Occupational Therapy New Zealand Whakaora Ngangahau Aotearoa


Founding officer, Hazel Skilton

HazelSkilton 100thHazel at her 100th birthday in January 2014

Hazel Skilton commenced her working career in the 1930s setting up her own typewriting, duplicating and handpress printing business in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. She was inspired by an article about occupational therapy in the Readers’ Digest, and subsequently enrolled in the first New Zealand course in occupational therapy (1940).

During World War II she practised in Hanmer Springs and Rotorua working with wounded returned servicemen. She then completed a postgraduate course in occupational therapy at Toronto University, Canada (1945-46). On her return she developed occupational therapy services at Dunedin Public Hospital.

As an early leader in occupational therapy she recognised the need for a national organisation which in 1949 was established as the New Zealand Registered Occupational Therapists Association Inc. On 1 September 1948, under her guidance, the first occupational therapy newsletter was produced. During the years 1950-59 Hazel Skilton held the dual positions of principal of the New Zealand Occupational Therapy Training School, Auckland, and supervising therapist of the Department of Health, New Zealand. Driven by her vision for high standards of education and practice in New Zealand, she used her positions to endorse formal registration and held New Zealand registration number 1 (1955).

Her commitment to continuing education was evident in her strong contribution to national conventions, refresher courses and conferences. After a period of community involvement in Point Chevalier, Auckland, and volunteer work in India, she returned to occupational therapy practice. She initiated and developed occupational therapy services at Selwyn Village, Point Chevalier, Auckland. She also returned to the school as a part-time tutor.

Her self-published history, ‘Work for Your Life’, records her experiences in occupational therapy and was copyrighted in 1981. Continuing her professional interests she coordinated networking among retired peers, supported OTNZ-WNA events and encouraged historical projects.  The association was honoured to have Hazel present at the 65th Annual General Meeting in 2014 to present the second Hazel Skilton Founders Award.  Hazel passed away after a short illness in January 2015 at age 101.


In 1949 The New Zealand Registered Association of Occupational Therapy (Inc) was established.  In the the late 1960’s its name was changed to the New Zealand Association of Occupational Therapists Inc (NZAOT), and in 2014 changed to Occupational Therapy New Zealand Whakaora Ngangahau Aotearoa Inc (OTNZ-WNA). The association became a foundation member of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists in 1952.

From the very beginning a monthly newsletter was sent to all members and was called the OT Insight Maramatanga Whakaora Ngangahau (OTI).  In 1953 the first journal was produced and the New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy Te Hautaka Whakaora Ngangahau o Aotearoa (NZJOT) has been published biannually ever since. The monthly newsletter is now a fully-fledged magazine sent to over 1200 members and stakeholders, and as with the NZJOT, has a dedicated editor.

In 1983 The Frances Rutherford Lecture Award was created in honour of Frances Rutherford, first qualified occupational therapy teacher and principal of the school of occupational therapy during 1959-1972.  The award provided an opportunity to recognise respected members of the profession who presented a keynote speech at the associations national conference.  Today, many more opportunities for awards and grants are available to members including the Hazel Skilton Founders Award.

1986 saw the first special interest group established.  This was the ‘Geriatric special interest group’ which is now called ‘health of older people’ and was set up for members of OTNZ-WNA working with older people.  By 2007 there were 12 special interest groups and today 20 email discussion forums are in place.

In 1994 a staffed national office was established in Wellington with an executive director and part-time administrator.  Around the same time the branch structure (where five branches were operating) was effectively removed and replaced with a council elected from all members.  The national office is still located in Wellington.

Professional development events

The first biennial conference took place in 1950, in Auckland, and had three presenters. All of these were from the medical profession. Over 55 years later the 2006 conference: ‘Dancing Jandals: Occupational Therapy in the Pacific Rim’ was the 25th OTNZ-WNA Aotearoa biennial conference and boasted 56 presenters and all, with the exception of two, were occupational therapists.

Since 2001 OTNZ-WNA Aotearoa has offered a major professional development opportunity in the alternate to conference years; these have been known as Symposium (2001); Community Conference (2003) and by 2005 these have become firmly entrenched as the OTNZ-WNA clinical workshops. Clinical workshops have a practical focus with workshops more than lectures and presentations.