Critical Thinking Skills and Learning Styles in Physical Therapists Trained in India Enrolled in a Master's Program

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Abstract

Background and Purpose.

The development of critical thinking, a component of clinical reasoning, is a central focus of physical therapist (PT) education. Despite this focus, critical thinking is not being measured in most programs. Previous studies measuring the acquisition of critical thinking skills in PT students have yielded mixed results. There is no available literature on the development of critical thinking skills in internationally trained PTs. The purpose of this study was to measure the acquisition of critical thinking skills in internationally trained PTs and to describe curricular characteristics used to facilitate the development of critical thinking skills in these therapists attending a postprofessional master's degree program in the United States. In addition, this study explored the relationship between learning styles and the acquisition of critical thinking skills.

Method/Model Description and Evaluation.

Eighteen students in a postprofessional Master of Science in Physical Therapy education program for internationally trained PTs participated in the study. The students were assessed using the Health Science Reasoning Test (HSRT) 3 times during the first year of the program. In addition, students also completed the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (KLSI) as a measure of learning styles. The program curriculum consists of 39 credits over 4 semesters and is based on a philosophy that values the development of the application of clinical skills and clinical decision making. Teaching strategies within the curriculum are grounded in Schön's reflective practice and Bandura's social cognitive theory and are discussed in this article.

Outcomes.

The students’ critical thinking skills showed a statistically significant increase over the study period of 1 year. Compared to normative data, students scored in the upper end of the strong range. There were no significant differences among learning styles in this cohort. There was a positive relationship between abstract conceptualization (AC) and higher HSRT performance in this cohort.

Discussion and Conclusion.

Teaching strategies in the curriculum most reflect Schön's reflective practice and Bandura's social cognitive theory's individual and collective agencies. We discuss specific strategies of facilitating instruction used to promote the development of critical thinking skills. In conclusion, critical thinking acquisition took place over a period of 1 year in a curriculum that employs multiple social learning strategies and self-reflection.

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