Clinical reasoning: Survey of teaching methods, integration, and assessment in entry-level physical therapist academic education

Nicole Christensen, Lisa Black, Jennifer Furze, Karen Huhn, Ann Vendrely, Susan Wainwright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Background. Although clinical reasoning abilities are important learning outcomes of physical therapist entry-level education, best practice standards have not been established to guide clinical reasoning curricular design and learning assessment. Objective. This research explored how clinical reasoning is currently defined, taught, and assessed in physical therapist entry-level education programs. Design. A descriptive, cross-sectional survey was administered to physical therapist program representatives. Methods. An electronic 24-question survey was distributed to the directors of 207 programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Descriptive statistical analysis and qualitative content analysis were performed. Post hoc demographic and wave analyses revealed no evidence of nonresponse bias. Results. A response rate of 46.4% (n_96) was achieved. All respondents reported that their programs incorporated clinical reasoning into their curricula. Only 25% of respondents reported a common definition of clinical reasoning in their programs. Most respondents (90.6%) reported that clinical reasoning was explicit in their curricula, and 94.8% indicated that multiple methods of curricular integration were used. Instructor-designed materials were most commonly used to teach clinical reasoning (83.3%). Assessment of clinical reasoning included practical examinations (99%), clinical coursework (94.8%), written examinations (87.5%), and written assignments (83.3%). Curricular integration of clinical reasoning–related self-reflection skills was reported by 91%. Limitations. A large number of incomplete surveys affected the response rate, and the program directors to whom the survey was sent may not have consulted the faculty members who were most knowledgeable about clinical reasoning in their curricula. The survey con-struction limited some responses and application of the results. Conclusions. Although clinical reasoning was explicitly integrated into program curricula, it was not consistently defined, taught, or assessed within or between the programs surveyed— resulting in significant variability in clinical reasoning education. These findings support the need for the development of best educational practices for clinical reasoning curricula and learning assessment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-186
Number of pages12
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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