Identifying educational priorities for occupational therapy students to prepare for mental health practice in Australia and New Zealand: Opinions of practising occupational therapists
School of Exercise and Health Sciences
Background: The effective preparation of occupational therapy students for mental health practice is critical to facilitate positive consumer outcomes, underpin optimal practice and support new graduates' professional identity. This project was established to determine a set of 'educational priorities' for occupational therapy students to prepare them for current (and future) entry-level practice in mental health, from the perspective of mental health occupational therapists in Australia and New Zealand. Methods: The study included two phases. In Phase One, participants identified what they considered to be important educational priorities for occupational therapy students to prepare them for practice in mental health. For Phase Two, an 'expert panel' was assembled to review and rank these using a Policy Delphi approach. Results: Eighty-five participants provided educational priorities in Phase One. These were grouped into a total of 149 educational themes. In Phase Two, the expert panel (consisting of 37 occupational therapists from diverse locations and practice settings) prioritised these themes across three Delphi rounds. A final priority list was generated dividing educational themes into three prioritised categories: 29 'Essential', 25 'Important' and 44 'Optional' priorities. Highest-ranked priorities were: clinical reasoning, client-centred practice, therapeutic use of self, functional implications of mental illness, therapeutic use of occupation and mental health fieldwork experience. Conclusion: The priority list developed as part of this project provides additional information to support the review of occupational therapy curricula across Australia and New Zealand to ensure that new graduates are optimally prepared for mental health practice.