Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Sociology and Rural Studies

First Advisor

Donna Hess


This study is an examination of the professional socialization process of occupational therapy students from a role identity theoretical perspective. First-year students, second-year students, fieldwork students, and faculty at an occupational therapy educational program at a Midwestern institution volunteered to participate in the study. Data were collected through focus group interviews and surveys. The focus of the study was to determine factors associated with occupational therapy students’ identity salience, commitment, and role-person merger. Interviews and surveys were used to determine what factors, over and above didactic education, influence the socialization of students into the profession of occupational therapy and what factors in occupational therapy education influence integration of an occupational therapist identity into the personal identity of students. Findings indicate that the professional socialization of occupational therapy students mirrors professional socialization into other professions; health and nonhealth related. The process of professional socialization begins before students enter the educational program; during recruitment and observation experiences. It is not a linear process, but spirals and intersects. There is not an end point although there are formal milestones that lead to a lifelong learning process. Role identity formation is influenced by hands-on experiences (e.g., case studies, fieldwork), active participation by the student, and interactions with significant others. The occupational therapist role becomes more salient as commitment to the professional choice increases. Students demonstrate signs of role-person merger as they progress through the program. Students are not always aware of their professional change and development until they are given opportunities to engage in reflexivity.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Occupational therapy -- Studying and teaching -- Social aspects
Professional socialization
Occupational therapists


Includes bibliographical references




South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2006 Denise A. Rotert