Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Physical Therapy (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Neva Kirk-Sanchez

Second Committee Member

Sherrill Hayes

Third Committee Member

Helen Masin

Fourth Committee Member

Kathleen Curtis


Background and Purpose. Entry-level physical therapy students go through a distinct period of professional socialization in which they acquire the specialized knowledge, psychomotor skills and professional behaviors essential for effective and efficient patient care. Physical therapists practitioners agree that professionalism is an essential component of this process of socialization to the successful practice of physical therapy in the 21st century. Academic faculty and clinical instructors agree that appropriate affective skills are more difficult to promote, assess and model than cognitive or psychomotor skills. Evidence suggests that underdevelopment of professional behaviors is often the reason why students struggle with the transition from the classroom setting to the clinical environment and that engaging students in affective learning experiences is one of the most challenging experiences academicians and clinical instructors face. This qualitative study explored the professional socialization process from the perspective of academic faculty, clinical faculty and the entry-level doctor of physical therapy (DPT) students and the teachings fostering the development of professional behaviors in entry-level physical therapy professional education. This qualitative study also explores the appropriateness of the Weidman, Twale, and Stein (2001) Socialization Framework conceptualizing the graduate and professional student socialization process as it applies to entry-level graduate physical therapy students. Subjects. The participants were eight academic faculty and nine clinical faculty associated with the academic and clinical programs of the University of Miami Physical Therapy Department, as well as 12 entry-level DPT students enrolled in this educational program. Methods. Using a phenomenology approach, the investigator conducted single case study interviews with 3 participants and focus groups with the other participants. This consisted of asking questions to explore the current perceptions about the process of professional socialization and development of professional behaviors in entry-level DPT students, and the appropriateness of the Weidman et al framework to conceptualize the socialization process as it applies to physical therapy. The behavioral constructs of professional responsibility, interpersonal skills and communication skills were used as benchmarks of professionalism. Interviews and focus group sessions were audiotaped and transcribed by a professional transcriptionist. Each participant completed a survey to gather demographic data. Qualitative and quantitative methods were used to analyze the data. Triangulation of the data and other research strategies ensured trustworthiness of the data. Results. Quantitative data was used to describe the participants. Qualitative data analysis led to the emergence of 8 themes: 1) professional behaviors develop over time, 2) knowledge acquisition develops over time, 3) skills in the affective domain encompass qualities that are critical in primary care physical therapy, 4) from implicit to explicit approach to Physical therapy education, 5) professional appearance, 6) socialization is a developmental process based on overlapping stages of identity and commitment: anticipatory stage (background), academic stage (formal and informal) and personal stage (outcome), 7) internalization of professional role into one’s identity happens over time, and 8) personal, academic and clinical experiences play an important role in the process of professional socialization. Discussion and Conclusion. The findings indicate that the process of professional socialization is vital for individuals pursuing physical therapy as a profession. The themes that emerged indicate that entry-level DPT students develop knowledge and professional behaviors over time. Engaging the entry-level DPT students in affective learning experiences focused around a set of expected skills and competencies is essential for effective patient care and the ability to practice as autonomous primary care practitioners. An explicit approach to education in the affective domain is essential when teaching today’s millennial students, and the modeling and teachings about professional appearance is an important aspect of professional practice. In addition, entry-level graduate DPT students go through a process of socialization parallel to the Weidman, Twale and Stein (2001) Socialization Framework conceptualizing graduate and professional student socialization in higher education and this model can be applied to facilitate physical therapist professional education and entry-level graduates’ preparedness for the professional working life.


Professional Socialization; Education in the Affective Domain; Professionalism; Professional Behaviors; Responsibility; Communication Skills; Interpersonal Skills.