Searching for Health Literacy: Impacting Population Health through Doctorate of Physical Therapy Education Curricula


More than half of the people in the United States are estimated to have low health literacy levels and therefore are at increased risk of poor health outcomes (Logan & Siegel, 2017). Health literacy is commonly defined as Òthe degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisionsÓ by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (as cited in Sorensen & Pleasant, 2017, p. 5). Despite policymakers identifying health literacy as a priority in healthcare education and practice (Aldoory, 2017; The National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine, 2015, 2016), little is known about how this topic is addressed in doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) program curricula (Stephen, Martin, Briedwell, & Hudson, 2017, October 18). Consequently, it is difficult for educators to measure, develop, and assess the quality and effectiveness of pedagogical practices used to teach health literacy content. The primary purpose of this study was to explore faculty perceptions about how the topic of health literacy is addressed in one doctorate of physical therapy program.


This study used a bounded case study design. Participants included eight faculty from a DPT program in the northeastern United States. Data sources included 19 audio recorded interviews with the faculty and 25 curriculum documents that they provided for further study, such as: course syllabi and practical exam rubrics. Interviews were coded using a systematic, cyclic, thematic procedure, and content analyses of the documents were conducted. Documents were coded for explicit or no explicit use of the words Òhealth literacyÓ.


The findings suggest that faculty conceptualize the topic of health literacy as: 1. Individual capacities of patients 2. Responsibilities of clinicians to support patientsÕ needs 3. Responsibilities of educators to develop student knowledge and skills and 4. Knowledge and skills that students should learn. Most of the faculty shared that they did not address the topic explicitly, but that they focused on the topic implicitly via communication topics and skills. Document analysis further indicated that health literacy was not covered explicitly. Academic and clinical faculty offered a variety of strategies used to teach and assess communication topics and skills in classroom and clinical settings.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme:

This study provides novel insights as to how health literacy is conceptualized by physical therapy educators. Findings suggest that this is largely a hidden curriculum, not clearly outlined for learners. This information helps to increase awareness about health literacy among those who are interested in reforming their program curricula, with the goal of improved student preparation to better meet the needs of society.

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  • Control #: 26517
  • Type: Poster Presentation - Research Type
  • Event/Year: ELC2020
  • Authors: Nancy Krisch
  • Keywords:

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