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Abstract

Caring for others is one of the most important attributes for individuals who want to be occupational therapists or social workers. Students are not necessarily aware of the challenges and responsibilities of the helping relationship. Deeper insights are needed into these aspects in order to train and prepare students to become competent, work-ready professionals. This study therefore aimed to describe student beliefs about their chosen profession, the competencies they perceived were most important to develop, and their motivators for their choice of profession. In this explorative study, 51 first-year students from occupational therapy (22 students) and social work (29 students) participated in individual semi-structured interviews. The interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically. Although participants had difficulty defining their future profession, they agreed it was all about helping people. A range of competencies was identified, such as establishing interpersonal relationships, sensitivity to difference, communication, flexibility, and teamwork. Differences emerged according to the chosen profession, such as creativity and imagination for occupational therapy students, and administrative skills and the desire to effect change for social work students. Concerning the choice of profession, most participants wanted to help others and engage in human relationships. Diversity and variety of tasks were also attractive elements of both professions. From the beginning of the program, educational institutions should describe more clearly occupational therapy and social work, so that students can develop a realistic vision of their future profession.

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