Promotion of the OT profession in the local and global community is essential and enhances health and quality of life for all people. This paper reports on a third phase of a research project entitled “Promoting and Enhancing Awareness/Perceptions of Occupational Therapy Profession”. In the first phase, we launched a series of public awareness campaigns to promote OT by (1) conducting a series of extracurricular activities targeting high schools and university students; (2) communicating and answering questions related to OT practice and services; (3) utilizing social media and digital marketing to reach large audience; (4) developing webpages (in both Arabic and English); (5) providing OT webinars, instructive infographics, educational videos, therapeutic tools, and community resources that highlight OT benefits to the public; and (6) advocating the OT profession and identifying its positive significant contributions to health through research and community service [17, 18]. In the second phase, a study entitled “Perceptions of the occupational therapy profession among medical and health science students in Saudi Arabia” was conducted. In this study, the health care students perceived OT as playing a vital role in the interdisciplinary rehabilitation team. However, OT was not clearly understood. This study identified a need to educate medical and health sciences students and the public on the purposes and benefits of OT [8, 13].
The findings of the current study suggest that many Arab healthcare professionals do not understand OT. Few previous studies have explored healthcare professionals and public knowledge and understanding of OT and indicated that although OT is now more than 100 years old, it is still not well-known or understood [11, 12]. In this study, more than half of the sample (51.2%) reported uncertainty and were not sure about the main domain and focus areas of OT and this is most probably was due to the fact that OT is a relatively new healthcare profession in the Arab region and it has been taught in only a handful of Arab universities [13, 19]. It is really important to shed light on the diverse core areas of OT, such as but not limited to activities of daily living, feeding and swallowing assessments, range of motion, manual muscle testing, sensory integration, hand therapy, splinting, pediatric development, leisure and recreational activities, expressive language skills, ergonomics, positioning, home safety evaluation, accessibility and quality of living for persons with disabilities, psychological assessments, cognitive behavioral therapy, anxiety management, community-based rehabilitation, physical exercises, family and patient education/counseling, work, vocational rehabilitation, education, social participation, play, rest and sleep, wound management, and prosthetics and orthotics trainings . Furthermore, in our study, 98 (34.9%) did not know the exact OT healthcare work setting as the OT role was not clear for them. The exact identity of OT and OT role still remains unclear in some settings such as mental health, child development, schools, and rehabilitation. The importance of a unique role identification among the members in interdisciplinary rehabilitation settings is crucial and should be highlighted . OTs work in a variety of clinical, research, and academic settings, such as but not limited to rehabilitation centers, psychiatric and mental health hospitals, community-based centers, nursing homes, school-based rehabilitation, learning difficulties centers, halfway homes and de-addiction, centers for assistive technology, academic and research institutions, work and industry, and patients’ homes . In the current study, 126 (44.8%) healthcare professionals did not know the difference between OT and PT which may result in role confusion for the healthcare team as reported in a previous study . The fields of OT and PT are often confused. While both roles complement each other and provide essential services to clients, each field takes a diverse approach. Both professions are important, complement each other, and work together within the rehabilitation team, and there is a big professional role overlap between both . In order to further educate both the public and other healthcare professionals, we highlighted the similarities and differences between the two professions in our recent publication entitled “Promoting occupational therapy profession: Answering the ten questions about occupational therapy” as part of the second phase of this project .
One expected finding of the current study was that Arab healthcare professionals with focus in rehabilitation sciences (PT, SLP, OP, RT) were more familiar with OT when compared with other healthcare professionals from other specialties. This may be due to the fact that OT and rehabilitation sciences collaborate closely, have many aspects in common, and communicate on a regular basis in almost every academic and clinical setting as part of the interdisciplinary rehabilitation team and curricula. Also, there was a significant association found in the current study between the healthcare professionals’ knowledge of OT and their years of experience. It is expected as the more experience the healthcare professionals have, the more opportunities they have to get to know more about other healthcare professions especially in interdisciplinary teamwork and integrated intervention planning as considered the ideal best practice where all disciplines act as one functional unit .
Although the majority of the current study sample indicated that the OT role in the rehabilitation team is vital (74.4%), almost two third of the sample (187; 66.5%) were not satisfied with their knowledge of OT, and 195 (69.4%) showed interest in learning further about OT indicating a gap in their level of knowledge and how they understand the diverse aspects of the OT profession. This finding is similar to previous studies that reported lack of healthcare workers and public understanding of the OT profession [8, 11,12,13]. A previous study indicated that lack of awareness limits youth entering OT which leads to multiple problems. Shortages of OT professionals are expected to increase. Hence, OT will not be fully accessed by clients if it is unknown or unavailable . Other studies reported that OT also is not highly visible in media [10, 16]. Therefore, there is a critical need for intensive public awareness campaigns to create accurate and powerful images of the distinct value of the OT profession. When participants in our study were asked to specify the best method that they would prefer to be educated about OT, they selected different methods, such as reading an article about it, providing oral presentations and workshops by an occupational therapist, observing/watching a video of an OT session, and searching in the Internet about the role of OT in medical teams.
Action plans should be focused towards educating interdisciplinary medical teams and healthcare professionals in Arab countries about OT through integrating OT education and services into university curricula, research, and clinical settings. It is critical that regulatory bodies and healthcare sectors establish specific statements and regulations which clarify the exact role of OT within different settings of the healthcare system . Developing OT continuing educational programs would provide the region with unique, qualified, and competent occupational therapists. In addition, it would enhance services provided to persons with disabilities, improve satisfaction, and empower their functional performance and everyday living skills in terms of independence, safety, and quality of life. Furthermore, an OT perspective could contribute to develop a more holistic approach and comprehensive care for patients. The inclusion of OT professionals into existing interdisciplinary medical and rehabilitation teams in Arab countries is crucial and should be considered. This approach would foster collaboration and integrated intervention planning which in turn would have a positive significant impact on persons with disabilities .
This study had some limitations. Some healthcare professionals were not available at the time of conducting our study, and we had limited access to them due to their busy schedules and other workloads. Healthcare professionals who participated in this study were from different countries; however, this data was not analyzed to investigate whether or not such differences have an impact on their knowledge and perception of OT. For future studies, a larger sample through extending the data collection period to enhance response rate, exploring possible reasons for differences in knowledge and perception of OT profession among different countries, and the inclusion of more healthcare professionals from more Arab countries to better represent this population are recommended.