Essential Skills for Occupational Therapy Students

Students enrolled in West Virginia University's Occupational Therapy program, preparing to become professionals in occupational therapy, are expected to have essential skills in addition to academic competence. These skills are related to one's ability to function as an occupational therapist and/or an occupational therapy student. While not all skills are needed across all settings, all are essential to occupational therapy practice in general. Thus, essential skills are the physical and mental abilities, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that make up the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains of occupational therapy practice.

Essential skills apply to classroom, laboratory, clinical/fieldwork, and professional work environments. They exist to ensure the public that the graduates of our program are prepared to become fully competent and caring occupational therapists. In order to be successful in our program, and as occupational therapy professionals, individuals must be able to demonstrate multiple skills and abilities that span the academic, motor, emotional, and social nature of our profession. Where appropriate, the individual must be able to perform all listed essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations.

Under the Americans with Disability Act, occupational therapy students with disabilities have the right to decide if and when they disclose their disability to the academic program and the fieldwork site. It is recommended that if you determine that you will need accommodations to fulfill the essential job functions in your fieldwork setting that this information be disclosed to the fieldwork site before you start your placement. Passing fieldwork level II is based on your ability to demonstrate entry-level competencies by the completion of the placement and you want to make sure that if accommodations are needed that they are reasonable and in place.   Make sure to discuss your decision to disclose with your academic fieldwork coordinator.

Affective Domain

  • The ability to recognize challenges to and respond appropriately to maintain the emotional well-being of the client at all times.
  • The ability and commitment to work and interact with individuals without regard to the nature of their illness or disability, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or age group.
  • Commitment to the policies of the university, the occupational therapy program, fieldwork sites, and places of employment. This includes matters ranging from professional dress and behavior, to adhering to academic and/or facility schedules, which are subject to change.
  • Exhibit a positive, interactive response to feedback
  • Interact respectfully and sensitively with individuals, families, and groups from a variety of social, emotional, cultural, and intellectual backgrounds.
  • Establish rapport with clients, patients and colleagues that supports collaboration
  • Demonstrates responsive, empathetic listening skills.
  • Actively participate in a positive manner and contribute to group projects.
  • Emotional health for utilization of intellect, the exercise of good judgment, prompt completion of responsibilities and the development of mature, sensitive and effective relationships with others.
  • Ability to perform appropriately in stressful environments (including physical, emotional and/or sensory stressors) or during impending deadlines.

Cognitive Domain

  • The ability to recognize safety challenges and supervise appropriately to maintain the safety of clients at all times.
  • Ability to analyze and synthesize data from a variety of sources in a timely manner, including the ability to integrate information from all courses throughout the curriculum, leading to effective clinical reasoning and problem solving.
  • The ability to communicate verbally and in writing, using appropriate grammar and vocabulary. Proficiency in communication includes transactions with individuals and groups in learner, collegial, supervisee, consultative, leadership and task roles.
  • Students must be able to elicit and gather information and describe findings.
  • The cognitive and perceptual ability to work with clients in varied practice settings, insuring the safety of clients, significant others, and staff.
  • The organizational skills, initiative and persistence for performing required tasks and assignments within allotted time frames; the ability to travel to and from classes, fieldwork assignments, and work on time.
  • Critical thinking skills in order to problem solve creatively, master abstract ideas and synthesize information in order to handle the challenges of the academic, laboratory, and fieldwork settings.
  • Able to observe (or able to assimilate information and respond utilizing the information with accommodations) demonstrations, experiments, and demonstrated skills in clinical setting in order to provide accurate evaluation, assessment and education in areas of occupational performance. Including:
    • Ability to observe a patient/client at a distance greater than twenty (20) feet and close-up noting verbal and nonverbal signals.
    • Ability to visually monitor and assess physical, emotional, and psychological responses, equipment settings, dials and instructions
    • Ability to perceive verbal and nonverbal communication from others, which may indicate changes in mood, cognition/ mental status, activity and posture.
    • Ability to determine and comprehend dimensional and spatial relationships of structures, e.g. differentiating right and left, up and down, etc.
    • Ability to view video, graphics, and written word on the computer screen or a DVD monitor.
    • Auditory ability sufficient to monitor and interact with patients, other professionals and families.
    • Ability to hear and react appropriately to alarms, emergency signals, timers, and cries for help.
  • Ability to interpret a physical assessment performed through on-hands application that may include palpation of anatomical structures, noting surface characteristics, assessment of tone, temperature, depth, etc.

Psychomotor Domain

  • The ability to recognize safety challenges and supervise appropriately to maintain the physical safety of clients at all times.
  • The capacity to prepare for and respond to the challenges of any environment that requires a readiness for immediate and appropriate response. This requires training for emergencies as delineated within specific clinical environments (e.g., CPR, infection control), and a readiness and willingness to respond as needed.
  • The physical ability and capacity (i.e. balance, strength, and flexibility) to safely position the client or oneself to enable accomplishment of such things as range of motion, manual muscle testing, transfers, and pertinent activities of daily living. This applies to all practice settings.
  • Physical status permitting one to assume necessary workloads, and adapt to changing and challenging environments. These skills require flexibility and a spirit of cooperation.
  • The ability to complete tasks within specified timeframes appropriate to either the clinic or the classroom. Timeframes are determined based on the environment, but will be consistent with the expectations occupational therapists are likely to encounter in actual clinical practice.
  • Ability to move physically from room to room and maneuver in small places around in clinical settings.
  • The ability to maintain their presence in the same physical space as the client throughout an assessment and/or intervention session, up to an hour at a time.
  • Ability to execute (or functionally achieve with accommodations) the tasks of:
    •  Ability to stand for thirty (30) minutes.
    • Ability to lift forty (40) pounds.
    • Ability to kneel, crawl, roll, and bend backward and forward.
    • Independently climb on and off of a three-foot table.
    • Grasp and release items of various sizes in both hands.
    • Have grip strength of twenty (20) pounds.
    • Demonstrate sufficient strength and balance to transfer, move, assist patients/clients in walking, and their daily occupations without injury to patient/client or self.

The West Virginia University community is committed to creating and fostering a positive learning and working environment based on open communication, mutual respect, and inclusion. 

If you are a person with a disability and anticipate needing any type of accommodation in order to participate in your classes, please advise your instructors and make appropriate arrangements with the Office of Accessibility Services. (

More information is available at the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ( as well. [adopted 2-11-2013]