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The Size and Structure of the Swiss Occupational Therapy Workforce

At a glance

Description

Background

The shortage of skilled workers in the health professions is also present in occupational therapy. In order to determine the need for occupational therapists in the various regions and fields of practice in Switzerland, to plan study places and to make political decisions, empirical data on the number and structure of current occupational therapy jobs are important. Such data can both identify gaps in care provision and support the planning of measures to ensure that institutions have the right number of workers with the right skills available at the right time.

Aim

The aim of the study is to generate empirical data on the number and structure of occupational therapy workplaces in Switzerland, which have been lacking up to now.

Method

As part of a consortium of the three universities ZHAW, HES-SO and SUPSI, the Swiss Occupational Therapists Association (EVS/ASE) and the Foundation for Occupational Therapy, the ZHAW Institute of Occupational Therapy Research Unit conducted an online survey in all language regions of Switzerland. The survey was aimed at: - Employers of occupational therapists, - heads of occupational therapy teams, - self-employed occupational therapists. The researchers collected data on the number and structure of occupational therapy workplaces in Switzerland - in terms of - socio-demographic characteristics, - their level of training, - the geographical and regional distribution of workplaces, - occupational therapy fields of practice, - as well as other topics. Quantitative data were analysed using descriptive statistics and regression analysis. In addition, the researchers described qualitative data - from open questions - narratively.

Results

In total, data were collected from 968 respondents, covering 3'022 Swiss occupational therapists. The response rate was 73.6% for medical institutions and 58.2% for outpatient practices. In terms of gender distribution, men only make up 9.7% of the Swiss occupational therapy workforce, with women making up 90.1%, while 0.2% do not identify with either gender. The percentage of men is higher in management positions (15.5%). Swiss occupational therapists most often work with clients who have difficulties in connection with injuries or illnesses of the upper limbs, neurological illnesses or injuries, and mental health.

The ratio of occupational therapists per 10’000 inhabitants in Switzerland is at least 3.2, with an estimated real ratio of 4.3 – 5.5. Swiss occupational therapy provision is least dense in Central Switzerland. The average reported turnover rate among occupational therapy teams was calculated as 20.0 (SD=27.9).

The low percentage of men working as occupational therapists (9.1%) is more pronounced than in other health professions in Switzerland, like nursing and physiotherapy  It is also more pronounced than the percentage of men working as occupational therapists in the countries bordering Switzerland. While Swiss occupational therapists have a similar percentage of practitioners with a Bachelor’s degree or higher than physiotherapists, the percentage of physiotherapists with an Master’s degree is more than twice as high than among occupational therapists. Occupational therapy provision in Switzerland is denser than in Italy or France, similar to Austria, and less dense than Germany. It also differs by region and area of practice.

In conclusion, the results illustrate the persistent lack of gender diversity in the profession, and a rate of practitioners with a Master’s degree or higher that is still low compared to similar professions. They also show some differences in occupational therapy provision in terms of geography and area of practice. We have examined these issues further in a series of articles (see references).

The data will be made available in anonymized form as Open Research Data in early 2024.

Further information

Publications