Physical Therapist Practice in the Acute Care Setting: A Qualitative Study

Appeared in: Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association

Discussion Podcast: Physical Therapist Practice in the Acute Care Setting

Participants: Diane Jette, PT, DSc, Professor and Chair, Department of Rehabilitation and Movement Science, Unviersity of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont; Carey-Leah Havrilko, PT, DPT, Department of Rehabilitation and Movement Science, University of Vermont; Sharon Gorman, PT, DPTSc, GCS, Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, Samuel Merritt University, Oakland, California; and Gail Jensen, PT, PhD, FAPTA, Professor of Physical Therapy, Department of Physical Therapy, School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. Moderator: Rebecca Craik, PT, PhD, FAPTA, PTJ Editor in Chief.

Acute care is a complex practice environment where the medical condition of the patients is often dire; however, the role physical therapists play in this setting is not well understood. The June 2011 article "Physical Therapist Practice in the Acute Care Setting: A Qualitative Study" examined the role of physical therapists in acute care and the skills and decision-making processes that they use. In this podcast, two of authors, Diane Jette and Carey-Leah Havrilko, are joined by Sharon Gorman, the lead author of a recent practice analysis of acute care physical therapy, Gail Jensen, an expert on qualitative studies, and moderator Rebecca Craik to discuss how physical therapists practice the acute care setting. What does a qualitative study add to our understanding of the acute care environment? How does acute care differ from other practice settings? Are physical therapist education programs adequately preparing their graduates to practice in acute care settings? Should acute care be a specialty?

Running time: 22:39 (15.7 MB).

Quick Hits

Gorman: "The complexity and the immediacy and the dynamic environment that acute care practitioners work in is what sets it apart from other practice areas is physical therapy."

Jensen: "If you look at the demographics, we need people making the best decisions about function and rehabilitation in the acute care setting."

Havrilko: "Getting…into the acute care setting…is a completely different world."

Jette: "It's almost like they have to have eyes on all sides of their heads, and they do!"


Rothstein Debate weighs PTs in acute care. PT 2007: Highlights. PT in Motion. September 2007. Available at:

Gorman SL, Wruble Hakim E, Johnson W, et al. Nationwide acute care physical therapy practice analysis identifies knowledge, skills, and behaviors that reflect acute care practice. Phys Ther. 2010;90:1453-1467.

Jette DU, Brown R, Collette N, et al. Physical therapists' management of patients in the acute care setting: an observational study. Phys Ther. 2009;89:1158-1181.

Jensen GM, Gwwyer J, Shepard KF, Hack LM. Expert practice in physical therapy. Phys Ther. 2000;80:28-43.

Benner P, Sutphen M, Leonard C, Day L. Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Sharon Gorman, PT, DPTSc, GCS, is an Associate Professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program


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