Fixing, Building or Healing: Physical Therapist Students' Perceptions of Practice

Purpose/Hypothesis : Physical therapy is complex requiring real-time processing of information from multiple sources and rapid decision-making. Physical therapistsÕ (PTsÕ) beliefs and models of practice influence their patient care. Prior studies have indicated that the nature of health care professional education influences how students view their profession, but few studies have investigated this phenomenon in PT students. Metaphors represent an expression of individualsÕ thought processes and provide insight into individualsÕ tacit theories about their professional practice. This study investigated how PT students conceptualize their professional roles through a comparison of their metaphors and explicit statements of the purpose of physical therapy.Number of Subjects : 25 first- and 18 third-year doctor of physical therapy students.Materials/Methods : Participants completed semi-structured interviews regarding their perceptions of physical therapy practice and created metaphors for the work of a physical therapist. Open coding followed by axial coding was used to classify the studentsÕ conceptualizations in three categories: the purpose of physical therapy, the role of the patient, and APTA core values. StudentsÕ conceptualizations were assessed for consistency within responses.Results : The analyses revealed four key findings. First, students described physical therapy practice as focused on restoring physical function. Very few students indicated an active role for the patient in determining the goals for physical therapy or that physical therapy should address psychosocial function. Second, studentsÕ metaphors primarily related to fixing mechanical problems. Third, the primary core value evident was professional duty. Finally, most students demonstrated consistency within responses. For example, those who stated the purpose of physical therapy was to restore physical function used metaphors that included fixing, construction, or training. Those who did mention a psychosocial role for the PT, however, did so inconsistently across their responses. There were minimal differences between first and third-year studentsÕ conceptions.Conclusions : PT students describe their profession as addressing technical and mechanical issues. While the students do consider physical function over isolated impairments, very few indicate a psychosocial role for physical therapy. Prior studies on practicing PTs indicate that their role conceptions influence their interactions with patients. Consequently, it is likely that these studentsÕ minimal attention to patient initiated goals will have consequences for the way they interact with patients. The lack of consistency exhibited by the students who did express a psychosocial role for the PT suggests that their practice may demonstrate similar inconsistencies in patient relations.Clinical Relevance : APTA advocates a biopsychosocial approach to patient care, yet neither first- nor third-year PT students consistently view practice this way. Future longitudinal research should investigate the extent to which PT education influences studentsÕ conceptions.

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  • Control #: 1724620
  • Type: Poster
  • Event/Year: CSM2014
  • Authors: Sarah Gilliland, Chelsea Fischer
  • Keywords: Entry-Level Physical Therapist Education|Professional Development|PT-Patient Relations

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