Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Health Sciences


Rehabilitation Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Doris Pierce

Second Advisor

Dr. Judith Page


Changes in health care delivery practices are impacting the provision of care in all venues. Occupational therapists working in hospital settings strive to meet professional mandates for occupation-based practice within a medical-model system. Ethical practice is another aspect of service provision vulnerable to contextual influences. The aims of the two studies reported here were to explore occupational therapists’ experiences with occupation-based practice, and with ethical issues, in hospital settings. Grounded theory methods were employed for both studies. Data were collected via individual, semi-structured interviews with 22 participants for the first study. For the second study, nine participants participated in individual, semi-structured interviews, journaling, and follow up interviews. Data analysis resulted in four emergent themes for each study. The main themes of the first study were Occupation-based practice expresses professional identity; Occupation-based practice is more effective; Occupation-based practice can be challenging in the clinic; and, Occupation-based practice takes creativity to adapt. The four themes of the second study were Anything less would be unethical: Key issues; I trust my gut: Affective dimension of ethical practice; Ethical practice is expected but challenging; and, It takes a village. Occupational therapists negotiate challenges inherent in contemporary hospital-based practice to provide occupation-based services and to practice ethically. Occupation-based practice is perceived to be more effective than biomedical approaches to intervention. Therapists must employ creative strategies to overcome challenges presented by medical-model service delivery contexts in order to provide occupation-based interventions. In comparison to other health care professionals working in adult rehabilitation practice, occupational therapists experience both common and unique ethical issues. A discovery of this study was that occupational therapists also experience ethical tensions related to team members’ and families’ sometimes subtle, and less frequently explicit, requests to falsify recommendations in documentation. Experiences with ethical issues include an inherent affective component in the form of moral distress and a strong sense of caring. The impact of systemic/organizational and relational forces is a reality that contemporary occupational therapists must negotiate in order to provide occupation-based and ethical practice.