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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The changing role of the occupational therapist Ernest, Marilyn Luella


The purposes of this study were to identify both the role development of the occupational therapist and the factors which have influenced and directed the role changes. It was assumed that these identifications would assist both the profession and educators of occupational therapists to evaluate the trends as to how and why the profession is developing and to plan for appropriate professional and educational changes for the future. The role of the occupational therapist, an allied health professional, has changed from that of a craft-oriented medical technician to that of a professional clinician, researcher, educator and consultant. This contemporary therapist was found to be practicing in a number of areas both within and outside of the medical model of practice. The development of these new roles has resulted in considerable concern, both outside of and within the profession, as to whether or not the traditional craft-oriented medical model of practice is still valid. As well, occupational therapists in both the United States and Canada have expressed the need to re-evaluate their roles, their responsibilities, and their education in order to meet the needs of changing patterns in the organization and delivery of contemporary health services. The study of the role development and identification of factors influencing the role changes was carried out through a review of literature published between 1922 and 1972 plus a minimal number of unpublished papers related to the topic. A brief review of the 1970-1971 Canadian occupational therapy curricula was included in an attempt to indicate the influences educational programs had on the role development of the occupational therapist. It was found that new roles developed in response to present and proposed government legislation, changing needs and demands of society in general, and changing emphases in medical education and health care delivery. It was also found that the educational influences of occupational therapy programs were minimal, if not inhibitory, to the role development of the occupational therapist. Conclusions drawn from the review of the literature resulted in the establishing of eighteen recommendations concerned with the role development, research needs, and educational needs of future occupational therapists in Canada. It was felt that these recommendations represented guidelines for change which must be implemented by the individual therapists, professional associations, and educators if occupational therapy is to remain a viable health profession.

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