This Fall, the Department of Occupational Therapy is pleased to re-introduce Dr. Alison M. Rangel (OTD, MS, OTR/L), our long-time Academic Fieldwork Coordinator, in an additional role as Clinical Assistant Professor. Dr. Rangel holds a post-professional clinical doctorate in Occupational Therapy from New York University Steinhardt, a Master's degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Scranton, and a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences with a minor in Counseling and Human Services from the University of Scranton.
Prior to joining NYU, Dr. Rangel had an extensive clinical career, working first with the NYU Langone School of Medicine at Bellevue Hospital Center, and later serving as a senior occupational therapy clinician for the Department of Psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Morningside Hospital (formerly known as St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital). She has held adjunct faculty appointments at Long Island University and NYU Steinhardt, and has managed the fieldwork program for NYU’s Department of Occupational Therapy for the past 11 years. Dr. Rangel currently serves as the co-chair of the Metropolitan Occupational Therapy Education Council of New York and New Jersey (MOTEC) and is an editorial board member of the Occupational Therapy in Mental Health Journal. She is a proud national member of the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD), World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT), and Terapia Ocupacional Para Diversidad, Oportunidad Y Solidaridad (TODOS).
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Rangel to discuss her new position, her hopes for the upcoming year, and more. Please read on for the full interview!
You have already been with us for a while! What does the transition into your new position mean to you?
While I have been both an adjunct and administrator for a while, I am excited to be able to formally become an academic advisor for students, which was a limitation previously. In our profession, there are few Latina occupational therapy practitioners and even fewer professors. I look forward to finally being able to join the renowned faculty here at NYU and being a voice on topics of particular interest such as increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, representation, and de-colonizing the curriculum.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your work and areas of interest?
My interests include psychosocial rehabilitation, therapeutic crisis intervention, experiential learning, professional development, and professional licensure regulation. My work has been predominantly focused on the experiential learning (fieldwork) portion of the occupational education experience. I am interested in better understanding how fieldwork educators are trained or prepare themselves to take on fieldwork students in their respective settings and the relationship between student and fieldwork educator. Also, I am equally excited to explore the principles of motivational interviewing within occupational therapy education as well as professional licensing and state practice regulations.
What do you consider to be the most rewarding experience in your career so far?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing students discover areas of occupational therapy that they may have not explored, been exposed to, or considered before. Fieldwork students who have worked with me in an adult inpatient psychiatric unit were unsure of what to expect, and concerned about their safety given the stigma that surrounds mental illness and its delivery services. At the end of a placement, they would say that they were glad to have been able to see what happens firsthand in these places, so that they would have context when situations arise either with future patients or loved ones. The interpersonal and intrapersonal skills students acquire during their mental health placements are always transferable to any occupational therapy experience or setting, as no client is experiencing just one diagnosis or managing just one issue. Students learn how to listen, reflect, and intercede with thoughtful consideration, especially with clients or caregivers who might be averse to treatment.
Sometimes students have a particular vision of where they see themselves working in the future. After being assigned to a few different fieldwork placements, their perspectives change. It is beautiful and validating for me when these epiphanies occur, as there are so many spaces where occupational therapy is needed, or has been overlooked or undervalued. Placing students in these areas and having them model or participate in the care delivery system is where all the pieces of our OT curriculum collide and become real. Even when a fieldwork placement does not go as expected, those moments highlight why these experiences are so important! All moments are learning opportunities if we allow them to be.
What classes will you be teaching, and what other roles will you have in the Department?
In addition to the courses I have taught on Professional Issues and Fieldwork, I look forward to teaching the mental health courses as they are near and dear to my former practice area. I will also be able to join other university wide committees as a faculty member beyond the ones I am familiar with in my former administrative role. I also look forward to bridging the gap between administrative staff and faculty, as there are ways we can better connect on so many initiatives.
What do you consider to be the priorities within an exceptional OT education?
What makes an exceptional OT education experience is the capacity for a program to continue to challenge its students to move beyond their comfort zones and to keep an open mind about what they know and feel about their everyday lived experience. This can be accomplished in many ways, but I have found the best methods to be the assigned readings, guest speakers, and fieldwork experiences.
During my undergraduate days, I longed to experience an environment very different from where I was born and raised on the Lower East Side of New York. This was formative in my emotional and professional development in understanding how I interact with my environment, and how my values and priorities compared to those who had very different lifestyles and cultures from my own. Students often gravitate towards familiar settings and environments as they feel safe. However, having faculty and staff who gently challenge this inclination by supporting exploration and by encouraging reflection was a wonderful part of my educational experiences. As I have said before, our occupational therapy clientele live in spaces where sometimes healthcare is not readily accessible, difficult to navigate, or of low value given the many other issues at play. Understanding these factors and stepping outside one’s own comfort zone can lead to wonderful learning opportunities regarding how we can help one another succeed and adapt.
How would you describe your teaching style, and what can NYU OT students expect from you in the classroom?
I guess you can say that I have a post-structuralism teaching style as I am more invested in the processing and reflection aspects of the education experience, especially when it occurs outside of the classroom environment. Students can expect me to challenge their thinking to be more inclusive of others’ lived experience, and to better understand their conscious or unconscious implicit biases about the world.
And finally, what are some of your wishes for the year ahead?
I look forward to my new role at NYU as I have already had many (first as an adjunct, then administrator, post-professional doctoral student, and now as a faculty member). I am cautiously optimistic about the profession as there is still much work to do to improve diversity among the OT workforce both in the clinical and academic arenas. As a professional, I look forward to re-engaging with the clinical spaces potentially through mentorship as there is a shortage of mental health occupational therapy practitioners and educators. As an academic, I am eager to explore interprofessional partnerships related to fieldwork simulation and research. And as always, I look forward each year to reconnecting with my colleagues nationally and internationally during my salsa break at conferences, as I love dancing and exhibiting my Nuyorican culture.