Predicting which students entering a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program will have academic success is challenging. Inconsistent correlation between undergraduate GPA and graduate academic success has led to examination of non-cognitive factors such as self-efficacy in coping skills and self-esteem. Active coping strategies have been shown to result in lower stress perception for people than avoidance coping strategies. Self-esteem has been linked with self-efficacy as a significant predictor of job performance. Much of the related research has been conducted on students who have successfully completed their first year of a rigorous professional program. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to determine if a cohort of DPT students enter a graduate program with the same level of ability to cope with the program’s demands. The secondary purpose was to determine if coping abilities and strategies of that cohort changed over the program's first year.
An anonymous survey was administered electronically to the study participants at the beginning of their first semester and at the beginning of their second semester. The Coping Self-Efficacy Scale (CSE) and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) were used along with open-ended questions related to students’ coping strategies and episodes of stress. SPSS and qualitative analysis were applied.
There was a 60% response rate to the first survey and 79% of initial participants completed the second survey. The CSE showed similarities in students’ perception of ability to cope when under stress related to active strategies of task management and in aspects of self-esteem related to comparison with others. However, they were widely varied in their perception of controlling negative thoughts such as feeling sad or lonely when under stress. The overall RSE score was 73% with variability of responses on 80% of items. An exception was a low score of 44% in “desire for more self-respect.” Coping strategies at the beginning of the program were 86% active and 14% avoidance in nature. A statistically significant increase in scores on the CSE was seen on the second survey, including improvement in 92% of categories. The overall RSE score remained virtually unchanged, but there was 50% less negative variability on all items. Self-respect was also improved to 59%. Coping strategies showed a shift in themes to more focus on organization and planning including increased use of external resources such as seeking counsel.
Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Shaping the Future of Physical Therapy Education
A cohort of first year DPT students entered the program with variable perceived coping abilities, strategies and self-esteem. They were similar in their ability to use active problem solving but had inconsistent control of their stressful thoughts. Significant positive changes in self-efficacy occurred after successful completion of a semester and students were more specific in identifying their efficacious strategies. Therefore, development of effective coping strategies may bolster student success.
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