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Characteristics of Entry-Level Physical Therapist Education Program Directors

Bennie, Scott D., PT, DSc, MBA; Rodriguez, Tobias E., PhD

Journal of Physical Therapy Education: March 2019 - Volume 33 - Issue 1 - p 70–77
doi: 10.1097/JTE.0000000000000081
Research Paper

Introduction. Development of academic leadership remains a long-standing topic of research and discussion. Specific to physical therapist education, the annual turnover of program directors (PDs) and the proliferation of new entry-level programs prompt further investigation of the responsibilities, characteristics, and leadership competencies needed for current PDs, which can inform optimal development opportunities for future PDs.

Review of Literature. Previous studies, conducted when entry-level physical therapist education culminated in a master's degree, demonstrated that the primary role of a PD was to act as a faculty advocate to higher administration. There is limited literature directly related to the work, preparedness, development, challenges, and job satisfaction of PDs, and no data exist about a possible shift in roles and responsibilities since the advent of entry-level doctoral education and changes in Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education Standards. Given the current challenges noted of academic physical therapy, the focus of this study is to profile current PDs and report their self-identified needs, challenges, and perceptions of their roles. This study provides a detailed workforce profile, including PD’s responsibilities, characteristics, and leadership competencies, which may be used to support and advance leadership in the field of academic physical therapy.

Methods. Data were collected using a 35-item survey instrument that was electronically distributed to 241 individuals listed as PDs on the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education “Directory of Programs.” Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, with a narrative review of open-ended responses.

Results. Seventy-three PDs responded to the survey (30.3% response rate). Time management was the highest rated management competency and managing change the highest rated leadership competency. Estimated work time by activity was highest for reading and responding to emails and memos. The highest ranked reason that respondents stepped into their roles was to help lead their department. Only 50% received formal orientation before becoming a PD. When asked to rate differences between current job responsibilities and previous expectations regarding the role of PDs, the factors most often cited included the amount of time needed to respond to emails, memos, phone calls, and other communications; these factors also produced the most stress.

Discussion. High ratings of time management as an important competency is likely related to the average number of reported working hours (54 hours per week). Prioritization of “understanding the roles and responsibilities of the PD” as an important leadership competency may be reflective of the finding that most PDs come from a faculty member role. The academic experience reported in this study was comparable with findings reported in 2001 and greater than that described in 2014. Shorter duration of time reported by PDs in their current role may be reflective of the proliferation of new programs and challenges with leadership retention.

Conclusion. The roles and responsibilities of the PDs in an entry-level physical therapist education program are complex and time intensive. Many PDs face these complexities with little to no formal training. Thus, PDs are challenged by the breadth and depth of the work expected, and competencies required, of them, the enormity of time required to complete this work, and the burden of striving for work–life balance, and yet PDs are generally satisfied with their jobs. However, PDs may benefit from additional developmental offerings, internal and external to the institution, which help them grow to meet the expanding challenges of the role, whether they are new to it or already well established in academe.

Scott D. Bennie is the Vice Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the Adventist University of Health Sciences, Orlando, FL 32803 ( Please address all correspondence to Scott D. Bennie.

Tobias E. Rodriguez is the Vice President at the Academy for Academic Leadership (AAL).

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Received January 23, 2018

Accepted October 22, 2018

Copyright 2019 © Academy of Physical Theraphy Education
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