New England Consortium Focus Groups: Identification of Economic Factors in Clinical Education

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Background and Purpose:

An essential component of students’ preparation as physical therapists is to participate in fulltime clinical education experiences. The contemporary environment in physical therapist practice has created challenges to the provision of these clinical education experiences, particularly as it relates to the regulatory environment and the productivity demands on clinical facilities. This report summarizes the outcomes of focus group discussions conducted with physical therapists in New England to more clearly identify how the partnership between clinical facilities and physical therapist education programs could be strengthened.


A total of 33 focus group discussions were held throughout New England, in which 257 clinicians participated.


A semi-structured focus group survey process was developed to obtain physical therapists’ feedback and perspectives on current clinical education issues and challenges. Participants in the focus groups were asked a series of questions about what the academic-clinical partnership should look like and strategies they would suggest to manage current challenges related to clinical education.


Focus group analysis identified 2 major themes from the discussions: communication/collaboration and economic factors of clinical education. Specifically, this report summarizes the subthemes identified under the economic impact of clinical education, including: (1) influences of payers for physical therapy services; (2) concerns about how clinical education impacts costs to the facility and personnel; and (3) strategies to offset some of the perceived costs of clinical education.

Discussion and Conclusion:

Focus group discussions highlighted multiple challenges associated with offering clinical education experiences that included staffing issues, third-party payment, and the economic impact on clinical facilities. Participants provided suggestions on how to offset some of these perceived challenges. Further research is needed to determine how clinical education experiences impact clinicians’ productivity and personnel issues in a highly demanding work environment. Most important, physical therapist education programs and clinical facilities need to work in partnership to determine how clinical education can be sustained given the challenges associated with it.

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