We are pleased to announce the recipient of the third annual Jim Hinojosa Alumni Award, Dr. Gary Bedell. The award, named in honor of the late Dr. Jim Hinojosa’s immense impact on the NYU Steinhardt Department of Occupational Therapy and the entire OT field, recognizes outstanding NYU OT alumni making significant contributions to the profession.
Dr. Bedell is a two-time alumnus of the department, having earned his post-professional master’s degree at NYU in 1986 and his PhD in 1998. He is currently chair of Tufts University’s Department of Occupational Therapy and has dedicated his career to informing the development of interventions, programs, and policies designed to promote meaningful participation of children and youth with disabilities in real-life contexts.
He has authored or co-authored numerous widely-used tools for measuring and promoting participation, including the Child and Adolescent Scale of Participation (CASP), the Participation and Environment Measure for Children and Youth (PEM-CY), and Social Participation and Navigation (SPAN).
Read on for a Q&A with Dr. Bedell exploring his research, advice for future OTs, and what it was like to work with Dr. Hinojosa.
What inspired you to pursue the occupational therapy profession?
I always knew that I wanted to do something to help other people. I had experienced mental health issues in my high school years, but I was able to overcome them with the support of friends, family, and therapy. I knew I wanted to work with youth with mental health challenges, but I didn’t think that pursuing traditional talk therapy was “me.” Learning from my own experiences, I did some research and discovered the link between OT interventions and mental health. Although my interests ultimately changed as I went on in my field work, one of the nice things about OT is that there are often many available opportunities to explore during your career.
How do you think your education at NYU Steinhardt prepared you to become a leader in the field?
When I was a student, NYU was very pluralistic in terms of research design and purpose — I was able to take many research design courses which served me well in terms of my ability to conduct mixed-methods research in my career. It was emphasized that you have to know how to use the research methods that will best fit your research questions. My experience was also unique because I was an adjunct associate professor at NYU. I was teaching and getting other types of interdisciplinary research and educational opportunities that taught me to be a leader. All of my research and scholarship is interdisciplinary, and I attribute this to the opportunities made available to me at NYU.
You have worked extensively to develop measures and interventions to benefit those with traumatic and other acquired brain injuries. Can you tell us more?
I was awarded a postdoctoral research fellowship at Boston University that focused on children and youth with traumatic and other acquired brain injuries. When I say acquired brain injury, I mean acquired after birth — for example, strokes, brain tumors, seizure disorders, or brain infections. During this period, the international World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health (ICF) was being developed, so a lot of relevant concepts were being discussed, particularly the concept of participation. Very generally, participation means involvement in life situations.
One of my first projects was to develop a survey to follow up with families on their children and adolescent youth discharged from inpatient rehabilitation. The survey included areas that weren’t necessarily being looked at, like their social environment, physical environment, attitudinal environment, and participation. The survey included measures that could be used on their own, such as the Child and Adolescent Scale of Participation (CASP), that is used with other populations and has been translated into multiple languages for use in many countries worldwide. Often one opportunity leads to another, so subsequently I was asked to participate in the development of additional participation measures (PEM-CY) and an app-based coaching intervention to promote social participation among teenagers with traumatic brain injuries called SPAN.
What do you consider your most significant accomplishment in the field?
My measurement and intervention work have had the most world-wide impact, but I feel like my most significant accomplishment was my outreach work and research related to HIV that I conducted during my time at NYU. The outreach focused on the needs of children and families affected by HIV/AIDS, and the research focused on how people with HIV/AIDS, particularly gay men, managed their daily lives and developed strategies based on the experience of living with their symptoms. There was a lot of stigma at the time and people were afraid to work with people with HIV. A lot of the time this fear comes from not knowing, so I think it’s a significant accomplishment that my work helped to raise awareness.
What was it like to work alongside Jim Hinojosa?
Jim really was my first true mentor in my career — I’m indebted to him. He allowed me to be me, had a great sense of humor, was very generous with his time, and offered me so many opportunities! He asked me to be part of a lot of interdisciplinary research collaborations with other faculty and saw something in me that gave me the confidence to be a part of those teams. He also encouraged me to enroll in NYU’s PhD program, encouraged me to publish early on before my PhD, and helped my research dissemination efforts, which exposed me to other local and national and opportunities.
What advice do you have for OTs beginning their careers?
It will all come together! It is important to be your authentic self and continue to develop knowledge and skills — a lifelong process — and seek out opportunities because it’s usually those opportunities that lead to other opportunities. There are so many options within the OT field. The key is to find a place where you feel valued and supported that does work that is important to you and those you serve.