Expert practice in physical therapy

Gail M. Jensen, Jan Gwyer, Katherine F. Shepard, Laurita M. Hack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

300 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose. The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify the dimensions of clinical expertise in physical therapy practice across 4 clinical specialty areas: geriatrics, neurology, orthopedics, and pediatrics. Subjects. Subjects were 12 peer-designated expert physical therapists nominated by the leaders of the American Physical Therapy Association sections for geriatrics, neurology, orthopedics, and pediatrics. Methods. Guided by a grounded theory approach, a multiple case study research design was used, with each of the 4 investigators studying 3 therapists working in one clinical area. Data were obtained through nonparticipant observation, interviews, review of documents, and analysis of structured tasks. Videotapes made during selected therapist-patient treatment sessions were used as a stimulus for the expert therapist interviews. Data were transcribed, coded, and analyzed through the development of 12 case reports and 4 composite case studies, one for each specialty, area. Results. A theoretical model of expert practice in physical therapy was developed that included 4 dimensions: (1) a dynamic, multidimensional knowledge base that is patient-centered and evolves through therapist reflection, (2) a clinical reasoning process that is embedded in a collaborative, problem-solving venture with the patient, (3) a central focus on movement assessment linked to patient function, and (4) consistent virtues seen in caring and commitment to patients. Conclusion and Discussion. These findings build on previous research in physical therapy on expertise. The dimensions of expert practice in physical therapy have implications for physical therapy practice, education, and continued research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-52
Number of pages25
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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