Anecdotally, residents of a local inner-city neighborhood have limited perception and understanding of the physical therapy profession. The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a mixed design pilot study intended to investigate this community's perception of physical therapy and Lower Roxbury community members' assessment of Northeastern University's Department of Physical Therapy community service-learning (CSL) program. Community residents who have been exposed to physical therapy through CSL may have a better understanding and perception of the profession than residents who have not participated.
Subjects of the study included 53 community residents and 8 community agency outreach workers and program directors that were CSL partners.
This mixed-design study featured data triangulation, including a review of the literature regarding community perception of physical therapy; a community resident survey; and community partner focus groups and interviews. Community residents were queried about their understanding of physical therapy (eg, education required, exposure to, problems treated by). Community partners were asked 3 open-ended questions in focus groups or interviews.
Sixty-four percent of community residents reported they had seen a physical therapist, 36% participated in weekly CSL physical activity programs, and 89% knew that physical therapists needed to be licensed in order to practice. Only 45% of the community residents knew that physical therapists need a college education. Community partners reported an improved understanding and positive perception of the physical therapy profession through CSL. A review of the literature revealed that the impact of service learning on community perceptions of physical therapy as a profession has not been studied in much detail.
This pilot study may be one of the first to investigate public perceptions of physical therapy in the United States. Community service learning appears to be a tool to help the physical therapy profession move closer to achieving Vision 2020, as it may increase consumer awareness of physical therapy services.
Diane Fitzpatrickis the director of interdisciplinary education of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences and associate clinical specialist in the Department of Physical Therapy in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115 (email@example.com).
Ann Golub-Victoris associate clinical specialist in the Department of Physical Therapy in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Susan Loweis associate clinical specialist in the Department of Physical Therapy in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115 (email@example.com). She is also the director of interdisciplinary education of Bouvé College of Health Sciences and associate chair of the Department of Physical Therapy at Northeastern University. Please address all correspondence to Susan Lowe.
Elmer Freemanis the executive director of the Center for Community Health Education Research and Service, 716 Columbus Avenue, Room 298, Boston, MA 02368 (efreeman.neu.edu).
This study was approved by Northeastern University's Division of Research Integrity (IRB #06-01-11).
Diane Fitzpatrick, Ann Golub-Victor, and Susan Lowe completed this project as co-primary investigators in partial fulfillment of graduation requirements for the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.