Date of Award


Document Status

Open Access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Occupational Therapy (M.S.)


Occupational Therapy

First Advisor

Dianna Lunsford

Second Advisor

Kirk Anderson

Third Advisor

Lorna Hernandez-Jarvis


Background: In a field that aims to be holistic and client-centered, occupational therapists need to consider their client's culture. Culture is comprised of values, beliefs, and lifestyles and will affect the therapy process (Cheung, Shah, & Muncer, 2002; Cole, Stevenson, & Rogers, 2009). To truly treat clients holistically, therapists need to be culturally responsive in their practice, considering factors which influence therapy and its outcomes. Occupational therapy education programs, therefore, need to prepare its students to be culturally responsive practitioners. This research examined whether Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Occupational Therapy (OT) graduates are culturally responsive and how the program is preparing them in this area

Method: A mixed-methods study that utilized a concurrent triangulation strategy was used. A questionnaire with close-ended, Likert-type scale questions and an open-ended question was used to gather data. The questionnaire consisted of the Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity Questionnaire (Cheung et al., 2002) and researcher developed questions that were specific to GVSU's OT program. The questionnaire was sent to 148 GVSU OT graduates through an online survey tool (SurveyGizmo); 45 participants responded.

Results: Results showed that only 17.1% of graduates were fully culturally responsive; yet the majority had higher levels of cultural responsiveness. Graduates reported that both classroom experiences and fieldwork increased their cultural responsiveness, and more believed that fieldwork had an impact on their cultural responsiveness than classroom experiences. The qualitative results support this as well. Some graduates reported that class assignments that targeted specific cultural groups was not helpful, while many discussed that their personal experience and exposure to people from various cultures, such as in fieldwork, was what most impacted their development of cultural responsiveness while in the program. Additionally, many graduates felt that opportunities for critical thinking and reflection while in the program increased their cultural responsiveness.

Conclusions: This study adds to the knowledge-base of the importance of addressing culture in education in occupational therapy programs. The findings suggest that occupational therapy programs should expose students to various cultural experiences while they are in the program. Programs should also provide students opportunities for reflection on their own beliefs and emphasize critical thinking in order to help students develop a foundation for culturally responsive practice.