Over the past decade, the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT) has developed into a solid research journal, increasingly disseminating evidence-based research able to inform practice. The growth in the journal’s scientific rigor has mirrored the profession’s developmental evolution as an increasing number of occupational therapy researchers have attained doctoral research degrees and funding for occupational therapy research. The year 2013 marked the 4th successive year in which the journal received more than 200 submissions and the 6th year in which more than 85 articles were published (Table 1).
In the past 6 years, two practice areas—(1) rehabilitation, disability, and participation and (2) children and youth—have been the primary practice areas addressed in studies published in AJOT (Table 2). This research trend mirrors practice trends (AOTA, 2009) and has provided empirical support for traditional and innovative interventions in these specialty areas.
In the past 4 years, researchers have increasingly answered the call to generate empirical evidence for occupational therapy in the area of productive aging, and increasing numbers of studies have been published in AJOT addressing this specialty area (see Table 2). For the May/June 2013 issue, Sue Berger guest edited a special issue, sponsored by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Evidence-Based Practice Project, on the effectiveness of occupational therapy intervention for older adults with low vision. An additional 13 studies were published in other 2013 issues and addressed evaluation and practice research questions in the practice area of productive aging.
For the July/August 2013 issue, Jane Case-Smith guest edited a special issue on the effectiveness of occupational therapy in early intervention and early childhood, also sponsored by the AOTA Evidence-Based Practice Project. An additional 22 studies published in other issues addressed pediatric evaluation and practice research questions.
Although much-needed research in the practice area of mental health has not significantly increased in the past 6 years, a greater percentage of studies addressed mental health evaluation and practice in 2013 than in other years (n = 8, 11%; see Table 2). The one exception to the low number of published research studies addressing occupational therapy practice in mental health was 2011, in which a special issue was devoted to this topic. As the profession fights to regain standing in this practice area, researchers must generate empirical support for occupational therapy with traditional and nontraditional populations.
The Centennial Vision (AOTA, 2007) calls for the profession to become evidence based, and AJOT and occupational therapy researchers have consistently begun to answer this mandate. AOTA uses standards of evidence modeled on those developed in evidence-based medicine (Lieberman & Scheer, 2002). This approach standardizes and ranks the value of scientific evidence using the following grading system (Sackett, Rosenberg, Muir Gray, Haynes, & Richardson, 1996):
Level I: Systematic reviews, meta-analyses, randomized controlled trials
Level II: Two groups, nonrandomized studies (e.g., cohort, case control)
Level III: One group, nonrandomized (e.g., before and after, pretest and posttest)
Level IV: Descriptive studies that include analysis of outcomes (e.g., single-subject design, case series)
Level V: Case reports and expert opinion that include narrative literature reviews and consensus statements.
The year 2013 marked the fourth successive year in which intervention effectiveness studies were published in greater number than any other research type (see Table 2); 2013 also marked the fourth successive year in which more Level I studies were published than any other evidence level (evidence levels are based on the AOTA Evidence-Based Practice Project’s model). Of the past 6 years, 2013 was the first in which the percentage of Level II studies was second only to those at Level I. These advancements suggest that the profession is increasingly producing research with higher levels of rigor. With the profession’s centennial anniversary 4 years away, we can assuredly state that although growth is still warranted, occupational therapy researchers are increasingly answering the call to produce evidence-based research with high levels of rigor that can inform practice (see Table 3).
In the past 5 years, AJOT authors have consistently received funding from the National Institutes of Health, other U.S. federal agencies, and U.S. foundations (Table 4). Many international occupational therapy researchers published in AJOT also received funding. Just fewer than half of all studies published in AJOT in the past 5 years received government or foundation funding, suggesting that occupational therapy researchers are pursuing research that holds significance for the welfare and health of society’s members. The profession is producing talented researchers who have the skills to secure funding, and funders are increasingly aware that the ability to participate in desired daily activities despite disease, disability, or injury is of paramount importance to society, with regard to both personal quality of life and the broader economy.
The year 2012 also saw a continued increase in the journal’s impact factor (IF)—the score compiled by Journal Citation Reports (JCR) that reflects the number of times a journal is cited in 2- and 5-yr time periods (Table 5). AJOT is now ranked as the Number 19 journal (of 66) in the Social Science Division of JCR. The steady increase in AJOT’s IF in the past 4 years reflects the enhanced level and rigor of published research studies. In future years, AJOT’s IF will also likely be influenced by the recent indexing of several major occupational therapy journals in JCR. When AJOT publications are cited in other occupational therapy journals indexed in JCR, AJOT’s IF increases. Thus, the addition of other occupational therapy journals to JCR promotes the entire profession and provides acknowledgment for all occupational therapy research.
In the past 6 years, AJOT has achieved considerable advancements:
The journal is now ranked as Number 19 in the Social Science Division of JCR, and the IF has steadily increased.
The number of published research studies with high levels of rigor has consistently increased.
The number of published intervention effectiveness studies has consistently increased and has begun to provide a foundation of support for occupational therapy services.
The call for more research in the area of productive aging has been addressed, as demonstrated by the increased number of publications in this practice area.
The number of published articles per volume has increased, promoting the dissemination of occupational therapy research.
To maintain and further advance these accomplishments, the following goals will be continued:
The journal’s current publication goals as stated in the “Guidelines for Contributors to AJOT” will be maintained.
Efforts to monitor and increase the IF will continue.
Special issues will continue to be developed to address gaps in the profession’s evidence base.