A Phenomenological Study Exploring the Professional Identity Development of the First Cohort of Occupational Therapists Trained in Ghana

  • Peter Owusu Ndaa

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Aim: This thesis explores the lived experiences of the first cohort of occupational therapy (OT) students from Ghana regarding their professional identity development as they progressed through their pre-registration programme. The aims of the study were to: i) capture students‘ experiences as they developed their understandings of themselves as occupational therapists in a country with few practicing therapists, ii) examine how students experienced their course programme and transition into becoming occupational therapists, and iii) understand the influence of the learning environment on the students‘ professional identity development.

Method: A hermeneutic phenomenological approach was used with a purposively sampled group of nine undergraduate OT students recruited from a maiden cohort of eighteen students. Participants were followed through their four-year course programme. One-to-one semi-structured interviews were conducted each year from 2013 to 2016 to explore students‘ lived experiences. The transcribed interview data was analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.

Findings: Three overarching master themes emerged from cross-case analysis of the interviews. Firstly, ‗Knowing self, course programme and aligning with profession’. This master-theme was generated from a set of themes mainly identified at the end of the students first year of study. The second master-theme, ‗Aligning with professional knowledge to redefine professional understanding‘, emerged from two major sub-themes identified as ‗Feelings of uncertainty with team members‘ attitude and, being overwhelmed with caseload‘, and ‗Feeling respected and valued by clients and team members over OT values‘. Lastly, is the master-theme ‗Reidentifying with the occupational therapy profession and self’. This was formulated during students‘ final year of study and entry into practice.

Discussion: The discussion captures students‘ progressive development via three constructs, 1) Personal knowing - involving students re-identifying the self through the demonstration of innate attitudes, 2) Professional knowing – where students acquired propositional knowledge through different teaching models and, 3) Experiential knowing – through students‘ clinical and practice-based education, alongside their management of disruption, adversity and uncertainty. The three constructs were identified as threshold concepts. These thresholds had trajectory characteristics which students needed to master to move them from their novice to graduate professional state. The discussion portrays how students navigated the series of threshold concepts by engaging with specific processes involving their innate characteristics as well as experiences in their learning environment at different stages in their education.

Conclusion: This thesis articulates students' experiences of their course programme and their professional identity development from their initial entry onto the programme to their exit point as graduate professionals via three different constructs that emerged as threshold concepts. The students‘ narrated lived experiences served as the characteristics of the threshold concepts. The study offers new insights into professional identity formation as a threshold concept. The study identifies personal qualities and dispositions used by students while formulating their disciplinary perspectives in a new and unfamiliar settings. This observation has added clarity to higher educational programme facilitators‘ understanding of the effect of professional identity development on education approaches. Finally, the study suggests professional identity development is not only transformational but also co-constructed via complex interactions.
Date of Award26 Mar 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorKatherine Wimpenny (Supervisor), Rebecca Khanna (Supervisor) & Simon Goodman (Supervisor)

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