Leadership: The Key to Excellence in Physical Therapist Education: Recommendations from the Physical Therapy Education for the 21st Century Study.


The purpose of this presentation is to share the characteristics of and approaches to leadership that were identified in the national study, Physical Therapist Education for the 21st Century (PTE-21). Based on those findings and the authors’ understanding of the current state of PT education, the presentation will offer recommendations for strengthening educational leadership. These recommendations are grounded in the evidence from PTE-21, in current literature on leadership, especially in higher education, and on the work of the Carnegie studies. Over the last decade, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching supported the initiative, “Preparation for the Professions Program.” The studies identified what structures, practices, and characteristics optimally support the preparation and development of “professionals-in-training” and have consequently led to ongoing educational reforms across these professions.

Methods and/or Description of Project

The National Study of Excellence and Innovation in Physical Therapist Education is a multi-site (n=11), three-year qualitative investigation of physical therapist education modeled after the Carnegie studies of Preparation for the Professions. The study was funded by the APTA and APTA components including the Education Section, American Council of Academic Physical Therapy, and the Orthopaedic Section. Five clinical education sites and six academic sites were selected as exemplar cases based on a priori criteria from nominations. The academic institutions represented diversity in terms of the type of institution, geographic location, size of institution and program, and role in residency education. The clinical agencies exhibited a similar level of diversity. Artifacts, field observations, individual and focus group interviews conducted on-site, in depth qualitative case studies of the six academic sites and the five clinical sites provided the data for analysis. The research team used an iterative analytic process that involved cross-case analysis, narrative summaries, case reports, and theory and framework development and testing. The analysis also included advisory panel and expert consultation. Advisory panel, participant and other stakeholder input were used to test and refine the findings and recommendations. Findings were presented at the 2016 APTA Combined Sections meeting and to additional APTA stakeholders. Subsequently, the research team developed a comparison of findings to the status quo and a call for future reform.


Data from the academic and clinical sites led to the development of a conceptual framework that has three dimensions:
A Culture of Excellence grounded in shared values, leadership, and a drive for excellence.
The Praxis of Learning based on a signature pedagogy of the “human body as teacher,” focused on learning based in practice, and designed to produce adaptive learners who understand their role as moral agents.
Organizational Structures and Resources that support academic and clinical programs
Being learner-centered and patient-centered provides a lens through which the culture of excellence, using organizational structures and resources, leads to learning for the profession.

There were fifteen key observations supported by evidence from the study that describe the elements in the conceptual framework. Associated with each observation, there are comparisons to the current status quo in physical therapist education and specific recommendations for reform. This presentation will focus on the importance of leaders who create a culture of excellence by cultivating a shared vision, a culture characterized by mutual respect, trust and collaboration, and who relentlessly pursue improvement even in the face of satisfactory outcomes. The findings support the ability of leaders to establish and implement true partnerships within and across academic and clinical faculty and settings. Leaders demonstrated the ability to engage in systems thinking and the ability to navigate and collaborate with other units across the organization. The role of leadership in supporting the praxis of learning dimension, including development of clinical reasoning and adaptive learning, use of learning sciences and signature pedagogy will be included. The importance of leaders who accrue increased financial resources and maintain control of those resources with the aim of achieving excellence can not be overstated. Furthermore, the importance of holistic, long-term financial models that support clinical education were evident across the sites.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: The Pursuit of Excellence in Physical Therapy Education

The type of change that will transform physical therapist education is dependent upon leadership. Leaders, both in professional organizations and within programs, must be able to critically interpret, integrate and apply findings from educational research and respond to the need for reform and innovation. Leadership is a non-negotiable, essential resource for excellence in physical therapist education. Leaders must build a culture of excellence with a faculty that prepares physical therapists who are adaptive learners capable of effective clinical reasoning and who embrace patient-centered care.

A large cohort of highly qualified leaders in academic and clinical settings is necessary if physical therapist education is going to thrive in the complex environments of health care and higher education. Leaders must have a shared, compelling vision in which practice, education and research mutually reinforce and advance each other based on the leaders’ deep understanding of the context of all three. Given the variability in how higher education and clinical institutions respond to environmental pressures, these leaders must keep the profession’s core purpose central to their missions and they must be adept at complex, systems-based thinking. The environment of physical therapist education requires leaders who discard narrow self-interests and a focus on minimal standards and instead engage in a relentless pursuit of improvement through innovation. Leadership development must be an integral component of professional education and ongoing professional learning that that is intentional in preparing people for formal and informal leadership in collaborative teams. These leaders must also create and navigate organizational structures to assure they have the resources necessary for successful programs. Our goal must be that neither the educational nor clinical enterprises are any longer at risk for failure because of a lack of leadership.


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Course Objectives

1. Describe the key findings, comparison to current practice and calls for reform that emerge from the Physical Therapist Education for the 21st Century (PTE-21) national study of excellence and innovation in physical therapist education, as related to leaders and leadership.
2. Discuss the proposed educational reform recommendations for the physical therapy profession related to educational leadership.
3. Propose actions that can be implemented within a physical therapist education program and for academic physical therapy to create more leaders who are capable of advancing excellence throughout the physical therapist education.

Instructional Methods

Lecture and discussion

Tentative Outline/Schedule

1. Key Findings from PTE 21- Leadership: What we found compared to the current state of affairs, including vignettes of exemplar leadership form the PTE-21 study. (50 minutes)
2. Where to go from here: Potential actions related to calls for reform that can be taken within academic programs and by the profession. (30 minutes)
3. Discussion and conclusion. (40 minutes).

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  • Control #: 2527683
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2016
  • Authors: Dr. Terrence Nordstrom, Laurita Hack, Gail Jensen, Janet Gwyer, Elizabeth Mostrom
  • Keywords:

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