Over the past 2 months, we have all been witnessing the impact the COVID-19 has had on society, health care, higher education, and directly on our respective academic programs and students. As we talk to colleagues all over the county, we are struck by how quickly we have mobilized as an educational community to determine the best way forward for our students, programs, and institutions. In our respective academic programs, this has likely meant moving the curricular content online, removing students from clinical placements, altering curricular sequence to keep students engaged in learning, and protecting or revisiting graduation timelines. The changes have occurred within the context of delineated and revised accreditation guidelines, interpreted among evolving institutional responses and resource rearrangement to meet the needs of students and faculty.
The seemingly rapid fire of challenges and decisions made within our academic programs has been guided by what is essential to ensure the integrity of instruction, learning, and assessment—primarily considering guidelines provided by Commission on the Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and fluid institutional policies and procedures—have met the immediate needs of students. Both the APTA website (http://www.apta.org/coronavirus/) and the ACAPT website (https://www.acapt.org/covid19-response) have resource pages dedicated to COVID-19. CAPTE has centralized their communicates guidelines on their webpage (http://www.capteonline.org/uploadedFiles/CAPTEorg/Homepage/CAPTEResponsetoCOVID19.pdf) as well. As noted in the discussion forums and communication from clinical education leadership on these website forums, the impact of this pandemic will continue beyond the short-term decisions made and plans implemented.
Through all of this chaos, upheaval, and change, many of us look forward to returning to business as usual. As news pundits have alluded to—we will not be returning to normal, we are shifting to a “new normal”. Continuous attention by all stakeholders is necessary to determine the best way forward to meet the student and faculty needs, ensure institutional integrity and sustainability, and meet regulatory requirements.
The disruption that COVID-19 caused within our respective programs made it necessary to examine our curricula designs, instructional delivery methods, depth and breadth of content covered, and methods for assessment of student learning. At some level, we have all made reactive short-term decisions to best address challenges within our programs, institutions, and regions.
Framing this disruption within the Theory of Disruptive Innovation affords educators and administrators the opportunity to be forward thinking and drive innovation, beyond the short term decisions and plan implemented to date.1 If there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to physical therapy education, it is the attention that the current practices are being examined, practiced, shared, and discussed across the education community.
There are numerous examples of innovation implemented in educational programs: online learning (flipped classrooms), hybrid programs, and pioneering instructional methods, and assessment of learning to name a few. These innovations have been designed to be congruent with the program mission and philosophy and meet the intended outcomes of the program. We believe that positive changes are possible in the midst of adversity and challenge all of the physical therapy educational community, individually and collectively, to use this disruption to launch action-oriented discussions focused on transforming physical therapy education in a way that, when we are able to return to the “new normal”, we will all be better at preparing practitioners of the future through innovative, evidence-based education programs.