Document Type (Journals)

Original Research


Low income negatively impacts health, access to health services, and overall quality of life. Living with low income is complex, strongly correlated with disability, age, gender, race, and mental illness, and can present barriers to participation in employment, self-care, and leisure occupations. Occupational therapists are well-positioned to reduce these socioeconomic, environmental, and personal barriers. Research on student occupational therapists’ learning and perceptions in working with individuals living with low income is unexplored. This study aimed to understand student occupational therapists’ perceptions and experiences related to low income and their knowledge of their professional roles in working with low income populations. Fourteen Canadian occupational therapy programs were asked to invite final year students to complete an online survey. Resulting data was analyzed for student perceptions of their professional roles, personal experiences, and learning experiences related to working with low income populations. Eighty-eight respondents completed the survey. Ninety-one percent (n=81) agreed with the occupational therapy role as a change agent with marginalized and low income populations. Fifty-seven percent of respondents (n=53) disagreed that they learned enough about low income in their programs. Students reported gaps in their learning about working with low income populations, with six percent (n=5) having learned to screen for low income. Respondent comments resulted in 21 unique codes that built three themes; ‘academic experiences’, ‘perception of role’, and ‘individual experiences’. Occupational therapy programs need to address gaps in student learning to prepare student occupational therapists to advocate for individuals living with low income and address socioeconomic inequities of occupational engagement.


Naomi Newfield, BSc., MSc.OT is a graduate from the University of Toronto.

Lucy Bartlett, BSc., MSc.OT, OT Reg. (BC) is a graduate from the University of Toronto and an Occupational Therapist with Vancouver Coastal Health, Vancouver, BC.

Ellen Murray, BSc. is a secondary school teacher with the Toronto Board of Education, and an M.Ed. student in Adult Education and Community Development at OISE, University of Toronto. She is interested in social justice, anti-poverty issues and professional education.

Timothy Park, MSc.OT, OT Reg. (Ont.), OT(C) is an Occupational Therapist with West Park Healthcare Centre, Toronto, ON.

Keri Chambers, O.T. (R), NL is a registered occupational therapist with Stella’s Circle, St. John's, NFLD.

Farah Hameed, MSc.OT, OT Reg. (Ont.) is a registered Occupational Therapist with the Central East Local Health Integration Network in Toronto, ON.

Lynn Cockburn, Ph.D., M.Ed., MSPH, BScOT, OT Reg is Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto, ON, Canada.

Declaration of Interest

The authors report no declarations of interest.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.