Physical therapists are in short supply in rural communities, in spite of significant need for their services. To address shortages, health care education programs are advised to design rural-centric curricula to better prepare providers to practice in these settings. However, only a few published research articles have addressed curricular elements designed to prepare student physical therapists (SPTs) for practice in rural settings. This study investigates the impact of participation in a rural, agricultural mobile clinic for migrant agricultural workers on SPTs' understanding of rural communities and rural health
Student physical therapists in 2015 (Y1), 2016 (Y2), and 2017 (Y3) cohorts completed a survey via Qualtrics (Provo, UT) soliciting their reflections on participation in the mobile clinic. Surveys consisted of 8 open-ended questions developed from current service-learning literature. Responses were coded using a thematic analysis approach by 2 authors (C.N. and F.T.), while a third author (S.S.) determined categorization if disagreement occurred. Frequency (%) of responses was calculated by determining number of individual theme responses compared to total number of coded items.
Authors identified a total of 198 coded items over all survey responses (Y1–Y3). Six themes emerged: Diversity of Rural Communities (7.76%), Nature of Agricultural Labor (9.60%), Professional Role and Responsibility (17.68%), Extent of Need (19.70%), Communication (21.21%), and Nature of Rural Practice (24.24%). Notably, even SPTs who reported rural upbringing noted changes in perception of rural communities after participation in the clinic.
Student physical therapists showed increased understanding of the nature of rural health
care practice, among other topics, after participation in the mobile clinic. Curricular elements that address language barrier; appreciation versus impact; and which offer experiential learning may increase the impact of rural-focused lessons in physical therapy