The lived experience of occupational therapists in Scottish Accident and Emergency Departments

Kirstin James

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Emergency Departments (EDs) deliver urgent treatment at the ‘front-door’ of acute hospitals. In Scotland, occupational therapists have had an increasing presence in EDs, an emerging role with limited evidence to guide its development. There are no predetermined philosophies or existing theories of ED occupational therapy. Therefore, this exploratory study examined the lived experience of ED occupational therapists in order to make an original contribution to knowledge, and to inform practice. Ethical approval was granted from Glasgow Caledonian University. Research methods were framed by Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), and purposive sampling was used to recruit nine ED occupational therapists from across Scotland. Individual, semi-structured interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Interview transcripts were analysed line-by-line and interpreted using IPA methods. Two over-arching themes emerged from the data. Theme 1: 'On the Factory Floor' captured the experience of working in an ED. EDs are highly organised, likened to factory production-lines, but also unpredictable, even chaotic. The participants contributed their professional skills to make sense of both the order and the chaos. Theme 2: 'A Stranger in a Strange Land' encapsulated what it was like to enter the ED environment, and the participants were still discovering how they might acculturate. They experienced EDs as challenging environments, which potentially threatened the delivery of occupational therapy in terms of its core-constructs. However, they were able to maintain the values of occupational therapy, though they applied them with constraints. In addition, challenges placed clinicians at high risk of burn-out. Despite this, there were personal and professional rewards, especially enjoyment, being valued and being recognised. Occupational therapy is still emerging in the ED context, professional identity is forming and models of practice are not fully developed. Implications arising from the study are discussed in relation to health policy, future research, occupational therapy practice and occupational therapy education.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
Award date14 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Qualitative Research


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