Are Occupational Therapists Becoming More Diverse? – Let’s Find Out

Introduction

Are Occupational Therapists Becoming More Diverse?

Historically, the profession of OT comprised of primarily white female practitioners. With the current movement and trends towards more diversity, how has this changed in the United States?

Considering diversity is important because if the demographics of OT practitioners (both OTs and OTAs) do not represent the diversity found in the population that they work with, patients may not have the best experience and outcomes. Diversity can be seen as a way to meet the needs of society through concepts such as reliability, shared experience, and culture. Minorities that see an OT that is not their ethnicity may result in them questioning how well they may be understood.((Dawes, M. P. G. (2020). Promoting healthcare diversity: A diversity initiative for occupational therapy. [Doctoral dissertation, Boston University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.)) Other themes include prejudice, bias, patient comfort, preference, and overall experience.

According to the 2019 AOTA’s Workforce and Salary Survey, “the profession is mostly white (84%) and female (91%) which is consistent with past surveys. The only racial group to grow more than 1% is Asian/Pacific Islander.”((AOTA 2019 Workforce and Salary Survey))

Here’s the breakdown from 2009 to 2014. OTs and OTAs are grouped together.

Data

Just looking at rough trends, it appears that the percentage of White OT practitioners is decreasing. As noted, Asian OT practitioners had the largest increase of more than 1% growth. Overall, it seems the diversity of OT practitioners has not changed too much since 2009 – but it seems to be slow and gradual.

If you are curious about gender, you could guess and you would be right that the profession still remains largely female. In 2019, females who responded to the AOTA survey comprised 90% of the practitioners.

OT vs PT Demographics

In comparison, I did a rough google search for PT practitioner demographics. Whites comprised 74% of PTs.1 Then, followed by Asian (13.7%), Hispanic or Latino (6.0%), and Black or African American (3.9%). Males comprised about 36% and females 64%.

I wondered why this is – this lack of diversity in our therapy. I don’t know anything about the history of PT, but OT was historically female-dominant.

From 1918 – 1919, 356 “suitable young ladies” graduated as occupational aides qualified to instruct in bedside occupation. These women worked in military hospitals.((https://www.peiot.org/society/society-history-of-ot))

Do OT Students Experience Racism?

In terms of the student OT experience, some of these themes are very real. Some participants who were OT students reported experiencing tokenism, being graded more harshly, other classmates refusing to work with them based on race, bullying, and other mistreatment – based on race!((Colaianni, D., Tovar, G., Wilson, D., & Zapanta, H. (2022). Factors Influencing the Diversity of Occupational Therapy Students. Journal of Occupational Therapy Education, 6 (1). https://doi.org/10.26681/jote.2022.060102))

This is just ethnicity too. I’ve read about some double standards in practice regarding gender with COTAs online. Then there are other issues such as sexuality, non-binary gender identities, religion, and other ‘non-normal’ things to be explored as well.

As a profession in terms of diversity – we can do much better. More research is needed. In the meantime, I am trying to recruit as many minorities and males as I can to OT. 🙂

  1. https://www.zippia.com/physical-therapist-jobs/demographics/ []