OT Research Article Spotlight: Recruitment and Retention of Occupational Therapy Practitioners and Students of Color.


Recruitment and Retention of Occupational Therapy Practitioners and Students of Color: A Qualitative Study.


Alesia R. Ford, OTD, OTR/L; Diane L. Smith, PhD., OTR/L, FAOTA;  Guardia E. Banister, PhD., RN, NEA-BC, FAAN.


American Journal of Occupational Therapy

Research Design:

Qualitative approach with an interpretive, constructionist design.


The researchers collected qualitative data to answer the following question: What are the perceived challenges to and facilitators of the recruitment and retention of Occupational Therapy Practitioners (OTPs) and students of color.



  • Purposive recruitment.
  • Flyers provided to Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) meeting at the 2017 AOTA Annual Conference and Expo.
  • Online recruitment flyer on the National Black Occupational Therapy Caucus Facebook group.
  • Snowball sampling for additional participants.


OTP or a student of any age, setting, or geographic location who identified as a woman and a person of color.


OTPs and students who identified as non-English speaking, White, or male.


  • 5 occupational therapists (mean age 41.8 yrs.)
  • 7 students ( mean age 25 yrs.)


Majority of participants (11 out of 12, 91.7%) identified as African American or Black. The remaining participant identified as Hispanic or Latino (8.3%).

Data Collection


Open-ended questions and probes about facilitators and challenges faced by OTPs and students to answer research question.

Data collection

  • Data was collected using the open-ended questions by means of three focus groups and four interviews using Face Time and Google Chat.
  • Focus groups had 2 or 3 participants and lasted 60-75 minutes
  • Interviews were one-on-one and lasted 30-45 minutes

Data Analysis


Five themes from responses:

  1. Lack of representation in and knowledge about occupational therapy (in communities of color).
  2. Feeling like an outsider
  3. Need for financial support
  4. Individualized mentor-mentee relationships
  5. Connections with national organizations specifically for people of color


  • Small sample size considering the reach of each area of recruitment.
  • Homogenous racial group. There was one Latino/Hispanic individual, therefore the group does not include all people of color.
  • There was no clarification provided on whether the students were OT students or pre-OT majors attempting to get accepted to OT school
  • Homogenous professional group. Occupational therapy assistants were not part of the group. There is more racial diversity amongst OTAs compared to OTRs. It would have been insightful to learn the thoughts of OTAs and their experience in school and the profession.
  • No clarification why black males were excluded. One theory that was used to guide instrumentation and interpretation was the Feminist Intersectionality Theory, which most likely impacted the choice. However, further clarification would provide concrete insight why this choice was made.

Takeaways for Clinicians and Academic Instructors:

  • Create a more inclusive environment in practice students for therapists and students of color on Fieldwork. One participant shared that she felt her race was an issue on fieldwork. Creating a more inclusive environment will assist with making therapists and students feel equal in a particular setting.
  • Become involved in Diversity and Inclusion committees at the state, national, or practice setting level to learn how to create this environment.
  • Review references from state and national occupational therapy organizations. Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (cotad.org) , Multicultural Networking Groups – AOTA  and Multicultural Interests – AOTA are places to start.
  • Become a mentor or learn of mentor programs to refer as needed.

In addition to the strategies above, academic instructors can implement the following:

  • Consider a Holistic Admissions approach
  • Review diversity-driven mission statements and address limitations at your organization that is preventing the mission from being realized.
  • Review instructional material and consider the level and quality of representation of BIPOC in your curriculum making changes to ensure equal and fair representation.

Takeaways for Student:

  • Ensure that you are aware of mentor programs at the state and national level to navigate the application and academic process for success. Mentoring does not have to be heavily procedural. It can be a church member that you touch base with on a regular basis or a more structured program through a national or state occupational therapy organization.
  • Develop a plan for financial support for the duration of the degree program. This can include looking at state school rather than private schools, scholarships, being an resident advisor or a teaching assistant. Make an appointment with a financial aid advisor at the end of the academic year to determine needs and options available.
  • Learn methods of advocating in the classroom and clinical setting using your school’s Program Manual to learn the individuals that will support you as you navigate the issues you encounter.


Ford, A. R., Smith, D. L., & Banister, G. E. (2021). Recruitment and retention of occupational therapy practitioners and students of color: A qualitative study. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75, 7501205150. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2021.039446

Access to this article can provide more information on demographic information, open-ended questions that were used, theories used to guide questions, data collection, and data analysis. The researchers also provided quote excerpts within each theme to support conclusions. Access can be found using the DOI above or this link: Recruitment and Retention of Occupational Therapy Practitioners and Students of Color: A Qualitative Study | American Journal of Occupational Therapy (aota.org)

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