The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Critical Challenges and Opportunities in Physical Therapy Education and Research


The purpose of this educational session is to engage in a reflective dialogue about the critical areas for education research in physical therapy that align with key challenges in the current physical therapist education environment, as identified in the findings from the national study, Physical Therapist Education for the 21st Century (PTE-21), and to ground that dialogue in contemporary education research in the health professions. The session uses “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” metaphorically in order to stress the importance of confronting these challenges if physical therapy and physical therapist education are to thrive in the future.

Methods and/or Description of Project

Physical therapist education faces many pressing challenges at the systems level. Educating for the 21st century demands an interdependent framework of basic, clinical, and systems sciences. The systems level is complex with multiple interrelated factors contributing to how these challenges impact physical therapy practice in the long term. Four critical challenges that must be addressed immediately are:
Insufficient academic-clinical partnerships
Shortages of qualified faculty
Slow responses to society’s needs
Risk averse leadership

The responses to each of these challenges, if they are to be effective, must be based in well-designed educational research. Given the complexity of each, the challenges for educational researchers are substantial. While the profession has some basic research work available to help understand the challenges and begin to develop solutions, there is not a sufficient depth of research available to help the professional wisely choose the best responses. Nor has there been a comprehensive, coordinated effort in the profession to guide that research so that the efforts address critical problems, are deliberate and grounded in sound theory, and thus, more likely to yield useful information. If education research is to make contributions to the professions’ efforts, it is important that the stakeholders understand the context of each of these challenges and how some educational and clinical institutions have successfully responded to them.

Physical therapy researchers in basic science and clinical research have generally well identified priority areas for research that align with priority problems and funding; the same cannot be said for education research. Identifying the research that needs to be done to address these critical challenges can provide the priorities to allocate necessary resources (personnel, funding, etc.) for research.


This session will:
*address each of these four “horsemen” challenges, supported by data from the PTE-21 study and its recommendations and calls for actions,
*identify the types of educational research needed to address these challenges, and
*provide a basis for this work from the broader health professions educational research work.

Two experts in physical therapy research and education will provide critical commentary on the recommendations put forward. Finally, professional leaders will comment on the current role and activity of the profession in moving forward on developing a viable and successful educational research agenda.

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

The profession needs to engage in critical reflective dialogue as a means to "transforming physical therapist education." This session uses findings from PTE-21 national study aligned with four areas of critical challenge that then serve as the basis for critique from leaders from research and the profession. This engaging session and dialogue will identify priority areas for education research to address these challenges.


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Course Objectives

Participants will be able to:
Identify major challenges facing physical therapist education that could result in serious risk to physical therapist education and practice if not addressed.
Discuss key education research questions that align with finding solutions to these challenges.
Discuss the advantages of building on the work done in health professions education to help develop educational research in physical therapy.

Instructional Methods

Presentation, panel critique and audience interaction

Tentative Outline/Schedule


The challenges and the educational research that can help meet them (45 mins)
Responses from the expert commentators (Jette and Craik) (25 mins)
Responses from the professional leaders (Boissonnault and Dunn) (25 mins)
Audience responses (20 mins)
Conclusions (5 mins)

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  • Control #: 2748088
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Gail Jensen, Laurita Hack, Dr. Terrence Nordstrom, Diane Jette, Rebecca Craik, Sharon Dunn, Bill Boissonnault
  • Keywords:

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