It has been a privilege and honor to serve as NAAP President for the past three years, and to be a Board member for the last six. I’m going to be very honest; when I first joined the Board and attended Board meetings I was very intimidated by the other Board members around the table: they were experienced, dedicated, incredibly knowledgeable Activity Professionals who I had looked up to and who had led NAAP through some very challenging times. They were inspiring leaders, and I wondered if I could ever grow to their level of expertise. I was also idealistic, and had grandiose thoughts about what I was hoping to help NAAP could accomplish for its members and for the Activity Profession in general. Fast forward a few years… including several years of COVID…
I am beyond proud of the organization’s achievements during my tenure on the Board, despite the complications of a global pandemic. We have taken the five pillars of Standards, Ethics, Competencies, Education and Advocacy and, through much effort, advanced all of them. The strengthening of international relationships, growing membership numbers, building a new website, launching a new LMS for online education, having increased financial stability, developing new professional partnerships… There have been more successes than can be listed. (I hope you’ve watched the State of the Profession webinars each year for a more detailed account!)
But still the challenges for the profession continue: we often hear from Activity Professionals who are poorly paid and who do not feel respected. We know that many of you are pulled to do other duties and tasks that are outside your job description. We recognize that resident population is changing and APs are struggling to find time to meet the needs of increasingly diverse residents with more mental health diagnoses and accompanying behaviors. We know that unfortunately Nursing Homes across the country are closing as government reimbursement rates fail to cover the increasing costs of operations, especially salaries. And we are often reminded that budgets are small and APs feel obliged to spend their own money on supplies, subscriptions and education.
NAAP is not going to stop advocating for you. But we cannot demand that your company pays you more or gives you a bigger budget. NAAP will continue to empower YOU to be your strongest advocate and cheerleader. You must invest in yourself if you want to be successful, and want to give your residents the best possible activity services.
I’m often asked what my number one piece of advice is for a new AP, and it’s impossible to pick just one. Here’s the list of my “Top Ten” pieces of advice for ALL Activity Professionals:
- Get nationally credentialed – no matter what level or which certification. Certification demonstrates that you have reached a defined level of competence within the profession and is still the standard referenced in the federal regulations.
- Keep educating yourself – watch webinars, read leadership books, sign-up for industry blogs and free periodicals. And if you can, attend in-person workshops and conference.
- Network on social media – follow inspiring and relevant companies, individuals and organizations and engage in positive group interactions. But ditch the negative and drama-filled activities groups!
- Bring your best self to work – because your residents deserve it, and your day will be better if you do. So get yourself in the right frame of mind on the way to work every day so you can hit the door smiling and energized.
- Ask for what you need – politely and professionally, following the chain of command and being realistic based on your census and location.
- Learn to control your emotions – APs often have very good emotional intelligence in terms of being empathetic relationship-builders, however, APs also have the tendency to allow emotions to drive interactions and decision-making rather than rational thoughts. Self-awareness and self-regulation are vital in being taken seriously by other professions.
- Get involved with local or state associations – this is how you build your local support system; people who understand what you do and why you do it, and are familiar with the regulatory or other challenges in your area. Volunteer to help with a committee or special project or even stand to be elected to their Board.
- Use your talents and interests – don’t forget to put your hobbies, talents and interests to use! This is often a way to get residents involved in something they didn’t know they could/would do because you’ve ignited their interest with your sincere passion. Plus it really doesn’t feel like work.
- Always be a professional role model – dress, behavior & attitude. Don’t allow yourself to get pulled into drama caused by others. Be the professional that others aspire to be.
- Remember your WHY – we all began our journey in this profession at different times and for different reasons. But I suspect that our “WHYs” of still being in the profession aren’t too dissimilar: because we are people of compassion, empathy, creativity, joy and service. And we strive to have a positive influence on the people around us, making lives better, brighter and more meaningful.
Please stay in touch. Looking forward to seeing some of you “on the road” at conferences later this year!
Amy Laughlin, CRCFA, ADC, CDP