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Stepping OUT in Educational Research: Pediatric Physical Therapy Education has Learned to Walk

Rapport, Mary Jane PT, DPT, PhD, FAPTA; Furze, Jennifer PT, DPT, PCS

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Journal of Physical Therapy Education: Volume 31 - Issue 2 - p 95-96
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It is our pleasure to introduce a special series of articles that will appear in each of the next 3 issues of this journal highlighting key areas of educational research specific to pediatric physical therapy education. The purpose of this special series, as stated in the initial call for proposals in 2014, is “to focus on identifying the curricular elements and instructional changes that will be necessary to ensure the provision of high quality physical therapy services for pediatric patients and adults with lifelong developmental disabilities.” To this end, we found it was both necessary to enhance our collective understanding of best practice in pediatric physical therapy education and to share that more broadly with the physical therapy education community. While the literature on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) in physical therapy education continues to expand in both breadth and depth, the variability of educational practices relative to the education of pediatric physical therapy knowledge, skills, and abilities is highly variable across professional physical therapy curriculum. In fact, many of the concerns first identified in 1993 by Cherry and Knutson1 and by Martin2 regarding the limited amount of time spent and the variability in teaching pediatric content as part of the entry-level physical therapy curriculum are still unresolved. More recently, pediatric physical therapy educators have begun to strive towards a more systematic approach to the SoTL using an increasingly broader array of educational research methods to answer some of these same questions. To this end, the special series will expand the current literature base.

The happenstance of several separate, yet overlapping, key events led to this special series. The words and actions of Journal of Physical Therapy Education coeditors, Hack and Gwyer, have demonstrated their support for publishing special series to highlight a specific topic. In addition, and perhaps more notable, has been the encouragement of the coeditors, through editorials and their own contributions to the literature, acknowledging that research of physical therapy education needs to be supported by evidence and sound methodology.3–4 In her 2011 McMillan lecture, Dr Jensen spoke directly to the need for educational research that will provide evidence on best practices in physical therapist education.5 And more recently, Jensen et al proposed “a compelling rationale for building a much needed foundation for education research in physical therapy.”6 The foundations for our work on this series began around the same time.

This special series is one of several key outcomes from the first (2012) Pediatric Education Summit sponsored by the Section on Pediatrics (now known as the Academy on Pediatric Physical Therapy, or APPT). This was in part a result of the findings of Schreiber et al, as they identified that variability across educational practices among professional physical therapy education programs had not changed much from 1993 compared with their 2010 survey.7 The Education Summit brought together 20 individuals affiliated with pediatric physical therapy education (academic and clinical components), and together, they reached consensus on 5 essential core competencies in pediatric physical therapy education: (1) Human Development, (2) Age-Appropriate Patient/Client Management, (3) Family-centered Care, (4) Health Promotion and Safety, and (5) Legislation, Policy and Systems.8 (Readers who are not familiar with the competencies are encouraged to review that work before delving into this special series.) Several additional manuscripts stemmed from that first Summit,9–10 and the formation of the Academic and Clinical Educator (ACE) Special Interest Group (SIG) of the APPT was also born. These efforts helped to better describe expectations of pediatric physical therapy education, while both academicians and clinicians tried to better understand the best ways to teach pediatric physical therapy in the classroom, lab, and clinic.

In 2014, the Journal of Physical Therapy Education supported a special issue “for faculty to share educational strategies, approaches, and experiences” addressing the preparation of students for the area of geriatric physical therapy. We commend guest editors, Barr and Wong, for setting the stage and raising the bar to share a variety of articles that are “critical to the preparation of a physical therapy workforce that is well-qualified to work with older adults.”11 (p5) Our hope is that we can provide a similar opportunity for workforce development and educational preparation of entrylevel physical therapists who will work with children. While we do not specifically address physical therapist assistant education, we surmise that our colleagues who participate will take and adapt these ideas to their students and their role in pediatric patient management.

When we set out to identify and select potential articles for this series, we were delighted to receive proposals from many author teams all seeking to better understand one or more aspects of the SoTL of pediatric physical therapy education. The articles in this special series represent 4 topic areas specifically requested in the call for proposals: (1) concepts and strategies of effective teaching; (2) interprofessional education; (3) use of didactic curriculum and experiential learning; and (4) effective clinical education approaches. Twenty-seven proposals were received and underwent peer review, and 17 of these author groups were issued invitations to submit a completed paper. Each article was held to the same peer review process as any other paper submitted. Figure 1 provides an overview of the number of proposed articles by topic and the number requested to submit a completed paper as part of the series, as well as the overall percentage in the series.

Figure 1. Compilation of Articles by Topic

Approximately 40% of the manuscripts focus on strategies of effective teaching, while 60% are almost evenly split across the other 3 topics. Over 60% of all manuscripts are method/model papers, with far fewer written as a research or case report paper. No literature reviews or position papers were submitted for the series. All of these manuscripts come from work completed by the authors within their own institution or physical therapy education program. To date, we have yet to cross the bridge of engaging in collaborative and multi-institutional research projects. Perhaps this stage will come next after our pediatric physical therapy education community has first learned to walk in the path of SoTL and to conduct educational research as a means of answering our questions about teaching and learning.

The special series begins in this issue with 6 interesting papers, each demonstrating a different, but equally important, point in pediatric physical therapy education. In fact, these first manuscripts span the 4 topic areas requested in our call and broadly represent the variety of educational research that will be available as this series progresses over the next several issues. We are excited that this first group of articles covers teaching strategies (Birkmeier et al; Chapman et al), interprofessional education (Del Rossi et al), experiential learning (Ward et al, Wynarczuk and Pelletier), and clinical education (Lardinois et al, Tovin et al). We could not have planned out the selection better.

The range of articles here, and those that will be included in the subsequent issues, offer all physical therapy educators a perspective on the importance of using the essential core competencies in pediatric physical therapy across the curriculum. In addition, these articles provide concepts, ideas, and strategies to consider when seeking ways to implement the pediatric physical therapy core competencies in classroom, laboratory, and clinical experiences. We hope you take this opportunity to share in this special series and learn from our colleagues across the United States who are engaged in educational research and the scholarship of teaching and learning in pediatric physical therapy education.


1. Cherry D, Knutson L. Curriculum structure and content in pediatric physical therapy: results of a survey of entry-level physical therapy programs. Pediatr Phys Ther. 1993;5(1):109-116.
2. Martin T. Pediatric physical therapy and education (guest editorial). Pediatr Phys Ther. 1993;5(3):105-106.
3. Gwyer J, Hack L. In pursuit of best practice in physical therapy education. J Phys Ther Educ. 2015;29(1):3.
4. Gwyer J, Hack L, Jensen GM, Segal R, Boissonnault W. Future directions for educational research in physical therapy. J Phys Ther Educ. 2015;29(4):3-4.
5. Jensen GM. Learning: what matters most. Phys Ther. 2011;91(11):1674-1689.
6. Jensen GM, Nordstrom T, Segal RL, et al. Education research in physical therapy: visions of the possible. Phys Ther. 2016;96(12):1874-1884.
7. Schreiber J, Goodgold S, Moerchen V, Remec N et al. A description of professional pediatric physical therapy education. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2011;23(2):201-204.
8. Rapport MJ, Furze J, Martin K, Schreiber J, Dannemiller LA, DiBiasio PA, Moerchen VA. Essential competencies in entry-level pediatric physical therapy education. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2014;26(1):7-18.
9. Schreiber J, Moerchen V, Lundeen H, Furze J, Rapport MJ, Martin K, Pelletier E. Experiential Learning with Children: An Essential Component of Professional Physical Therapy Education. Pediatr Phys Ther 2015;27(4);356-367.
10. Furze J, Kenyon L, Jensen G. Connecting Classroom, Clinic & Context: Clinical Reasoning Strategies for Clinical Instructors and Academic Faculty. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2015;27(4):368-375.
11. Barr JO, Wong R. Preparing student to provide services to older adults. J Phys Ther Educ. 2014;28(2):5-6.
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