The DPT Student Association: An Unsung Hero in the Promotion of Student Success and Professional Development


Describe the development, maintenance, and outcomes associated with a highly engaged and inclusive Doctor of Physical Therapy Student Association (DPTSA). Discuss how the DPTSA employs the implicit and hidden curricula to facilitate student success and professional development.

Methods and/or Description of Project

The explicit curriculum is the bulk of the PT/PTA professional education program and focusing on competencies and successful completion of curricular objectives.1,2 Through the explicit curriculum students gain knowledge and skills to enter into the profession of physical therapy. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) mandates that physical therapy education programs provide evidence of the programs intent/ability to include the Core Values: accountability, altruism, compassion/caring, excellence, integrity, professional duty, and social responsibility as part of the explicit curriculum.3,4 While many of the knowledge and skills components of the explicit curriculum are relatively straight forward to demonstrate evidence of compliance, the objectives related to core values and professional development are often difficult to measure. As a result, professional development and professional socialization often become elements of an implicit or hidden curriculum.5,6
These three dimensions of an educational environment are interrelated and although the hidden curriculum carries a negative connotation it does not have to be a negative experience for the students.5
Balmer et al examined the perception of medical students regarding the influence of the explicit, implicit and extracurricula activities on achieving programmatic objectives. For objectives such as: demonstrating self-awareness, participating in new knowledge, Be-Aware/Committed – Health Systems, Communicate, Generate Hypotheses, Support Team, Teach, and Understanding Patients Deeply, students reported that learning mainly occurred outside of the explicit curriculum.1
In 2009 students created a DPTSA, under faculty guidance, to facilitate coordinated and meaningful projects for students outside of the explicit curriculum. Facilitating meaningful peer interactions to instill core values is often complicated in the educational environment, as student assessments tend to shift the focus from development to “grading.” However, in an authentic student-driven environment peer interactions can drive the development of core values modeled by faculty. This shift to professional identity development from professional behaviors promotes student success in the intersection of the implicit/informal and hidden curriculum.5,6
For the purpose of this session, we will focus on student success and professional development in the informal/implicit and hidden curricula. The benefits of the DPTSA are ongoing and will be considered retroactively for this educational session.
The DPTSA is external to the Department and has its own objectives, bylaws and financial structure. The structure of the organization contains a Leadership committee with nine sub-committees. The Leadership Committee consists of a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer for each cohort. Each of these positions is elected by the cohort during the second semester. Nine additional committees include: Fundraising, Career Fair, Marquette Challenge, Professional Service, Community Outreach, Social, International Service and Induction Ceremony and Student Representative to Faculty.


Several outcomes have been tracked over the past several years within the DPTSA including membership, activities/awards, financial solvency and student perception of experience. The outcomes of the DPTSA can be tied to the Core Values and students’ professional development.
One major hurdle with the initiation of any association is membership. In 2009 membership was 30% with the majority being first year students (18%) and the least being third years (3%). In 2014 nearly 75% of the student body was involved in DPTSA activities with over 80% of the third year cohort, 60% of the second year and 55% of the first year cohort.
Activities and Awards
Faculty liaisons to the DPTSA have guided students towards initiatives such as community and professional service including engagement with APTA, local PT chapters, and volunteerism. One student ran for national office within the Student Special Interest Group and two students received state awards for professional service. Student attendance at national and local conferences has increased. In the past three years, nearly 75% of the second year cohort attend APTA’s Combined Sections Meeting with several third year students submitting and presenting projects.
The Community Service committee has seen its membership skyrocket in the past three years. Currently, this committee is involved in designing and implementing a student-run pro-bono clinic that will serve local community members.
The DPTSA coordinated and executed an inaugural International Service Trip. Students determined a site, negotiated the travel/liability arrangements and coordinated efforts with the site/faculty/alumni to provide physical therapy services to a local community. Financial Solvency
A Treasurer from each class is elected to monitor and maintain the independent back account. The treasurer’s role is to collect and deposit funds, update budget spreadsheet and enforce regulations.
Each class has its own funds (3 separate allocations) that can be used for class activities. If multiple cohorts participate on a project then the funds are split equally between the cohorts.
There is a global DPTSA fund, which is supplied by taxing each income item, receives an allocated amount from each deposit. This money is used to fund major projects that the students decide to pursue.
University rules are still applied to all financial transactions; however, it is not subject to any additional University/ College fees or taxes because the DPTSA bank account is housed at an independent bank.
Student Perceptions
During focus group interviews, students often state that they enjoy being able to engage with other cohorts of students and faculty. They have also stated that their experiences within the DPTSA have helped shape the direction of their professional careers.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Shaping the Future of Physical Therapy Education

The DPTSA has served many students in supporting the success of their professional development via the implicit and hidden curriculum. The innovative way in which the DPTSA is managed give students an opportunity to develop with their peers, not under the “grading” eye of a clinician or faculty member. Additionally, students are able to select meaningful activities in which to participate. The outcomes of the DPTSA are favorable and it is easy to see how a well-run, student-led, faculty-guided organization can foster the core values of the profession while capitalizing on the implicit and hidden curricula. The most concerning element is that not everyone chooses to participate in the opportunities presented by the DPTSA. This is the unfortunate reality of any implicit and hidden curriculum - everyone experiences it differently. Presuming the program is meeting the minimum standards established by CAPTE, then the program is doing its due diligence in ensuring a minimum (explicit) experience for all students that will set students up for success as a physical therapist. Students that opt to capitalize on opportunities that may exist in the implicit or hidden curriculum, however, propel towards achieving excellence in their physical therapy educational experience.


1. Balmer DF, Hall E, Fink M, Richards BF. How Do Medical Students Navigate the Interplay of Explicit Curricula, Implicit Curricula, and Extracurricula to Learn Curricular Objectives? Academic Medicine. 2013; 88(8):1135-1141.
2. Hafferty FW. Beyond Curriculum Reform: Confronting Medicine’s Hidden Curriculum. Academic Medicine. 1998; 73(4):403-407.
3. Standards and Required Elements for Accreditation of Physical Therapist Education Programs. Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education website.
Updated January 23, 2015. Accessed April 1, 2015.
4. Professionalism in Physical Therapy: Core Values BOD P05-04-02-03 [Amended BOD 08-03-04-10]. American Physical Therapy Association website.
Updated April 4, 2015. Accessed April 8, 2015.
5. Cruess R, Cruess S. Professionalism, Professional Identity, and the Hidden Curriculum: Do As We Say and As We Do. In: Hafferty F, O’Donnell J, eds. The Hidden Curriculum in Health Professions Education. Lebanon, NH: Dartmouth College Press; 2014: 171-181.
6. Wear D, Zarconi J, Garden R. Disorderly Conduct: Calling Out the Hidden Curriculum(s) of Professionalism. In: Hafferty F, O’Donnell J, eds. The Hidden Curriculum in Health Professions Education. Lebanon, NH: Dartmouth College Press; 2014: 63-72.

Course Objectives

1) Define and outline the various curricula within DPT education programs:
i.e explicit/formal, implicit/informal (including extracurriular); hidden, and null
2) Discuss research related to these curricula and potential impact on student learning
3) Outline common methods for promoting DPT student success and professional development
4) Discuss the value of explicit vs implicit methods for promoting student success and professional development
5) Outline structure of a coordinated Student Association that functions to support the implicit curriculum
6) Discuss the evolution of the DPT Student Association
7) Identify the faculty and student successes/difficulties encountered during the process
8) Review qualitative data regarding the outcomes and impact of being involved in a DPT Student Association

Instructional Methods

This educational session would be conducted using a lecture based format including Powerpoint.

Tentative Outline/Schedule

First segment: 0-30 minutes
Content overview, related research, relevance to PT education

Second segment: 30-60 minutes
Structure of functioning PT Student Association including examples of initiatives

Third segment: 60-90 minutes
Outcomes associated with student association including involvement, qualitative results regarding impact on development, identifying challenges for implementation, relevance to conference theme

Conclusion: 90 minutes to end

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  • Control #: 2246802
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2015
  • Authors: Scott Burns, Amy Heath, Jane Fagan
  • Keywords:

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