An Example of Occupational Coherence: the Story of Dian Fossey, Occupational Therapist and Primatologist

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Dr Dian Fossey was the primatologist and occupational therapist who is famous worldwide for saving the highland mountain gorillas from extinction. She sustained her research centre successfully for 18 years in an inhospitable physical and political climate before her murder in 1985.

Prior to moving to Africa, Dr Fossey enjoyed a successful 10-year career as a paediatric occupational therapist. After graduating from San José State College (now university) in California, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to lead a one-woman department at a well-known hospital where she treated orthopaedic clients, including children from the Appalachian Mountains.

Yet, in spite of her considerable accomplishments and successful early career, Fossey is not well known in today's occupational therapy profession and there is little information about her occupational therapy career. This paucity prevents a complete analysis of her life.

This paper presents an alternative narrative, which identifies connections between her early lives as an occupational therapist working with children and a primatologist studying the highland mountain gorilla culture. These connections suggest that there is an occupational coherence throughout life that may occur in spite of the pursuit of apparently different careers in very different contexts. The links also imply that certain values and motivations may contribute to this occupational coherence throughout one's lifespan.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2007

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