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OT’s Role in Improving Patient Care in Minority Populations

OT’s Role in Improving Patient Care in Minority Populations
Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L
December 16, 2022

Therapist walking down the hallway with a child patient

Accessing healthcare should not be a privilege but a right for all individuals.

Health equity is focused on creating equal opportunities for all people to achieve health, well-being, and quality of life.

Minority populations are groups of people that are racially, ethnically, or culturally distinct within populations and communities. Minority groups have often experienced historical oppression and have unique needs. 

Occupational therapy provides services that help diverse clients live life to the fullest by promoting participation in meaningful activities. This is accomplished by helping clients adapt their environment or task or develop skills to engage in daily activities such as work, school, and cooking.

Health Equity in Occupational Therapy

Health equity is focused on creating equal opportunities for everyone to achieve their best health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states: “Health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.

Achieving this requires ongoing societal efforts to:

  • Address historical and contemporary injustices;
  • Overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and health care; and
  • Eliminate preventable health disparities.” (CDC, 2022) 

Health equity is a human right, a public health issue, and an occupational justice issue. It's one of the most important global issues facing our society today.

People from marginalized groups also experience more health-related stress than others. Because of this minority stress, members of marginalized groups are at greater risk for developing certain conditions such as asthma and autoimmunity conditions (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 2022). 

Some conditions disproportionately affect minorities, including people of color and LGBTQ+ people. Minority populations are believed to have higher allostatic load, which contributes to increased stress beyond that of the contribution of health determinants (Rodriquez et al., 2019).  

How Occupational Therapists Can Advocate for Health Equity 

Occupational therapists are in an ideal position to advocate for the health and well-being of diverse populations.

As part of this process, it's important for occupational therapists who serve marginalized communities that they aren’t part of to:

  • Understand what makes those communities unique
  • Learn about different cultural norms so they can better serve their clients
  • Utilize needs assessments for populations to ensure client-centered care
  • Use strategies aimed at improving communication, advocacy efforts, & promoting occupational justice

There are many reasons some clients from marginalized groups may be reluctant or unable to access care. The most common include language barriers, immigration status, and other issues that make it difficult for people in these groups to receive quality healthcare.

In some cases, language barriers can be overcome by using interpreters or translators when needed.

Accessibility is a right for all people, not just for some. People from marginalized groups have unique needs that can be met through access to quality healthcare. We need to advocate for health equity as we strive to improve the overall health of our communities.


The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is committed to improving the health of all people by improving professional education and advocacy efforts for historically marginalized populations. 

Occupational therapists play a critical role in promoting healthcare equity through advocacy, education, research, program development, and client care.

 Here are a few strategies you can take to promote health equity:


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (2022). Diseases disporportionately affecting minorities (NIH Publication No. 0925-0668). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/diseases-disproportionately-affecting-minorities

Rodriquez, E. J., Kim, E. N., Sumner, A. E., Nápoles, A. M., & Pérez-Stable, E. J. (2019). Allostatic load: importance, markers, and score determination in minority and disparity populations. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 96(1), 3–11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-019-00345-5

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). What is health equity? Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/whatis/index.html

elisabeth bahr

Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L

Liz Bahr is an occupational therapist, writer, professor, and yoga therapist. She is a neurodiverse-affirming, neurodivergent OTP committed to creating a more inclusive and equitable world for all. She graduated from Boston University's Occupational Therapy Post-Professional Doctorate and New York University, Master of Science programs. She is currently a Master of Creative Writing student at Harvard Extension.

In her clinical practice, she focuses on merging creativity and occupation to improve the quality of life for adolescents and young adults. She has undergone additional training in ADHD and uses this knowledge to help her clients develop strategies and reach their goals. She is also a certified yoga therapist and uses yoga to help her clients improve their physical and mental health.

Liz is a sought-after speaker and writer on occupational therapy, ADHD, and creativity. She has presented at conferences and workshops nationwide, and her work has been featured in national publications. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with others to help them live their best lives.

You can find her on LinkedIn or at her wellness practice, pegasuswellness.co. She also writes for Continued.com.

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