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Physical Therapy Technical Standards

The Physical Therapy program prepares students for the practice of physical therapy as a generalist. The educational process requires the acquisition of scientific knowledge, essential skills and functions in a variety of didactic and clinical health care settings and the ability to render a wide spectrum of patient care while progressing through the program.

Students must possess general qualities, including critical thinking, sound judgment, emotional stability and maturity, empathy, the physical and mental stamina and the ability to learn and function in a variety of settings. Somatic sensation and the functional use of the senses of vision and hearing, sufficient exteroceptive sense (touch, pain and temperature), sufficient proprioceptive sense (position, pressure, movement, stereognosis and vibratory) and sufficient motor function to perform the activities and skills contained in the technical standards are required.

The diagnostic skill of students will also be lessened without the functional use of the senses of equilibrium, smell and taste. They must be able to integrate information consistently, quickly and accurately.

The five skills and abilities areas encompassed by the technical standards include: sensory/observational, communication, motor, intellectual-conceptual, integrative and quantitative skills and behavioral, social, professional attributes. Technological compensation can be made for some handicaps in certain areas, but such a candidate should be able to perform in a reasonably independent manner.

Selection of students for program is the responsibility of the Physical Therapy program acting through the Physical Therapy Admissions Committee. Faculty members have a responsibility to graduate the best possible practitioners who possess the characteristics perceived necessary to practice effectively in accordance with applicable laws of practice. Admission to the program is offered to those applicants with the highest qualifications.

During the educational process, the Physical Therapy faculty has a responsibility for the welfare of the patients treated or otherwise affected by students in the program and the educational welfare of its students relative to the program. The program must ensure that patients are not placed in jeopardy by students with impaired intellectual, physical or emotional functions.

For these reasons, the Physical Therapy Admissions Committee has identified certain technical skills which must be possessed by students admitted to the program. These standards are in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Likewise, students may request academic accommodations for specific diagnosed conditions in accordance with Section 504 and ADA. This policy applies primarily to the didactic portion of classroom work. Each school and/or program may have specific clinical competencies that students must master as a minimum requirement for their profession. In some situations, accommodations may not be appropriate.

Upon admission, a student who discloses a properly certified disability is eligible for reasonable accommodation but must be able to perform the essential functions of the curriculum and meet the standards described in this document. Students enrolled in the Physical Therapy program may contact the Office for Student Success for additional information.  

The specific standards for physical therapy students are contained in the paragraphs which follow.

Sensory/observational abilities

Students must be able to observe demonstrations and participate in laboratory activities as required in the curriculum. Students must be able to observe patients and be able to obtain an appropriate health care history directly from the patient or guardian. Such observation necessitates the functional use of vision including depth and acuity, hearing, and other sensory modalities.

Communication skills

Students must be able to communicate in English effectively and sensitively with patients. Speaking, hearing and observing patients are used to elicit information, describe changes in mood, activity and posture and perceive nonverbal communication. In addition, students must be able to communicate in oral and written form with faculty, members of the health care team, and peers in the classroom, laboratory, and clinical settings. Students must have the ability to complete reading assignments and search and evaluate the literature. Students must be able to complete written assignments and maintain written records. Students must have the ability to complete assessment exercises. Students must also have the ability to use therapeutic communication, such as attending, clarifying, coaching, facilitating, and touching. These skills must be performed in clinical settings, as well as the didactic and laboratory environments.

Motor capabilities

Students must be able to obtain information by palpation, auscultation, percussion and other diagnostic maneuvers and must have sufficient motor function and manual dexterity to treat patients in a safe and efficient manner. Sufficient motor movements reasonably required to provide general care and emergency treatment including the ability to transfer patients, conduct gait training and perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation are needed. Such physical therapy procedures require gross and fine muscular coordination and equilibrium.

Intellectual/conceptual, integrative and qualitative aptitudes

Students must have the ability to measure, calculate, reason, analyze, and synthesize data. Problem solving and diagnosis, including obtaining, interpreting, and documenting data, are critical skills demanded of physical therapists which require all of these intellectual abilities. These skills allow students to make proper assessments, sound judgments, appropriately prioritize therapeutic interventions, and measure and record patient care outcomes. Students must have the ability to use computers for searching, recording, storing, and retrieving information. In addition, students must be able to comprehend three-dimensional relationships and understand the spacing relationships of anatomic structures.

Behavioral/social attributes and professionalism

Students must demonstrate attributes of empathy, integrity, concern for others, interpersonal skills, interest, and motivation; such qualities are assessed not only during the admissions process but throughout the physical therapy education program. Students must possess the emotional well-being required for full use of their intellectual abilities, the exercise of sound judgment, the prompt completion of all responsibilities attendant to the evaluation and care of patients, and the development of mature, sensitive and effective relationships with patients. The ability to tolerate physically taxing workloads and to function effectively under stress are attributes needed to function effectively in the health care environment. Students must be able to adapt to ever-changing environments, display flexibility, and learn to function in the face of uncertainties and stresses which are inherent in the educational process, as well as the clinical problems of many patients.

Students must have the ability to be assertive, delegate responsibilities appropriately, and function as part of a physical therapy team. Such abilities require organizational skills necessary to meet deadlines and manage time.