Mature students in occupational therapy education and practice
This research study investigated age as a predictor of success in the academic outcome and early professional performance of recent occupational therapy graduates. The study was divided into two parts. The analysis of age and academic performance in occupational therapy education initially provided a picture of mature student success when compared with the performance of younger students, but this finding was negated when the confounding variable of entry qualification was added to the analysis. The mature student data were strongly influenced by the superior academic performance of the students who had a previous degree on entry to occupational therapy education. When these degree-level entrants were removed from the age analysis, the academic performance of the remaining mature students did not differ significantly from that of the younger students. This result indicates that entry qualifications, in particular a previous degree, have a positive predictive affect on academic performance in occupational therapy education. The second part of the study investigated the impact of age on the early professional performance of recent occupational therapy graduates using a competency questionnaire adapted from the curriculum framework document for occupational therapy in the UK (COT, 1998). The hypotheses that age is a value-added factor in the early professional performance and level of threshold competence after graduation was partially upheld in the graduate self-ratings of competence but not in the employer ratings of new graduates in practice. No age differences were observed in the employer ratings of graduate abilities but academic performance at university was related to perceived levels of. competence. When graduates rated their self-perceived levels of competence, it was the mature graduates who consistently rated themselves as being more competent than their younger peers. The type of occupational therapy programme undertaken did not relate to either the employer or graduate ratings of competence. All respondents were provided with an opportunity to comment on the issue of professional competence. Mature students expressed high expectations of their professional competence yet were no different to all other new graduates in reporting stress when making the transition between being a student and qualified practitioner. A discrepancy in expectations of threshold competence was observed between the employer and the graduate comments.