The kaleidoscopic nature of student occupational therapists' fieldwork experiences
Tompson, Margaret-Ann Michelle
Fieldwork is a complex educational process. The purpose of this study was to uncover meanings student occupational therapists made of their early fieldwork experiences -the practicum component of the curriculum. In this naturalistic enquiry four female students were followed through their first four one-month fieldwork placements. Half of these placements took place on completion of the first year of coursework, and the remainder of the placements on completion of the second year of coursework. Data were collected through participant observation, interviews, and student journals. During the study it emerged that fieldwork constitutes a mosaic of elements which interact in a constantly shifting process that can be likened to a kaleidoscope. As elements change, they affect the whole, resulting in each student's fieldwork placement being a unique experience that cannot be duplicated. Details concerning the findings of the study have been divided into three parts. The first describes the function of fieldwork within the curriculum and includes the constants present in placements, students' concepts of the purposes of fieldwork, and the relationship of fieldwork to coursework. The second part highlights the main influences which students identified as being that of their therapists, their clients, the environment, and time. The third and final part, focuses on the emerging professional and involves four major themes: students' concept of professionalism, learning the language of the professional, developing a concept of occupational therapy, and the shifting focus between basic and intermediate placements. The main implications of this study for those involved in the fieldwork experiences of student occupational therapists concerned: the way in which placements are framed and named; the impact of the temporal aspects of placements such as pace, timing within the curriculum, and duration of placements; the implicit nature of the process of professional socialization and its technical-rational focus; and the importance of the student-therapist relationship and the inter-relationship of coursework and fieldwork. This study has significance because it captures the immediacy of four student occupational therapists' early fieldwork experiences, thus providing a glimpse into the world of neophyte health-care professionals for those involved in implementing such experiences.