Recasting curriculum to address critical social and health problems confronting society

Louise Jane Farnworth, Alana Elizabeth Hewitt, Aislinn Lalor, Lisa Murphy, Eleanor Mary Fossey

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Intent: The central vision of founding occupational scientists was to “recast and reconstruct traditional” occupational therapy practice. With a solid foundation in occupational science principles, Clark et al. (1991) argued that occupational therapists are well positioned to address “critical social and health problems confronting society and, hence carve out new practice niches (p. 308). With a primary focus on the education of occupational therapists, this paper will argue that such education, embedded in occupational science, can develop practitioners who are arguably best able to meet these most critical social and health needs of our modern society. Argument: Australia is facing an over supply of graduate occupational therapists in traditional areas of practice, in part as a consequence of growth in the number of universities offering occupational therapy programs. Simultaneously, the health and well-being needs of many people are not being met, as indicated by societal symptoms such as increased substance abuse, homelessness, imprisonment rates, while the financial and human costs of dealing with these issues are spiraling out of control. The minimum standards for the education of occupational therapists have increasingly refocused on the expected outcomes of occupational therapy education to more closely resemble the practitioner envisaged by Clarke et al. (1991). For example, the 2016 WFOT standards declare that educational and professional values and beliefs focus on occupation as the central concept, support the view of humans as occupational beings; subscribe to the transactional relationships between the person, the occupation and the environment as the hub of practice. This paper describes an Australian occupational therapy program that intentionally and explicitly incorporates learning activities that address occupational science concepts throughout the program. It culminates with all graduates completing an extensive, occupationally focused, community based project placement that contributes to the overall 1,000 hours of fieldwork required by WFOT. Examples of some of the projects completed and new practices created will be briefly discussed. Importance to occupational science: The curriculum described, and projects completed, demonstrate how an expanded vision of occupational therapy practice can indeed lead to career possibilities in project management, population health, community development in new practice niches based on occupational science. Conclusion: Occupational science underpins our understanding of the relationships between people and health to inform some of the most critical social and health problems confronting society. The knowledge and skills of occupational therapy, combined with occupational science, is the missing link to such practices. Questions for Discussion 1. How are academics in this program upskilled to be able to reinforce occupation based principles? What are the main challenges? 2. How relevant are WFOT minimum educational standards and national educational program accreditation in directing and supporting programs to be more occupationally focused? References Clark, F. Parham, D., Carlson, M. Frank, G. Jackson, J ., Pierce, D. .. Zemke, R. (1991). Occupational science: Academic innovation in the service of occupational therapy’s future, American Journal of Occupational therapy, 45(4), 300-310. Krishnagiri, S., Hooper, B., Price, P., Taff, S. D., & Bilics, A. (2017). Explicit or hidden? Exploring how occupation is taught in occupational therapy curricula in the United States. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71, 7102230020. WFOT (2016). Minimum Standards for the education of Occupational therapists, Revised 2016. World Federation of Occupational Therapists.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2018
Event2018 Conference of the Society for the Study of Occupation: USA: Sleep and Restoration - Griffin Gate Marriott Resort and Spa, Lexington, United States of America
Duration: 11 Oct 201813 Oct 2018


Conference2018 Conference of the Society for the Study of Occupation: USA
Country/TerritoryUnited States of America
Internet address


  • Occupational therapy education
  • Higher education
  • Curriculum design
  • Curriculum content
  • community practice
  • Occupational science

Cite this