Date Presented 04/22/2023

This study explored the stress levels among graduate OT students in the COVID-19 pandemic era and coping mechanisms used by the students to reduce academic stress.

Primary Author and Speaker: Razan Hamed

Contributing Authors: Maegan Assaf, Heidi Cipolla, Carley R. Quirin, Annika Voss, Shylah Walker, Amira Wheeler, Sally Zhang

Burnout is more prevalent in healthcare students than in the general student population (Shanafelt et al. 2015). It has also been associated with mental health concerns among occupational therapy practitioners (OTs) (Zeman & Harvison, 2017). Burnout has been associated with an increased risk of experiencing future professional burnout (Spickard et al., 2002). Studies investigating burnout in OT students during the pandemic and sociopolitical unrest in the United States are limited (Lewis-Kipkulei et al., 2021). This study aims to identify the perceived stressors leading to burnout in graduate occupational therapy students and the effects these stressors have on academic functioning and responsibilities outside of the educational environment.

DESIGN: an exploratory study. Method a 165-item national survey was distributed to US-based graduate OT students. The survey had questions about students’ experiences and perceptions of stress, burnout, and coping mechanisms. Results A total of 150 participants responded to the survey. Of those, 118 completed the survey (78.6%). The majority of the respondents were female (n=110, 91.67%, single (93.33%), and identified as White (66.93%). The majority were enrolled in an entry-level Master’s program in occupational therapy (71.67%) and full-time programs (98.33%). Over half of the participants described themselves as working too hard in school (54.46%), feeling frustrated at school (69.02%), being exhausted daily (87.61%), and being stressed by the other people in their lives (63.72%). More than half of the participants agreed that they cannot relax easily (62.4%) and half of the participants agreed (50%) that they are not able to complete their daily activities.

CONCLUSION: graduate OT students experience high levels of stress that may lead to professional burnout. OT educational programs may need to consider addressing the academic-related stress before sending students to fieldwork to avoid burnout.


Shanafelt, T. D., Bradley, K. A., Wipf, J. E., & Back, A. L. (2002). Burnout and self-reported patient care in an internal medicine residency program. Annals of Internal Medicine, 136(5), 358.

Zeman, E., & Harvison, N. (2017). Burnout, stress, and compassion fatigue in occupational therapy practice and education: A call for mindful, self-care protocols. NAM Perspectives, 7(3).

Spickard, J. A. (2002). Mid-career burnout in generalist and specialist physicians. Jama, 288(12), 1447.

Lewis-Kipkulei, P., Dunn, L. S., & Carpenter, A. M. (2021). Implications for occupational therapy student stress, well-being, and coping: A scoping review. Journal of Occupational Therapy Education, 5(1).