Occupational therapy skill shortage is identified as an issue in New Zealand (NZ) (Department of Labour, November 2009). Skill shortages are a complex interrelationship between the availability of therapists with specific skills and the attractiveness of a particular work environment. This study sought to explore how a particular work environment might or might not be attractive to new graduates in NZ, building on existing international literature.
The high demand for, and short supply of, occupational therapists has been a global issue. Literature reviewed for this study explored: the recruitment of occupational therapists; the link between fieldwork experience and recruitment; and factors affecting the selection of career direction and found no studies about the experiences of NZ students. Few studies have explored the specific issue of fieldwork experience and subsequent recruitment to facilities where students had fieldwork placements. Given that employment of new graduates is as relevant to practice in NZ as it is internationally, we sought to explore the relationship of final fieldwork placement to later employment decisions through a cohort survey which permitted the purposive identification of appropriate individuals for a semi-structured interview. The interviews were tape recorded and subjected to qualitative data analysis to answer the research question: How do final fieldwork placement experiences influence the decisions of newly qualified occupational therapists in NZ to seek or not to seek employment in the same facility?
Recruiting occupational therapists appears to be more difficult in certain practice and setting areas, in particular, mental health (Hayes, Bull, Hargreaves & Shakespeare, 2008; Philipps, Maloney, Stevens, Madigan & Cash, 1997), rural (Lannin & Longland, 2003; Millsteed, 2000) and adult developmental disability services (Crowe & Mackenzie, 2002). Factors contributing to recruitment difficulties include: the location, such as rural (Mills & Millsteed, 2002); the type of practice, such as mental health (Cusick, Demattia & Doyle, 1993); and the nature of the job, such as a generic role in mental health (Craik, Austin, Chacksfield, Richards & Schell, 1998; Harries, 1998; Hayes et al., 2008). Occupational therapy students have shown preference for careers in physical disability and paediatrics over mental health practice areas (Crowe & Mackenzie, 2002; Cusick et al., 1993; Sutton & Griffin, 2000).
The link between fieldwork experience and recruitment
It is reported that students who have had a good fieldwork experience in a specific area, such as mental health (Craik et al., 1998; Cusick et al., 1993), adult developmental disability (Crowe & Mackenzie, 2002), or physical health (McKenna, Scholtes, Fleming & Gilbert, 2001) are more likely to seek work in those areas. Similarly, recent graduates who seek work in Australian rural areas are more likely to have had rural fieldwork placements (Lannin & Longland, 2003; Lee & Mackenzie, 2003; Russell, Clark & Barney, 1996). There are many older studies that report a strong relationship between fieldwork experience and recruitment (Ezersky, Havazelet, Scott & Zettler, 1989; Lewicki, Smith, Cash, Madigan & Simons, 1999; Swinehart & Meyers, 1993). Occupational therapy student fieldwork placements, along with word of mouth and advertising were identified by Mulholland and Derdall (2005) as being among the most effective recruitment strategies. Several studies reported that fieldwork placement was the greatest influence on preferred clinical practice (Atkinson & Stewart, 1997; Christie, Joyce & Moeller, 1985a; Crowe & Mackenzie, 2002; McKenna et al., 2001). One study brings the perspective of fieldwork supervisors in Australia (Thomas et al., 2007), and concluded that the most commonly reported benefit of supervising fieldwork students is related to recruitment opportunities. …