Developing Advocacy Skills in Entry-Level DPT Students


The purpose of this educational session is to describe a broad range of advocacy activities in an entry-level DPT program that support both the APTA core values of professionalism and CAPTE required elements.

Methods and/or Description of Project

There is little information in the literature that describes professional involvement in health care advocacy efforts, especially student physical therapist involvement. In medicine, a few programs have been described that include didactic classroom learning.1,2 Hahn (2010) describes increasing levels of health care advocacy in the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels of nursing education.3 Advocacy is usually narrowly defined as direct lobbying, but there are many facets of advocacy beyond lobbying. With respect to public health, advocacy can be described in broad terms including activities about a particular issue, activities to improve the ability of individuals to advocate for their health care, activities to decrease barriers to health, and use of media to promote public health issues.3 In addition to direct lobbying, Cohen (2016) identified other types of advocacy including participating in days to increase public awareness such as Fall Prevention Day, working with a coalition, and community based research.3 In a survey of physical therapy faculty, social responsibility and advocacy were rated low on importance of professional skills needed for practicing as a physical therapist.4 However, advocacy is an important topic that should be included in an entry-level DPT program to support the APTA core values and CAPTE requirements. The APTA core values of professionalism include social responsibility with specific indicators including advocating for health needs of society and advocating for changes that affect the provision of physical therapy services.5 Additionally, the current CAPTE accreditation standards (7D13) include “Participating in professional and community organizations that provide opportunities for volunteerism, advocacy, and leadership”.6

Our program has incorporated experiences beyond traditional classroom activities to develop the skill of advocacy in entry-level DPT students including student APTA membership, student advocacy and community service events. This session will describe:
1) Importance of student membership in the APTA, 2) DPT student participation in state and national advocacy activities, 3) Community-based advocacy activities, and 4) Implementation strategies to include a variety of advocacy activities in entry-level DPT programs.


Although a direct relationship cannot be established, our students APTA membership 6 months post-graduation is higher than the national average. One student volunteered to be the state advocacy representative for the Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy. Students regularly volunteer at national and state conferences, apply to be a student delegate(sponsored by the state Chapter) in the APTA House of Delegates, run for local and national student offices, and participate in community volunteer activities outside of the DPT curriculum.

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

Physical therapy education can be transformed by looking at advocacy in broad terms. Inclusion of different types of advocacy can strengthen social responsibility in entry-level DPT students and may inspire them to continue advocacy efforts after graduation.


1. Martin D, Hum S, Han M, Whitehead C. Laying the foundation: teaching policy and advocacy to medical trainees. Medical Teacher. 2013;35:352-356.
2. Daniels AH, Bariteau JT, Grabel Z, DiGiovanni CW. Prospective analysis of a novel orthopedic residency advocacy education program. RI Med J. 2014;97(10):43-46.
3. Hahn J. Integrating professionalism and political awareness into the curriculum. Nurse Educ. 2010;35:110-113.
4. Cohen BE , Marshall SG. Does public health advocacy seek to redress health inequities? A scoping review. Health and Social Care in the Community. 2016;25(2):309-328.
5. Davis DS. Teaching professionalism: a survey of physical therapy educators. J Allied Health. 2009;38:74-80.
6. Professionalism in Physical Therapy: Core Values. Accessed 3/5/16.
7. CAPTE Accreditation Handbook, PT Standards and Required Elements, Accessed 4/9/13.

Course Objectives

1. Identify at least three different types of advocacy activities that are appropriate for entry-level DPT education
2. Describe methods to implement activities that increase entry-level DPT students exposure to advocacy
3. Describe strategies to partner with entities outside of the DPT program to develop entry-level DPT students' advocacy skills

Instructional Methods

Lecture and discussion

Tentative Outline/Schedule

A broad definition of advocacy and relevance to entry-level DPT programs (15 min)
Advocacy activities in an entry-level DPT program (45 min)
Implementation strategies (20 min)
Discussion (10)

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  • Control #: 2750824
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Dr. Laurie Neely, Dr. Linda Horn
  • Keywords:

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