhaps if you are an Australian occupational therapist or indeed from anywhere off shore next time the New Zealand Conference is on it might be worth thinking about coming across ‘the ditch’ (the pacific) and seeing what it is all about.
One of the highlights this year at the NZ Conference was Trish Egan’s call for us to develop our own model for occupational therapy practice. A suggestion that got everyone talking – so what is it that we do as occupational therapists here in NZ?, do we practice differently from elsewhere in the world?, are our belief’s and values the same?
I do think we approach things differently, and work in a slightly different way than our colleagues elsewhere. Certainly because of New Zealand’s commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi, I think our understanding of identity, culture, cultural awareness, and cultural safety positions us a little differently to other countries. So watch out for a model in 2015 that gives an underpinning to NZ occupational therapy practice.