Predictors of Neuromusculoskeletal Anatomy Success in First-Year Physical Therapy Students
Purpose/Hypothesis: Assessing predictors of student success in gross anatomy may identify areas amenable to intervention to improve academic performance. Visual-spatial memory as well as learning and study strategies have been identified as potential predictors of anatomy course success, but no studies have evaluated predictors in physical therapy students, for whom knowledge of musculoskeletal (MSK) anatomy is critical to clinical practice. The purpose of this exploratory study is to investigate the association between visual-spatial intelligence, learning and study strategies, demographic information, and student performance in a MSK anatomy course in 1st year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students. We hypothesized positive correlations between visual-spatial ability and learning strategies with exam scores. Number of Subjects: 50 Materials and Methods: 1st-year DPT students (25.8±4.5 y; 68% female) were asked to complete the Vandenburg Mental Rotation Test (VMRT), the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI), and to provide demographic (age, sex and gender) during the 1st week of a 10-week MSK anatomy course. The VMRT evaluates an individual’s ability to mentally rotate 2D representations of 3D objects, and the LASSI evaluates students’ study habits and self-regulation strategies. Scores on written (n=3) and practical (n=3) exams were collected at the end of the course. Pearson correlations were used to determine the associations between VMRT and LASSI scores and exam scores. Linear regression was performed to evaluate the contribution of the evaluated variables to the outcome. Alpha was set as p<0.05. Results: LASSI anxiety subscale score, assessing the ability to cope with anxiety, was correlated with total practical exam scores (r=0.315, p=0.028) and the combined practical and written score (r=0.286, p=0.046). Age was negatively correlated with both the practical exam total (r =-0.401, p=0.004) and the combined score (r=-0.346, p=0.014). All other correlations were not significant (p>0.05). Linear regression indicated that VMRT, LASSI, and student age contributed to the variance in MSK exam scores (R2= 0.306, p=0.021). Conclusions: These results suggest that the anxiety coping skills are positively related with exam scores, while older age was negatively associated with exam scores in 1st year DPT students, indicating that students who were less anxious performed better on exams and that older students performed more poorly on exams. This study demonstrates that students and instructors may be able to address anxiety to improve performance in anatomy courses. This study also provides evidence for future research to investigate the effects of targeted interventions in DPT students anatomy education. Clinical Relevance: Anatomy knowledge is foundational to clinical practice in physical therapy, and improving MSK anatomy education may better prepare students for advanced coursework in residencies and fellowships and clinical practice.