Region VI conferences attract new professionals

Region VI conferences attract new professionals – Careers in Rehabilitation

Julie Reeves

Upon college graduation, young professionals armed with degrees and ideals try to find jobs that are both challenging and satisfying. Despite the current condition of the economy, the rehabilitation field does offer young professionals a wide variety of challenging careers.

To reach these entry-level people and inform them of the diverse opportunities awaiting them in this expanding field, Region VI leaders from Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas for the past 4 years have offered students in their area Careers in Rehabilitation, a 1-day conference designed to promote the vocational rehabilitation field and inform students of career options.

On June 19, 1992, the fifth annual Careers in Rehabilitation meeting brought more than 300 state rehabilitation agency officers, regional office representatives, educators, and students to Dallas. Preliminary meetings were held on June 17 and 18 for state agency representatives, regional office representatives, the Region VI Regional Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program (RECEP), and rehabilitation educators. The June 18 meeting was a followup to the national meeting of the National Council on Rehabilitation Educators (NCRE).

The fourth annual meeting, held in April 1991, also in Dallas, was attended by more than 300 people, including 210 students representing 17 colleges and universities, state vocational rehabilitation agency staff, rehabilitation educators, and other professionals. Also attending were an additional 31 exhibitors representing consumer organizations, independent living centers, colleges and universities, professional organizations, public and private rehabilitation facilities, and other service providers. Region VI rehabilitation educators earlier attended the preliminary 1-day conference focusing on rehabilitation training, program priorities, and curriculum development.

Sponsors of this careers conference included the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Regional Office VI, the Region VI Regional Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program, the School of Physical Therapy at Texas Women’s University, the Prosthetics-Orthotics Training Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and the Center for Rehabilitation Studies at the University of North Texas in Denton. Representatives of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission and Texas Commission for the Blind also actively participated.

Explaining the sponsors’ commitment for such an expansive outreach program, RSA’s Regional Representative for Training, Steve Lane, said, “We want to let the students know about the many career opportunities available and provide them with a basic familiarity of services, including eligibility, the rehabilitation process, and some knowledge of resources. There’s a real need to let people know about careers in rehabilitation. This conference does that effectively.”

Advising students of the diverse scope of rehabilitation was only one of the conference’s major objectives. Besides attracting students to the public sector, a multipurpose agenda offered educators, state agency staff, service providers, and exhibitors information on rehabilitation priorities and innovations, curriculum developments, promoting new program linkages, and networking.

Careers in Rehabilitation served not only as a promotion for Region VI pre-professionals, but as a prototype that can be used in other areas. If every rehabilitation agency across the country presents such a conference, it will increase entrance of quality applicants across-the-board into the field of rehabilitation.

Agenda Development

Evaluations submitted after the third annual conference in 1990 indicated that students desired more information from consumer organizations, advocacy agencies, and service providers. Mr. Lane and the other program sponsors invited rehabilitation businesses and professionals to the conference, added more time for students to visit the exhibitors, and widened the perspective of the conference.

Bringing in more exhibitors and speakers broadened the information students received about opportunities in different areas of the field. “We had an emphasis on the students seeing how different groups in the field are working together in serving people who have disabilities. The students could see how counselors, physical and occupational therapists, and medical doctors work together on a daily basis,” Mr. Lane said.

Each participating student and educator received Americans with Disabilities Act information and a booklet listing addresses and contact names at state agencies, long-term training grants funded by RSA, independent living centers, client assistance programs (CAP’s), supported employment programs, and special projects funded by RSA and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). This guide can lead students and recent graduates to resources they may never have realized existed.

Besides the exhibitors and resource guide, conference directors also provided a printed overview of rehabilitation-related professions that includes educational and certification requirements, job duties, placement opportunities, and salary ranges for 15 employment fields and 32 different occupations in rehabilitation.

David Teague, a junior at the University of North Texas, said the conference helped him learn more about the various aspects of rehabilitation. “I’m glad they have exhibitors so you can see the different types of opportunities. The human services field is so broad, this conference helps. It’s a way to get practical knowledge,” he said.

Exhibitors agreed with the students about the benefits. Maureen O’Brien, director of marketing, Spring Creek Rehabilitation Hospital in North Dallas, said the exhibit sessions provided a good opportunity for professionals to talk face-to-face with students about rehabilitation. “This gives exposure to students about different facilities and encourages them about their fields. We can be here to tell the students how you follow a patient through a program of rehabilitation and how it’s self-satisfying,” she said.

Students desiring further information were able to attend 2 panels led by 15 professionals who discussed and addressed questions about specific occupational fields; other sessions discussed team relationships in the treatment of a traumatically head-injured client and services provided to people who are visually impaired. The last session was a panel presentation by consumer and advocacy agencies and focused on organizational roles, clients served, and special interest needs.

A $50 registration fee from each exhibitor and cash contributions from the Greenery Rehabilitation Center and Hedgecock Artificial Limb Company provided funds for refreshments and $500 for student cash awards.

The Changing Field

Attracting students to work in the public sector was the conference’s main goal, and conference sponsors believe programs like the careers conference will improve awareness and result in the retention of capable, qualified staff. According to Mr. Lane, the field sometimes has difficulty keeping up with pay scales. He said that part of the problem–low salaries–comes when vocational rehabilitation agencies can only pay salaries determined by state salary structures or larger umbrella agencies. “Quite often, salaries in the public sector are lacking. But career options are numerous and there are many opportunities for diversification and professional advancement,” he added.

Besides typically uncompetitive pay scales, rehabilitation counseling is not always defined as a field of its own, like social work. However, Mr. Lane said this gap between pay scales and lack of perceived job distinctness among rehabilitation practitioners is narrowing with programs like the careers conference and diversification in the field. “Through the conference, we hope to continue attracting more qualified applicants. If you get programs like this in place, it raises the quality of services and raises the standards for counselors,” he said.

Anyone wishing to obtain additional information regarding the scheduling or implementation of a careers in rehabilitation conference should contact the Region VI Office of the Rehabilitation Services Administration at (214) 767-2961.

Ms. Reeves is a free-lance writer and former employee of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission; she now lives in Washington, DC.

COPYRIGHT 1992 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group