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Occupational Therapists of Color: Perceptions of the Academic Experience

Cheryl Burke Lucas, Johnson & Wales University


Despite the growth in the US population of persons of color and the need for allied health professionals to improve healthcare disparity, people of color make up only 20% of the total enrollment in professional occupational therapy education programs (American Occupational Therapy Association [AOTA], 2016a). Inequalities in the participation of people of color can lead to diminished educational experiences for all students, isolation for occupational therapy students and professionals of color, and decreased healthcare quality for minority clients. This five phase, qualitative interpretive/constructivist study explored the academic experiences of occupational therapists of color, guided by the following research questions: 1. How do occupational therapy practitioners of color ascribe meaning to their educational experiences in their OT program? 2. How do occupational therapy practitioners of color describe their perceived facilitators and barriers to educational success? 3. In what ways do occupational therapy students/practitioners of color navigate their culture of origin and the majority White culture in order to succeed in occupational therapy educational programs and in professional practice? AOTA (2016b) professionals (N=14) were solicited by email through their Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Network and participated in Phases I, II, and III. Participants completed demographic and interest questionnaires in Phase I; a reflective questionnaire regarding educational facilitators and barriers in Phase II; and depth interviews in Phase III. Using Colaizzi’s data analysis strategy (Colaizzi,1978), the results of the Phase III interviews were used to complete the Phase IV elite informant interviews with OT leaders (N=4). Phase V consisted of a document analysis of historical and current policy documents. Six themes emerged from this study: 1) Decision to Enroll in an OT program, 2) Educational Program Culture, 3) Faculty Relationships, 4) Peer Relationships, 5) Student Resilience, and 6) Working Professionals.These results reveal participant persistence towards professional OT goals; however, academic and leadership success did not shield participants from marginalization or racism. These results may inform OT professionals regarding enrollment strategies for students of color and the imperative for student-centered program standards and zero- tolerance policies regarding discrimination within OT educational programs.

Subject Area

Multicultural Education|Education Policy|Health sciences

Recommended Citation

Lucas, Cheryl Burke, "Occupational Therapists of Color: Perceptions of the Academic Experience" (2017). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI10276527.