Closing the gap between ethics knowledge and practice through active engagement: An applied model of physical therapy ethics

Clare M. Delany, Ian Edwards, Gail M. Jensen, Elizabeth Skinner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

38 Scopus citations


Physical therapist practice has a distinct focus that is holistic (ie, patient centered) and at the same time connected to a range of other providers within health care systems. Although there is a growing body of literature in physical therapy ethics knowledge, including clinical obligations and underlying philosophical principles, less is known about the unique ethical issues that physical therapists encounter, and how and why they make ethical decisions. As moral agents, physical therapists are required to make autonomous clinical and ethical decisions based on connections and relationships with their patients, other health care team members, and health institutions and policies. This article identifies specific ethical dimensions of physical therapist practice and highlights the development and focus of ethics knowledge in physical therapy over the last several decades. An applied ethics model, called the "active engagement model," is proposed to integrate clinical and ethical dimensions of practice with the theoretical knowledge and literature about ethics. The active engagement model has 3 practical steps: to listen actively, to think reflexively, and to reason critically. The model focuses on the underlying skills, attitudes, and actions that are required to build a sense of moral agency and purpose within physical therapist practice and to decrease gaps between the ethical dimensions of physical therapist practice and physical therapy ethics knowledge and scholarship. A clinical case study is provided to illustrate how the ethics engagement model might be used to analyze and provide insight into the ethical dimensions of physical therapist practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1068-1078
Number of pages11
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2010


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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