An exploratory international study into occupational therapy students' perceptions of professional identity

Research paper by Samantha E. Ashby PhD, M.AppSci, BSc(Hons), DipCOT, Jessica Adler BOT(Hons), Lisa Herbert BOT(Hons)

Indexed on: 27 Apr '16Published on: 26 Apr '16Published in: Australian Occupational Therapy Journal


The successful development and maintenance of professional identity is associated with professional development and retention in the health workforce. This paper explores students' perspectives on the ways pre‐entry experiences and curricula content shape professional identity.An online cross‐sectional survey was sent to students enrolled in the final year of entry‐level programmes in five countries. Descriptive statistical analyses of data were completed.The results reflect the perceptions of 319 respondents from five countries. Respondents identified professional education (98%) and professional socialisation during placement (92%) as curricula components with the greatest influence on professional identity formation. Discipline‐specific knowledge such as, occupation‐focussed models and occupational science were ranked lower than these aspects of practice. The students' length of programme and level of entry‐level programme did not impact on these results.When designing curricula educators need to be mindful that students perceive practice education and professional socialisation have the greatest affect on professional identity formation. The findings reinforce the need for curricula to provide students with a range of practice experiences, which allow the observation and application of occupation‐based practices. It highlights a need for educators to provide university‐based curricula activities, which better prepare students for a potential dissonance between explicit occupation‐based curricula and observed practice education experiences. The study indicates the need for further research into the role curricula content, and in particular practice education, plays in the multidimensional formation of professional development within entry‐level programmes.