The first year of practice: An investigation of the professional learning and development of promising novice physical therapists

Lisa L. Black, Gail M. Jensen, Elizabeth Mostrom, Jan Perkins, Pamela D. Ritzline, Lorna Hayward, Betsy Blackmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Background. The goal in studying expertise is not merely to describe ways in which experts excel but also to understand how experts develop in order to better facilitate the development of novices. The study of novice progression helps us to understand what successful versus unsuccessful learning looks like. This understanding is critical, as autonomous practice places increased demands for advanced clinical judgments and the ability to assume professional responsibilities. Objectives. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences, learning, and development of promising novice therapists throughout their first year of practice in the United States. Design and Methods. A longitudinal, multiple-site qualitative case study method was used for within-case and across-case analysis. A purposive sample of 11 promising new graduates from 4 physical therapist education programs participated. Investigators followed the graduates throughout their first year of practice. Data sources included: (1) semistructured interviews conducted at baseline and every 3 months thereafter for 1 year, (2) reflective journals completed at regular intervals, and (3) review of academic and clinical education records and résumés. Results. Four themes emerged: (1) the clinical environment influenced the novice physical therapists' performance, (2) participants learned through experience and social interaction and learning was primarily directed toward self, (3) growing confidence was directly related to developing communication skills, and (4) therapists were engaged in professional identity formation and role transitions. Conclusions. The findings suggest there are common experiences and themes that emerge as novice physical therapists develop. Although research has been conducted on expertise in physical therapy, few longitudinal investigations have explored the development of therapists across transitions from graduate to novice to expert practitioner. This study explored and described the learning and development of graduates during their first year of practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1758-1773
Number of pages16
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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