Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Carol Beynon


The purpose of this study is to explore the emerging professional identity of the professional master’s entry-level occupational therapist. The questions are: 1) What does it mean to be a professional as an occupational therapist? 2) How do professional identities emerge for the professional master’s entry-level occupational therapist? From a professional perspective as an occupational therapist and educator, helping clients and students find meaning in their occupations is an integral part of my ontology of practice. To conduct this study, I used a constructivist paradigm within qualitative research as my primary lens and constructivist grounded theory as my methodology to organize, analyse and present the findings. From a personal perspective, I am also influenced by my cultural beliefs and understandings. Constructivism, which focuses on how individuals construct meaning in their situations, has a parallel to the philosophy of Feng Shui which is a long and well-established practice in Chinese society that specifies the relationship between people and their environment. I used the concepts from Feng Shui which emerged later in my study as my second conceptual lens to frame and explain my findings. The primary data source was through semi-structured interviews in a group, in pairs and individually with 11 participants. Several secondary sources of data were utilized including the University Exit Survey from the 2003 graduates, researcher field notes, and literature review. The concept of occupational therapy as a profession was explored to help inform the study purpose. The experiences of participants reflected their ability to provide an important function and service to society, to practice in a way that respects and honours the client-therapist relationship, to advance the stance of the profession to others and, to develop and maintain personal learning competencies that can sustain them over time within their careers. Reflection is the threaded skill that participants used to help make sense of their clinical experiences. These factors related to being a professional contributed to their understanding of their professional identity. Although some of the findings are supported and reflected in the literature on occupational therapy, health sciences or education, new findings are suggested specific to professional master’s entry-level occupational therapists. These new findings are related to dissonance in identities, client-centred focus, access to higher education, power in practice and, potential career and educational paths of applicants. Implications for OT education and practice are suggested that involve actions from stakeholders including individual occupational therapists, educational programs, regulatory bodies, professional associations, and employers. Limitations to the study and future research directions are suggested. The overarching findings as a result of this study are: • Professional identity is a complex construct that involves the integration and negotiation of multiple identities. • Reflection is the threaded skill that helps novice occupational therapists make sense of their experiences within their multiple identities—from a Feng Shui perspective and from a praxis perspective.