Partnership Perspectives: Changing the Image of Physical Therapy in Urban Neighborhoods through Community Service Learning

Article excerpt

Background and Purpose. Anecdotally, residents of a local inner-city neighborhood have limited perception and understanding of the physical therapy profession. The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a mixed design pilot study intended to investigate this community's perception of physical therapy and Lower Roxbury community members' assessment of Northeastem University's Department of Physical Therapy community service-learning (CSL) program. Community residents who have been exposed to physical therapy through CSL may have a better understanding and perception of the profession than residents who have not participated.

Subjects. Subjects of the study included 53 community residents and 8 community agency outreach workers and program directors that were CSL partners.

Methods. This mixed-design study featured data triangulation, including a review of the literature regarding community perception of physical therapy; a community resident survey; and community partner focus groups and interviews. Community residents were queried about their understanding of physical therapy (eg, education required, exposure to, problems treated by). Community partners were asked 3 open-ended questions in focus groups or interviews.

Results. Sixty-four percent of community residents reported they had seen a physical therapist, 36% participated in weekly CSL physical activity programs, and 89% knew that physical therapists needed to be licensed in order to practice. Only 45% of the community residents knew that physical therapists need a college education. Community partners reported an improved understanding and positive perception of the physical therapy profession through CSL. A review of the literature revealed that the impact of service learning on community perceptions of physical therapy as a profession has not been studied in much detail.

Discussion and Conclusion. This pilot study may be one of the first to investigate public perceptions of physical therapy in the United States. Community service learning appears to be a tool to help the physical therapy profession move closer to achieving Vision 2020, as it may increase consumer awareness of physical therapy services.

Key Words: Assessment of community service learning, Community perceptions, Patients, Attitudes, Physical therapy.


Multiple factors influence an individual's access to health care, including socioeconomic status, literacy, transportation, and knowledge of resources.' Residents of the Lower Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts also may be limited by their own perceptions of physical therapists. Namely, they do not have a good understanding of what physical therapy can offer and hold negative perceptions related to automobile accident and worker's compensation insurance claims. This apparent lack of understanding of physical therapy exists despite the fact that residents of Lower Roxbury live in a community that is surrounded by world-renowned teaching hospitals and universities. The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a pilot study designed to investigate the community's perception of physical therapy, as well as its assessment of Northeastern University's Department of Physical Therapy (NUPT) community service-learning program. Two primary research questions guided this work:

1. Do residents who have been exposed to physical therapy through Northeastern University's community service-learning (CSL) programs have a better understanding of the physical therapy profession than residents who have not participated in this program?

2. Does CSL positively influence the perception of physical therapy among community partners?


Roxbury is highly diverse and one of the most impoverished sections of Boston, with 29.2% of people living below the federal poverty line. Twenty two percent of the population is Latino, and 52% of the population is black. …


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