Attitudes of physical therapist students toward physical therapist assistants before and after full-time clinical internships

Cheryl L Cavallo, Randy R Richter
Journal of Allied Health 2004, 33 (1): 10-6
Development of attitudes of physical therapists (PTs) toward physical therapist assistants (PTAs) begins during their professional education, and attitudes are influenced further by clinical experiences. The purpose of this study was to understand attitudes of student PTs toward PTAs. We surveyed 66 clinical intern students enrolled in an entry-level master of physical therapy program. PT students received the same survey before and after their full-time clinical internship. Eleven Likert scale items were used to assess students' attitudes toward PTAs in the areas of competence, financial remuneration, and job security. One item was designed to determine whether PT students' level of contact with PTAs influenced attitudes. A random sample of 13 (20.9%) students who returned surveys were asked to participate in a telephone interview designed to enrich the quantitative data. After item analysis, five of the scale items were eliminated from the analyses due to poor internal consistency. Cronbach's alpha of the remaining six scale items was 0.75. Survey results reveal that PT students maintain an overall positive attitude toward PTAs before and after full-time clinical internship. Qualitative interview data support this finding. Students' attitudes in specific areas of PTA competence were negative and positive, however. The negative attitude may have been based on the students' beliefs that PTAs are not competent to perform physical therapy in situations that are changing or unpredictable. Positive attitudes may have been reflective of the students' beliefs that PTAs are competent to implement established plans of care. Student ranking of four professional issues showed a significant difference before and after full-time clinical internships.

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