The Post-Professional Doctorate of Physical Therapy: A Survey of Practicing Physical Therapists

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The purposes of this survey study were to assess whether practicing physical therapists desire a post-professional clinical doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) and to explore their expectations for such a program and future benefits they may expect from acquiring this degree. A simple random sample of 35% of all Nebraska and Iowa chapter members of the American Physical Therapy Association was .selected. This random selection resulted in 173 subjects from Nebraska and 223 subjects from Iowa, for a total of 396 subjects. The survey instrument consisted of 6 demographic questions and 21 questions regarding the curriculum content and program implementation of a postprofessional DPT program, expectations of the DPT degree, and personal views about the DPT degree. Response frequencies for all of the survey questions were determined. The data were also examined for variation in the responses across specific demographic groups based on the type of physical therapy degree held, the desire to pursue a DPT degree, the number of years of experience, and the level of exposure to the DPT degree. A total of 280 survey instruments were returned, for a response rate of 71%. One third of the respondents were interested in obtaining a post-professional DPT degree. The two most common expectations cited for the DPT degree were enhancement of professional competence of a physical therapist and assistance in career advancement. Managed care, business management/administration issues, and professional communication were identified as

desired areas of curriculum emphasis. There is interest among practicing physical therapists who share common expectations for developing further professional competence consistent with current practice demands in obtaining a postprofessional DPT degree.


Since 1918, when the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army developed the first formalized training programs for physical therapy, there have been continuous changes in the level of education available to physical therapists. 3 In 1928, the first guidelines for minimum course requirements of schools training physical therapists were established by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). A Certificate in Physical Therapy was awarded for completion of this course of study.1-3 In 1960, another change in the level of physical therapy education occurred when APTA announced that the baccalaureate degree would be the required degree offered by physical therapy educational institutions.l-3 During the 1970s, there was a movement by a few institutions toward preparing physical therapists with the master's degree as the first professional (entrylevel) physical therapy degree. By 1978, a master's degree in physical therapy was offered by five educational institutions.1,3 In 1979, a resolution was adopted by the House of Delegates of APTA that proposed a postbaccalaureate degree would be the first professional degree level for entry into physical therapy practice by December 31, 1990.1,4,5 This proposal generated conflicting opinions and even opposition among members of the physical therapy community. Arguments centered on resource issues such as cost to the student and institution, lack of qualified faculty, and changes in the health care system. 1,6,7

There has been continued discussion and debate within the physical therapy professional community about the level of degree for physical therapists. These discussions now center on the clinical doctoral degree.l,6 12 In 1985, Dr Geneva Johnson said in the 20th Mary McMillan Lecture, "I expect us to develop the professional doctorate in physical therapy as the standard for entry-level education within the next five years. ... I expect us to be clear about who we are, if the physical therapist is to be recognized as a professional.8(pl694) In 1989, an APTA task force made the recommendation to the APTA Board of Directors that "...the appropriate entry-level degree, based on the framework of practice and academic requirements, is the entry-level clinical doctorate degree. …