A Qualitative Study of the Career Decision-Making Experiences of Mothers who are Occupational Therapists

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The study described in this thesis was an investigation of the career decision-making experience of mothers who are occupational therapists. It was informed by qualitative research methodology. Fifteen women who lived in rural, regional, or metropolitan Victoria and New South Wales participated in the study. Each participant had at least one child or was expecting a first child, and each had taken or planned to take time away from her career due to childbearing/raising. Each participant was also an occupational therapist. Data was gathered via face-to-face, in-depth, individual interviews and was analysed inductively through line-by-line open coding and theme building. Data analysis was informed by the concept of the hermeneutic circle including a commitment to moving between understandings of the whole in relation to its parts and relating the parts back to the whole. The career decision-making experiences of the participants were found to be complex, multi-faceted, and recurring experiences, and they were more commonly experiences of making decisions rather than of making choices about careers. In addition, it was notable that making career decisions was only one element of the phenomenon of career decision-making; re-making the decisions was also a significant aspect of each participant''s experience. During the process of making and re-making career decisions the participants considered four different and sometimes conflicting perspectives: the personal perspective, the familial perspective, the workplace perspective, and the societal perspective. The women''s decision-making was also influenced by six specific factors: expectation and responsibility; support; motivation; flexibility; conflict; and life balance. Overall, the decision-making process was contextual, complex, and ongoing. In an attempt to make sense of the complex, multifaceted and interactive experiences of the participants a matrix of career decision-making was developed. The matrix illustrates how each of the four identified perspectives interacted with each of the six factors throughout the women''s career decision-making experiences. Within this matrix eight cells of influence (that is, eight combinations of perspectives and factors) were identified that were particularly influential in the decision-making and decision re-making experiences of the participants. All of the participants involved in this study were committed to returning to their careers in occupational therapy; however, their career decisions, priorities in life, and the strategies they used to simultaneously meet career and care goals were all different. Each of the participants responded differently to the personal and external pressures they experienced. It appears that mothers may be supported to return to their careers by the availability of time and support to make career decisions, and the opportunity to experience and reflect on their capacities to realistically enact their decisions. In addition women who are mothers require the acceptance of others and sufficient self-confidence to alter and change their career decisions over the course of their professional lives.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Wilding, Clare, Principal Supervisor
  • Masterman-Smith, Helen, Co-Supervisor
  • Whiteford, Gail, Co-Supervisor
Award date01 Sept 2013
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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