Measuring moral judgement in physical therapy students from different cultures: a dilemma

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Abstract

The purpose of this cross-cultural study was to compare the level of moral judgement between two groups of students over the period of their professional physical therapy educational programmes as measured by the Defining Issues Test (DIT). Students from two entry-level physical therapy programmes volunteered to participate. The DIT was completed at entry and exit of their respective programmes. DIT mean scores were compared using ANCOVA controlling for age and grade point average. Thirty-eight female, second baccalaureate degree students of diverse religious backgrounds, living in a Western culture and 13 female, first baccalaureate degree students of Islamic religious backgrounds living in an Arabic culture participated. At both entry and exit of their programmes, students from the Western group scored significantly higher on the DIT than the Arabic group (average: 51.1 and 29.9 respectively, P < 0.001). An initial score difference was anticipated given the different levels of education between the groups. Over the period of their studies, the DIT scores of the Western group increased significantly while the scores of the Arabic group remained constant. The DIT appears to not measure moral judgement uniformly across cultures. The moral dilemmas are based in Western values and offer limited insight into Arabic, Muslim moral judgement. With increasingly diverse student populations, physical therapy programmes may need to re-examine the nature of moral judgement and adapt their curricula.

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