Occupational Therapy Students Issues

Occupational therapy (OT) is a noble, respected profession. You spend your days helping others live their best lives. They don't just hand out those diplomas, though. It takes hard work to get that piece of paper that says you're qualified: four years of undergraduate study, two or three more years to get your OT degree, exams, certification, and licensing.

You've put in a lot of work already. Maybe you can even see the finish line from here. The very last thing you want at this point is for some problem or mistake to come up and put all of it in jeopardy. So, prepare now for the typical issues OT students face. Know the rules. Know how your school deals with violations. Maybe most importantly, know how to get help no matter what sort of problems may arise.

Common Issues and Concerns of Occupational Therapy Students

Every OT program is different. Each has its own policies, rules, and procedures. If you're looking for concrete answers about how your school handles these problems, the best place to look is probably in your Student Handbook. That said, there is a basic set of concerns that are common to almost all OT students, typical problems that show up no matter where you may be in school.

The most obvious of these have to do with fulfilling your school's academic expectations—being a good student and learning what you need to know to do your job well. Issues with academic expectations might include

  • Academic performance
  • Grade appeals
  • Remediation plans
  • Professional and ethical obligations
  • The COTA exam
  • State boards and licensure

In addition, though, you also have to worry about other serious problems that can pop up, like

  • Cheating accusations
  • Disciplinary violations
  • Sexual misconduct allegations

You'll find information about all of these below, information that can prepare you to face whatever challenges might arise. You should know, though, that whatever you're facing, an attorney-advisor can be a valuable asset for getting through it.


Your school wants you to do well, and it wants to make sure you are absolutely qualified when you go out into the world as an OT. It also must meet several important standards in order to be accredited. The American Occupational Therapists Association (AOTA) serves as the governing body for occupational therapists. The AOTA's accreditation arm, the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), sets standards for all OT programs and performs regular assessments to find out whether or not they are meeting those standards.

As part of the accreditation process, your school must evaluate you in three important categories.

  • Academic excellence: OT programs require significant coursework. At Baylor University, for instance, OT students are asked to take courses such as Analysis of Human Occupation Across the Lifespan, Mental Health Populations and Practice in Occupational Therapy, and Human Movement. Likewise, California State University, Dominguez Hills, requires courses in subjects like OT Frameworks and Models of Practice and Clinical Reasoning in Occupational Therapy. In addition to taking these courses, your program will demand that you excel in them. Both schools mentioned above, for example, require you to maintain a satisfactory grade point in order to remain in the program. At CSUDH, the grade point to meet is 2.0; at BU, it's 3.0. If you should fall below those numbers or struggle in too many classes during a given semester, you'll find yourself placed on academic probation. If you can't show improvement while on probation, you will likely be dismissed from the program altogether.
  • Clinical requirements: Your particular school or program will also expect you to excel in labs and “fieldwork” or “clinical” rotations. Level 1 Fieldwork typically involves simply shadowing an OT professional. Level 2 Fieldwork involves hands-on work under supervision, though schools differ in how they assign these clinical hours. At Pace University, for instance, rotations begin in the spring semester of the second year. In contrast, the University of Florida doesn't introduce students to Level II fieldwork until after the second year's is complete. Success in this part of the program means learning to listen to and work with patients, becoming skilled at diagnosing problems and coming up with solutions, and maintaining a high standard of professionalism. Here again, if you cannot meet a supervisor's requirements, you could find yourself on probation or removed from the program.
  • Professionalism and ethics: Being an OT is all about helping others, and that requires building trust both within the community and with the individual patients you serve. You can't help a child with a disability learn to interact in social situations or support an older adult who's dealing with new physical challenges if they don't trust you implicitly. The foundation of that trust is your ethics and professionalism. The AOTA lists seven specific core “values”:
    • Altruism
    • Equality
    • Freedom
    • Justice
    • Dignity
    • Truth
    • Prudence

You can expect your school to hold you accountable for all seven of these values, not just when you're actively working in the program but in your personal life as well. A DUI or a charge of domestic violence, for instance, can easily be enough to get you dismissed.

You might be asking, at this point, what can an attorney do to help me as a student? Certainly, it is true that navigating your coursework and developing a good bedside manner is largely on your shoulders. However, an attorney-advisor can help make sure you stay on track academically and can help put things right when you run into trouble.

For example, an attorney-advisor can help draft grade appeals should you fall behind in your coursework. They can coach you on how to talk to your clinical rotation supervisors about poor evaluations. They can accompany you to disciplinary hearings and help you present your defense.


No one's perfect. That includes OT students. Yes, you're bright. Yes, you're dedicated to helping others live better lives. Just like all humans, though, you're still prone to making your fair share of mistakes. The question is whether making a mistake should cost you your career. Spoiler alert: it shouldn't.

Below, you'll find a list of some of the kinds of trouble students often get into, and a discussion of how to deal with that trouble should it find you.

Academic Misconduct

It's worth saying again: getting an OT degree isn't easy. That drives some students to bend the rules. Most often, bending the rules means things like

  • Cheating: The use of unauthorized resources to complete your coursework. Cheating can include anything from looking at a classmate's paper during an exam to asking someone else to take the exam for you. And don't forget that cheating using digital means is still cheating. Basically, if the answers come from someplace other than your own head and that someplace hasn't been approved ahead of time, it's cheating.
  • Plagiarism: Attempting to pass another person's words or ideas off as your own, without giving them credit. As with cheating, plagiarism is a broad term that includes many kinds of misconduct. Obviously, you shouldn't buy your papers from online paper mills. You can also get in trouble, though, simply for failing to properly cite a source.
  • Falsification: Fabricating materials as part of coursework or misrepresenting yourself to school officials.
  • Sabotage: The destruction of school property or of work completed by other students.

You may find yourself in trouble even if you've done nothing wrong. Instructors have become remarkably paranoid these days, and that means perfectly innocent students sometimes wind up accused as well. Whatever your specific situation, academic misconduct, particularly in a graduate program, is regarded as a serious offense, and sanctions often include dismissal from the course or even dismissal from the program.

Your school will have some procedures for handling accusations of academic misconduct. Some offer a basic appeals process that involves presenting your case to various administrators or offices in the program's chain of command—department heads, deans, and provosts. At San Jose State, for instance, the process starts with asking the Office of Student Conduct and Ethical Development to consider your case. If that should fail, you can further appeal to the school's Student Fairness Committee. Other programs, such as the one at Texas Tech, allow you to defend yourself at a formal hearing.

Disciplinary Misconduct

An OT program isn't just about the classroom or clinic rotations. OT programs are communities, and like any other communities, they have to hold members to certain behavioral standards if everyone is going to get along. Again, every program is different in terms of disciplinary rules, but there are some prohibitions that you can expect no matter where you're enrolled.

  • Substance abuse: Drug use and possession are almost universally prohibited in educational programs. Even in states where marijuana may be legal, there's still federal law to worry about. No school wants to risk its funding by allowing students to openly break the law.
  • Discrimination and harassment: All schools have strict rules against harassing others based on protected categories like race, sex, religion, ethnicity, age, gender status, and disability. Certainly, this extends to physical actions, but it may also include verbal and online comments.
  • Weapons possession: Many schools prohibit possession of any weapons—legal or illegal—on campus. This includes firearms, explosives, fireworks, and dangerous chemicals.
  • Theft: This typically includes any sort of damage or misuse of property as well and applies to both school property and the property of other students.
  • Disruption: Obstruction of any school function, including classes, official proceedings, and meetings. This extends to any activity that might infringe on other students' rights to participate in these programs.

Again, there is usually a set of procedures for handling violation allegations. If the potential sanction is serious—such as probation or expulsion—your school will likely give you an opportunity to present your case at a hearing before a panel or committee. Less serious offenses may be handled more informally. Keep in mind, though, that even a warning can be “serious” if it winds up in your permanent record. No matter what you've been accused of doing, an attorney-advisor can be crucial to making sure the accusation doesn't damage your academic or professional career.

Sexual Misconduct

One form of disciplinary conduct is usually treated as its own special form of violation. That's because it's not just subject to school policy but to federal law. Title IX prohibits all forms of sexual discrimination and harassment in federally-funded educational programs—including OT programs—and it requires schools investigate all credible allegations.

In addition, Title IX includes a set of guidelines for how schools should go about investigating and adjudicating allegations. These guidelines supersede any procedures your program may have in place for handling other disciplinary issues.

According to the guidelines, for instance, all cases must include

  • Thorough investigation
  • Live hearing
  • Process for appealing the hearing outcome

The guidelines entitle you to some important due process rights. For example, you have the right to

  • Notification of the charges, including the name of the Complainant (alleged victim) and details of the allegation
  • A presumption of “Not Responsible” (innocent) until you are proven “Responsible” (guilty)
  • An advisor, who may be an attorney
  • Investigators and decision-makers who are free of bias
  • Review all evidence in the case
  • Equal treatment to the Complainant in all matters

However, a Title IX case isn't the same as an actual court case, and you don't have the same rights as a defendant might have in a court of law. For example, decision-makers don't have to find you Responsible “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If they feel it's more than fifty percent likely you committed an offense, they must find you Responsible.

Title IX procedures can be difficult to navigate. It's not always easy to know how to use your rights effectively, and there are plenty of pitfalls you have to be careful to avoid. The bottom line is you should never try to handle one of these cases on your own. The law gives you the right to an attorney for a reason: you need one for cases this complex.

Getting Help

In most instances, your OT program will allow you to have legal representation no matter what kind of problem you may be facing. Even when it doesn't, though, an attorney can still be an invaluable resource. They can help you put your case together, from developing a strategy, to collecting evidence, to tracking down witnesses. They can help you practice responding to questions and making presentations. They can help you draft documents. Most importantly, though, an attorney can keep an eye on the entire process to make sure that your program doesn't violate your rights.

Not just any attorney will do, though. You need an education lawyer who has experience representing student clients; someone with experience handling academic judicial processes. A local or family attorney won't understand how an OT program works or be familiar with Title IX procedures. They may not understand just how much is at stake in a school hearing or know what to do if your school tries to impose an unfair remediation plan on you.

Joseph D. Lento built his career helping student clients just like you keep their dreams on track. Joseph D. Lento understands the law, particularly as it applies to education. He's also experienced in dealing with administrators and navigating bureaucracy. Attorney Lento believes you work hard and that what you do is valuable, and he'll do whatever it takes to make sure you succeed.

Whether you've been accused of misconduct or you're trying to get a supervisor to change their evaluation, the Lento Law Firm can help. Don't wait. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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