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Postdoctoral Fellowships: A Critical Step Beyond the PhD in the Training of Physical Therapists

Earhart, Gammon M, PT, PhD; Lang, Catherine E, PT, PhD

Journal of Physical Therapy Education: October 2006 - Volume 20 - Issue 2 - p 9–11
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Background and Purpose. The physical therapy profession has, in the past decade, placed increasing emphasis on the importance of evidence-based practice. More physical therapists are pursuing nonclinical doctoral degrees, such as PhDs, in an effort to obtain the skills necessary to conduct original research and add to the foundation of literature upon which we base our practice. In 2002, the number of American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) members reporting a nonclinical doctorate as their highest earned degree was 30% higher than in 1996 (Sarah Miller, APTA Archives, oral communication, March 2003). Despite this increasing trend toward and emphasis on nonclinical doctoral training of physical therapist researchers, there has not been a concomitant statement from the profession regarding the importance of postdoctoral study for these individuals. The purpose of this paper is to advocate for recognition of the importance of postdoctoral studies to physical therapy.

Position and Rationale. As more physical therapists pursue research doctorates and the standards for rehabilitation research become more stringent, the postdoctoral fellowship should become the accepted and expected next step in the careers of these individuals. The vital role of postdoctoral training in the preparation of independent researchers has long been recognized in other fields. The time has come for individuals, institutions, and professional organizations in the physical therapy community to recognize how important postdoctoral studies are in the careers of research scientists and respond accordingly.

Recommendations and Conclusion. Postdoctoral training for physical therapists (PTs) is currently undervalued. To remedy this situation, the following actions are recommended: (1) changing expectations in the job market, with institutions requiring or at least recommending postdoctoral training among applicants for research-oriented tenure-track faculty positions, (2) acknowledgement of postdoctoral training by professional organizations through the addition of postdoctoral training as a level of education in member surveys used by APTA and accreditation surveys used by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), and (3) enhancing graduate student access to information on how and why to pursue postdoctoral training.

Gammon Earhartis assistant professor of physical therapy, anatomy and neurobiology, and neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine, Program in Physical Therapy, Campus Box 8502, 4444 Forest Park Blvd, St Louis, MO 63108 (earhartg@wustl.edu). Please address all correspondence to Gammon Earhart.

Catherine Langis assistant professor of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine, Program in Physical Therapy, Campus Box 8502, 4444 Forest Park Blvd, St Louis, MO 63108 (langc@wustl.edu).

Received August 16, 2004, and accepted June 26, 2006.

Copyright2006 (C) Academy of Physical Therapy Education, APTA
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