In the world of Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation the word Function is very commonly used in professional practice. For example, if I was assessing an individual's shoulder mobility and they are able to raise their arms high enough to reach into their kitchen cupboards, I would record that "upper extremity range of motion is functional for performing kitchen tasks".
The word Function has many meanings.
The meaning of "Function" for our purposes
I first begin with the Concise Oxford Dictionary which defines Function as: "Activity proper to person on institution; mode of action or activity by which thing fulfills its purpose; office-holder's duty, employment, profession, calling; religious or other public ceremony or occasion, social meeting of formal or important kind."
Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary Function as: "The special, normal, or proper action of any part or organ."
Wikipedia states that Function may refer to:
- explaining why a feature survived selection (biology)
- a portion of code within a larger program, performs a specific task (computer science)
- 2012 song by American rapper E-40 featuring YG, Iamsu! & Problem
- A social event
Further research on function
For the world of occupational therapy and rehabilitation, I turn to the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists website, www.caot.ca to see what they have to say about the word function. Though the word function is not used in the definition of Occupational therapy, but rather OT is defined as: "Occupational therapy is the art and science of enabling engagement in everyday living, through occupation; of enabling people to perform the occupations that foster health and well-being; and of enabling a just and inclusive society so that all people may participate to their potential in the daily occupations of life (Townsend & Polatajko, 2013, p. 380)."
What is occupation?
"Occupational therapists define an occupation as much more than a chosen career. Occupation refers to everything that people do during the course of everyday life. Each of us have many occupations that are essential to our health and well-being. Occupational therapists believe that occupations describe who you are and how you feel about yourself. A child, for example, might have occupations as a student, a playmate, a dancer and a table-setter."
CAOT goes on to describe the scope of practice for occupational therapy, and a profile identifying seven main roles of occupational therapists. The number one role of an occupational therapists is Expert in enabling occupation.
Forming services around function and occupation
So if Occupational Therapists are the experts in enabling occupation, this means that we must be the experts in facilitating an individual to be "functional" in their everyday lives. The question I raise is what does this mean in our work with individuals who have sustained injury or illness and Occupational Therapists (or other rehabilitation professionals) are requested to deliver professional services regarding an individual's ability to return to work? Requests for professional services can include:
Expert in enabling occupation
So if the Occupational Therapist is the Expert in enabling occupation, are we the experts in determining an individual's functional capacity and return to work ability? This raises another question. How and where does determining an individual's functional capacity fit into the maximum health and well-being of the individual?