Exploring the cultural adaptability of doctoral entry-level physical therapist students during clinical education experiences.

Marjorie Johnson Hilliard*, Christi Rathsack, Pauline Brannigan, Antoinette P. Sander

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Cultural competence is an essential component of health care education. The aim of this study was to explore the development of cultural competence in 14 physical therapist students during their final, 23 weeks of clinical education (CE) experiences. A mixed methods design was used to quantitatively measure and qualitatively describe cultural adaptability as an indicator of cultural competence. Subjects completed the Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI) at the end of their didactic curriculum and again at the end of their CE experiences. Constant comparative methods were used to analyze written narrative summaries of how students made meaning of their cultural encounters. The students exhibited statistically significant changes in the total CCAI score (paired t-test: p < 0.001), and three CCAI subscales: emotional resilience (paired t-test: p < 0.002), flexibility/openness (paired t-test: p < 0.003), and perceptual acuity (paired t-test: p < 0.001). There was not a statistically significant change in the fourth CCAI subscale, personal autonomy. Qualitatively, four themes emerged that described students' cultural encounters with patients, families, and co-workers: recognizing cultural descriptors; consideration of feelings, values, attitudes and beliefs; effective communication to breakdown barriers; and awareness of strategies for current and future cross-cultural practice. Clinical cultural encounters are important in the progression toward cultural competence in physical therapist students. Changes in attitude appear to be key in effective cultural encounters as students learn to communicate and connect with anyone perceived to be different from them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e199-220
JournalJournal of Allied Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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