Date of Award


Document Type

Scholarly Project

Degree Name

Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT)


Occupational Therapy

First Advisor

Jan Stube


Intensive Care Units, Neonatal -- manpower; Occupational Therapy


The purpose of this research is to explore the role of occupational therapy (OT) within neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). There has been limited research pertaining to the current overall role of OTs in the NICU. In order to explain/demonstrate the multifaceted role of OTs within the NICU, a survey was created and, using a stratified random sample, distributed to 90 NICUs in hospitals throughout the United States (U.S.).

A non-experimental exploratory survey research design was used to gather and analyze information from respondents. A survey was created by the researchers based on a thorough literature review of the topic and development of 4 hypotheses statements. The survey consisted of 16 quantitative and qualitative items, which were divided under three main headings: NICU work setting and staffing level, OT professional background, and description of the NICU OT practice role, including theoretical models used. After pilot testing and UND Institutional Review Board approval, the survey was mailed out to 15 occupational therapy departments of hospitals in six regions of the United States (U.S.), totaling a sampling frame distribution of 90 hospitals. Of the 90 occupational therapy departments receiving the survey, there were 19 respondents for a response rate of 21%. No follow-up requests for survey completion were sent out. Thirteen surveys fully completed by occupational therapists were included in the final analyses. Quantitative survey item responses were descriptively analyzed using Microsoft Excel 2007™ and SPSS 18®; qualitative responses were compiled into thematic areas using Microsoft Word 2007™.

OTs are employed in 68% of the U.S. NICU settings sampled in this survey research study. There is a multifaceted role served by OTs in the NICU, such as providing parental education, stress signal education, positioning, feeding/pre-feeding, as well as many other interventions. Al’s Synactive Theory (Als, 1982) was used by the majority (46.15%) of the OT respondents as a guiding theoretical practice model. Because of the specialized knowledge base and skill necessary, the OTs employed in the NICU have an average of 4.9 years of pediatric experience prior to employment in the NICU. Due to the low response rate (21%), comparison of the interventions utilized by OTs in the NICU across the U.S. could not be completed.

Conclusion: This survey and its results are recommended to form the basis for further study of the employment of occupational therapists in NICUs across the U.S., including the value of OT brought to the NICU team and client outcomes. These study results are intended to be presented in a poster format and/or publication for occupational therapy audiences in order to promote awareness and further research of this important specialty area of occupational therapy practice