Date of Award

Spring 1995

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Bud B Khleif


The unprecedented demand for occupational therapists and resulting growth in student numbers necessitates the need to understand how students acquire professional ideology, learn expected role behavior, and identify themselves as occupational therapists. This ethnographic study includes interview data from a series of three interviews with 37 trainees, from freshmen to the first year of employment, who had been or were in the occupational therapy program at Worcester State College, in central Massachusetts. Students included women and men who were preparing for either a first or second career. Interviews with six academic faculty and seven fieldwork supervisors in three areas of practice; observations in classes; and analysis of 11 frequently used occupational therapy textbooks have enabled me to identify the role of each in professional development.

Students in this study follow steps of professionalization suggested by sociological literature beginning with entry, followed by acquisition of the professional language and ideology, then role-performance. Reflecting on feedback received after role-performance is essential for a positive self-image as a professional, as noted in the theory of Symbolic Interactionism. Learning opportunities which enable students to connect new information with experiences are essential to develop desired role behavior and promote identification with the profession. Academic faculty use activities, role playing, and clinical examples to promote student learning. Fieldwork supervisors model professional behavior, direct students, and facilitate thinking by constantly asking questions. Being well-trained as well as attached to one's role as a faculty member or field supervisor is of crucial importance in professionalization of students.