Students in clinical programs often have difficulty connecting the relevance of basic science coursework to clinical practice. Curricular integration has been used as an educational strategy to stimulate deeper learning and improve students’ ability to apply basic sciences to clinical situations. In an attempt to improve student success at connecting knowledge learned across courses, explicit efforts were made to integrate coursework through coordination of material taught, employing a common lecture format, and utilizing common cases.
The fourth semester of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Southern California consists of the following five courses: Neuroscience, Neuropathology, Clinical Management of the Patient with Neurologic Dysfunction, Electrophysiology, and Evidence for Professional Practice. Beginning in 2012, a mid semester survey was given to students to identify their perception of the degree to which i) the five courses were integrated; ii) they understood the material taught and iii) they found the material taught to be clinically useful. Since the inception of this survey, changes have been made to the semester including increased semester faculty meetings for coordination of material presented, the development and utilization of a common lecture template with shared patient cases used in two of the five courses, and the development of a common set of instructions and grading rubric for a semester wide integrated project.
Within the mid semester survey, the students are asked “How well is Course X integrated with the rest of the semester courses?” The students were allowed to answer on a five point likert scale with the highest two answers on the scale classified as “excellent” or “good”. On average, the percentage of students reporting either excellent or good increased from 39% in 2012 (range 9.1-90.9) to 50% in 2015 (range 16-98). In four of the five courses, student perception of course integration improved between 44.39% and 75.82%. Finally, with implementation in 2015 of a common lecture format between 2 of the 5 courses, the percentage of students reporting excellent for integration between Clinical Management and Neuropathology within one year improved on average by 37%.
Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Shaping the Future of Physical Therapy Education
Innovative attempts including use of a common lecture format and shared clinical cases to improve integration across a semester of five courses were successful at improving the students perception of the integration of the coursework. Integrating our coursework may help to improve student understanding of the relevance of coursework as well as improve retention due to effective redundancy.
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