Motivated to advance their careers, nontraditional students often choose to return to graduate education. Because of their multiple responsibilities, these students frequently seek alternative educational delivery formats, such as accelerated, hybrid distance, weekend, and bridge programs. In physical therapist (PT) education, bridge programs with online coursework and weekend formats are a relatively new alternative curricular model available for physical therapist assistants (PTAs) who wish to build on their past experiences in a realistic and efficient manner. Thus, this article describes a weekend PTA to Doctor of Physical Therapy bridge program and its outcomes.
The described bridge program has a weekend format, some online coursework, and formal clinical experiences, clustered at the end of the curriculum. All students entering the program possess a baccalaureate degree from a 4-year institution and an associate degree from an accredited PTA program, as well as a minimum of 1 year of practice experience as a PTA. Multiple outcomes were used to evaluate this model, including focus groups, clinical performance instrument ratings, graduation rates, National Physical Therapy Examination pass rates, and alumni surveys.
The average age of the bridge students was 31.5 years, and the average years of experience as a PTA was 7.08 years. The bridge students demonstrated nontraditional student characteristics such as being married, having one or more children, and living out of state. All but 3 students worked more than 20 hours per week as a PTA while in the program. Motivations for students entering the bridge program, as identified through focus group interviews, included finances, curricular fit, time and delivery structure, backup plan, and health care forces. The bridge students also reported expectations of expanded PT career opportunities, financial stability, autonomy as a health professional, and lifetime friendships with their classmates. Most alumni were satisfied with their overall learning experience and reported being adequately prepared to well prepared with their clinical performance skills. The average rating across all clinical performance instrument skills at the end of the final clinical experience was beyond entry level, the average graduation rate was 93.35%, and the ultimate 2-year National Physical Therapy Examination pass rate was 96.15%.
Major components of the studied model, including experience as PTAs, weekend format, use of online coursework, and clustered clinical experiences, may have interacted to promote positive outcomes for the nontraditional students enrolled in this bridge program. The presented model provides a sound alternative for PTAs seeking to advance their professional development and career.
Deborah A. George is director of clinical education and associate professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Findlay, 1000 N. Main Street, Findlay, OH 45840 (email@example.com). Please address all correspondence to Deborah George.
Lisa L. Dutton is professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program and associate dean in the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health at St. Catherine University.
The authors report no conflicts of interest.
Received January 26, 2018
Accepted November 02, 2018