Behaviors that cause clinical instructors to question the clinical competence of physical therapist students

Karen W. Hayes*, Gail Huber, Jean Rogers, Babette Sanders

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose. Clinical instructors (CIs) observe behavior to determine whether students have the skills assumed necessary for safe and effective delivery of physical therapy services. Studies have examined assumptions about necessary skills, but few studies have identified the types of student behaviors that are 'red flags' for CIs. This study examined the student behaviors that negatively affect students' clinical performance, which can alert CIs to inadequate performance. Subjects. Twenty-eight female and 5 male CIs discussed the performance of 23 female and 17 male students who were anonymous. Methods. Using questionnaires and semistructured interviews that were taped and transcribed, CIs described demographics and incidents of unsafe and ineffective physical therapy. After reading the transcripts, investigators identified and classified the behaviors into categories and checked their classification for reliability (κ=.60-.75). Results. Behaviors in 3 categories emerged as red flags for CIs: 1 cognitive category - inadequate knowledge and psychomotor skill (43% of 134 behaviors) - and 2 noncognitive categories - unprofessional behavior (29.1%) and poor communication (27.6%). The CIs noticed and valued noncognitive behaviors but addressed cognitive behaviors more often with students. Students who did not receive feedback about their performance were unlikely to change their behavior. The CIs used cognitive behaviors often as reasons to recommend negative outcomes. Conclusion and Discussion. Clinical instructors need to identify unacceptable cognitive and noncognitive behaviors as early as possible in clinical experiences. Evidence suggests that they should discuss their concerns with students and expect students to change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)653-671
Number of pages19
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1999


  • Clinical education
  • Competence
  • Physical therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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