Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Physical Therapy on Trial: The Rationale, Organization, and Impact of a Mock Trial on Physical Therapy Students' Attitudes toward and Confidence in Research

Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Physical Therapy on Trial: The Rationale, Organization, and Impact of a Mock Trial on Physical Therapy Students' Attitudes toward and Confidence in Research

Article excerpt

A learning activity, debate with a mock trial format, provides opportunities for physical therapy students to develop skill and confidence in learning to evaluate research critically, to formulate opinions regarding the credibility of the available evidence for a therapeutic approach to patient care, and to substantiate their choice of treatments with persuasive arguments and analytic rebuttals. The purposes of this study were to (1) describe the mock trial learning activity within a professional physical therapy curriculum and (2) determine whether the mock trial positively influenced students' attitudes toward research and confidence in their ability to interpret and apply research findings to clinical practice. A structured questionnaire was distributed to the 48 students at key points during the academic program to measure the overall effects of the physical therapy curriculum and the specific effects of the mock trial learning activity. There was an increase (p < 0.05) in the students' confidence in their ability to interpret and apply research after participating in the mock trial. The overall responses to the modified Attitudes-to-Research scale indicated that the physical therapy students generally held positive and optimistic attitudes toward research. These attitudes were maintained over the entire experience within the curriculum. If attitudes predict behavior, these future practitioners are more likely to be physical therapists who critically appraise and use evidence to determine practice. J Allied Health. 2003; 32:202-210.

SINCE THE 1990s, allied health professions have recognized the need for practitioners to base their clinical practice on scientific evidence.1-4 Similar to physicians, nurses, and social workers, rehabilitation professionals are expected to become "users and producers of research."4-6 Use of research has been limited, however, as the result of several barriers, including negative attitudes toward research, difficulty accessing research, and inability to evaluate published studies critically.1-3,6-10 If clinical practice is to be informed by research findings, the academic preparation of health care professionals must include activities to help students learn to access and appraise available evidence critically for its validity and applicability to clinical practice.1,8,11

During academic preparation, students in the health professions must be provided with multiple opportunities to learn to defend their treatment choices using available evidence and rational clinical science.12 This practice is necessary to develop skill and confidence in their ability to evaluate evidence critically and to use outcome data in all aspects of their practice.13 It generally is held by allied health professional associations4,6,13 that the ability to identify relevant primary literature, review that literature critically, formulate opinions, and develop persuasive arguments with effective analytical rebuttals are important skills for successfully negotiating with patients, physicians, and third-party payers.

The challenge for educators is to create meaningful learning activities through didactic preparation that provide multiple practice opportunities to acquire critical thinking and effective communication skills.14 Debate has a long history as a valuable learning activity for teaching critical thinking and improving communication skills. Preparation for debate requires that the participants gather information and use reason, logic, and critical analysis when formulating opinions about an issue.

Within physical therapy (PT) professional curricula, there has been an increased emphasis on the preparation of students to be critical consumers of research literature as a means to counter negative attitudes toward research and improve evidence-based practice.1,4,13 To this end, we have expanded our curriculum to teach students to access current research, evaluate it critically, and apply it to case-based treatment scenarios. …

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