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In Pursuit of Best Practice in Physical Therapy Education

Gwyer, Jan PT, PhD, FAPTA; Hack, Laurita M. PT, DPT, PhD, MBA, FAPTA

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Journal of Physical Therapy Education: Volume 29 - Issue 1 - p 3
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“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.”


The concern about quality in physical therapist education is everywhere! The profession as a whole, particularly members of the profession committed to academic and clinical teaching roles, is engaged in several major projects to identify best practice in physical therapist education. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Education Section, American Council of Academic Physical Therapy (ACAPT), Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), and Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) have been supportive of several profession-wide projects over the past few years that will contribute to the debate surrounding best educational practice for physical therapist education. Consider the macro-level focus of several of these projects:

  • ACAPT supports the Benchmarks for Excellence task force, which seeks to develop quantitative and qualitative benchmarks that represent excellence in physical therapist education, against which, programs could assess themselves.
  • ACAPT, APTA, the Education Section, and the FSBPT collaborated to develop a shared vision for enhancing clinical education in physical therapy. A 2-year process of conferences, invited papers (published in JOPTE as a supplement in May 2014), and webinars culminated in the Clinical Education Summit in October 2014. Over 450 participants agreed on 15 recommendations that they believe represent best educational practice in physical therapist education. ACAPT will consider how to proceed with these recommendations for the profession this year.
  • APTA, the Education and Orthopeadic Sections, and ACAPT collaborated to fund a research project, Excellence and Innovation in Physical Therapist Education for the Twenty-First Century (PTE-21). The research team has followed the research methods of former studies sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. These studies in medicine, nursing, clergy, engineering, and law focused on identifying what curricular structures, instructional practices, assessment approaches, and environmental/institutional characteristics optimally support the preparation and development of professionals in training. Preliminary data from this national study of physical therapist education in academic and clinical settings have been presented at conferences, with the final work expected to be published in 2015 and 2016.
  • APTA has identified the importance of quality physical therapist education through action of the 2014 House of Delegates by adopting a position statement on excellence, as well as a charge to identify best practices in clinical education. Also, APTA has charged a task force to provide strategic advice, counsel, and options to the Board of Directors regarding current and emerging issues impacting the ability of physical therapist education to produce practitioners that meet the needs of the current and evolving health care system.

We are fortunate as a profession to have the resources of these organizations and the commitment of learned colleagues to envision common and effective educational practices in the future. Such projects can serve to articulate goals that may stretch us in new and useful ways and challenge us to take a different view of our own institutional models. Without these initiatives, our profession would be stagnant and our graduates would not provide the level of care for patients to which we aspire. It will be exciting to see the work that results from all of these efforts!

In each issue of JOPTE, we find colleagues who have faced the issue of quality, one issue at a time, and have delved into the scholarship of teaching and learning to study the outcomes of their instruction and the progress of their students. Doing the best things for our tremendously diverse students is often perplexing and occasionally left to trial and error. In our educational roles, like our roles as clinical practitioners, we face learners for whom best practice eludes us. Do we know why students fail a clinical education course?

In this issue, Wilgens and Sharf hoped to learn extensively about the experience of students who have failed a clinical education course, and found that subjects share a weakness in mindful practice, a vital component for effective clinical practice. Can we strengthen student learning using purposeful errors as an instructional strategy? Johnston found little evidence in the literature about using error detection as a teaching method, and now has contributed to our knowledge with a case report documenting her experience. Are academic educators current in teaching safe patient handling techniques in place of manual patient handling techniques? Stevenson et al explored this question in a national survey of student exposure to safe patient handling in the classroom and clinic. This research report also describes student intentions to be advocates for safe patient handling in their practice, a commitment to best clinical practice.

In this, and the remaining articles in this issue, we are fortunate as a profession to be as committed to this pursuit of efficacy and effectiveness in the education of students and patients as we are in seeking methods of best clinical practice. The habit of pursuing quality teaching and learning will lead us to best educational practices in nationwide classrooms and clinics. Once again, it will be exciting to see the work that results from all of these efforts!

Working at both the macro and the micro level, we as a profession will continue to identify best practices that lead to education for best practice and the benefit of our patients.

Copyright2015 (C) Academy of Physical Therapy Education, APTA