Evaluating Physical Therapist Students’ Clinical Performance in Acute Care: A Retrospective Analysis Comparing Student-Treated and Staff-Treated Patient Outcomes After Total Knee Arthroplasty

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The ultimate goal and primary responsibility of physical therapist (PT) education is to produce graduates who can function as competent practitioners. However, clinical effectiveness and efficiency of patient care provided by PT students are not well established.


We identified 160 patients who received primary unilateral total knee arthroplasty at a single acute care hospital in the Midwest between March 2009 and August 2010. Next, we used a retrospective cohort design to compare the outcomes for those treated by licensed PTs and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) (n = 80) to those treated by PT students (n = 80) in a collaborative clinical education model.


Primary outcomes were the improvement in functional mobility at discharge as measured by the Functional Outcome Measure (FOM), and improvement of the provider's efficiency as measured by the change in FOM score from initial visit to final visit in relation to the number of therapy visits.


There were no significant differences between the functional gains achieved by each group (P = .955) or in provider efficiency (P = .594).

Discussion and Conclusion:

In the acute care setting, functional outcomes following primary total knee arthroplasty were similar for patients, whether treated by the physical therapy staff or PT students in a collaborative clinical education model. These results need confirmation with prospective randomized studies.

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