Integration of the Humanities: Infusion of Faith and Reason into a Physical Therapy Curriculum


This session will focus on the role of the humanities in the professional physical therapist curriculum, highlighting their intentional influence of ethical reasoning on clinical decision making, through discussion of one program’s strategies of how faith and reason have been threaded throughout the curriculum. Faculty, students, and alumni, from various faith backgrounds will present specific examples of University mission and formation, curricular and teaching methods, and student application of infusion of faith and reason have influenced course, clinical, program, and professional outcomes.

Methods and/or Description of Project

The Catholic Church has been involved in the healthcare needs of the sick since the Middle-Ages. The primary mission of these early communities included a strong commitment to receiving and caring for all, education, and social justice which is still embedded in contemporary mission statements today. Currently 1 in 6 patients in the US is cared for in a Catholic hospital.

As Catholic health-care systems grew in the US, guidelines were needed to help guide the infusion of how faith should inform practice in a Catholic facility. This has become even more pressing with healthcare systems, and individuals, facing increasingly complex ethical issues. The U.S. Catholic bishops created the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services to help guide Catholic hospitals and other Catholic health-care facilities as they serve in the name of the Church.

Our sponsoring University has emphasized the importance of an integrated approach to education of students, where the humanities inform and enlighten professional development, including application of ethical principles. Faculty at our University are invited during application and interview to review documents related to hiring for mission and Church documents supportive of the integrated approach to education of students. Additionally, our University invests significant resources in the formation of faculty to support this integrated delivery of education.

As a PT program that is housed in a Catholic University, it is paramount that graduates embody the mission of the University as well as engage in culturally competent healthcare. Faculty of the Department of Physical Therapy have utilized the support and foundation of the sponsoring University to develop and deliver a curriculum strong in ethical formation of its students. Ethical decision making, which is an essential component of sound clinical decision making, is a skill that is developed among physical therapy students through a variety of intentional pedagogical methods that are threaded throughout the curriculum tiered from a knowledge to an application level. The literature supports that effective use of ethical frameworks to inform clinical decision making require institutional guidance, supporting mission, sound foundational knowledge, and repetitive application of intentional ethical frameworks for decision making. Our curriculum introduces foundational ethical principles during the first semester of the curriculum, allows students the opportunity to identify and respond to ethical dilemmas during the second and third year of the didactic curriculum, ultimately efflorescing in to real-life application by identifying and addressing ethical issues in clinical practice during terminal clinical experiences.


Presenters will share results of indirect and direct assessment results including a focus on student feedback. Academic evaluations at the end of each year, focus groups, graduate and employer evaluations all provide positive ratings for ethical knowledge and practice. Student artifacts demonstrate that our students have the baseline knowledge and ability to apply ethical decision making to clinical decision making.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

As the physical therapy profession has progressed towards the achievement of greater levels of autonomy as well as challenges associated with the ever-changing landscape of reimbursement, physical therapists are facing more complex ethical issues. The issues force clinicians to consider the needs of the patients/clients and their families, the interprofessional network, and the specific policies and constraints set forth by the healthcare system in which they work. While accreditation standards require inclusion of ethics and values into PT curriculum, research reflects an inconsistent inclusion in PT curricula. This presentation will inspire others to pursue excellence in ethical formation of physical therapy students. Our program’s curriculum of teaching foundational ethics, which is a discipline of philosophy quintessential in the study of the humanities, progresses to the application of foundational ethics in case-based and experiential learning experiences to prepare leaders in the service of truth.


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Carpenter C, Richardson B. Ethics knowledge in physical therapy: a narrative review of the literature since 2000. Physical Therapy Reviews [serial online]. October 2008;13(5):366-374. Available from: CINAHL Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 4, 2017.
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Course Objectives

1. Describe the curricular progression of the student from knowledge of foundational ethical principles to synthesis of specific Catholic health care documents for the purpose of clinical decision making.
2. Examine the impact of the University’s mission in formation of faculty for effective integration of faith and reason in delivery of education.
3. Recognize the foundational contributions of the Catholic Church to education and healthcare.
4. Discuss teaching strategies that incorporate faith and reason that is relevant to ethical decision making in physical therapy practice.
5. Identify challenges and rewards from faculty and student perspectives regarding incorporation of faith and reason into a professional health science program in the delivery of culturally competent healthcare.

Instructional Methods

Lecture, PT Student and Alumni Interviews via video representing diverse religious backgrounds (Christian, non-Christian, atheist backgrounds), Audience Discussion
Student/Alumni Questions:
Did you view the infusion of Faith and Reason in the PT program as enhancing, detracting, or not affecting your development as a professional?
Did the infusion of the Faith and Reason affect your ethical decision making lens and if yes, how?
Can you provide one or more specific examples of interactions with patients/clients that were directly affected by your integration of Faith and Reason that was developed during the physical therapy program?
How did the Catholic Health Directives inform your clinical reasoning during patient interaction?
Were there any lectures, assignments, class activities that based on your spiritual background and/or religious affiliation that you felt negatively impacted your learning in the entry-level physical therapy program?

Tentative Outline/Schedule

Lecture (30 minutes): Broad administrative overview from University to programmatic level including hiring practices, faculty formation, and curricular planning and assessment.
Lecture (30 minutes): Curricular Examples of ethics teaching, infusion of faith and reason into clinical decision making, and discussion of direct assessment of student artifacts
Student/Alumni Perspective (20-30 minutes): Video interview of students and alumni from various faith backgrounds discuss their experiences in the program and how it has informed their practice
Questions and Answers (15 minutes)

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  • Control #: 2746753
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Mary Dockter, Lauren Emmel, Heather Lundeen
  • Keywords:

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