Effective learning communities strive to ensure learning, establish collaboration, develop support systems and remove barriers to success in order to improve student achievement. Students who are satisfied with their community and learning environment report lower levels of stress, exhaustion, and anxiety; all known to be significant challenges for graduate students. Students that develop support systems perform better academically, report greater self-efficacy, and experience less emotional and physical distress. Students’ perceptions of belonging to their profession while in school plays an important role in their professional involvement post graduation. Factors such as race and gender play a role in whether or not a student develops a sense of belonging.
The purpose of this study was to explore perceptions of Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students related to their educational learning community at a university in North Texas and examine gender differences.
Survey items were obtained through another validated measure and a thorough literature evaluation, then crafted into six constructs: connectedness to (a)learning environment, (b)peers, (c)university, (d)profession, (e)faculty/staff, and (f)student confidence and well-being. Participants rated items using a five point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Items were validated on 361 students from four graduate program areas demonstrating adequate internal consistency with Cronbach’s Alpha ranging from .59 to .97.
The survey was emailed to 125 DPT students with 83 returned. Data were analyzed descriptively and Independent Sample T-tests were conducted to examine differences between males and females across each construct and individual items.
Students reported high levels of connectedness across all constructs. 95.2% reported feeling like a member of their educational cohort; 94% felt they were a member of the University community, and 90% saw themselves as a member of the profession. No significant differences existed between male and female students on levels of connectedness in any construct.
Significant difference existed on four items within the confidence and well-being construct. Females reported being significantly less confident in their ability to be successful in their doctoral studies and their ability to have a successful professional career. Males reported feeling more stress related to graduate studies and higher levels of workload stress in the graduate program.
Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Shaping the Future of Physical Therapy Education
A need exists for effectively fostering DPT students’ confidence within their program and profession, as well as helping them to manage stress. Understanding how DPT students experience community and become socialized to the profession allows educators to devise strategies and align programs to better meet learner needs and cultivate engagement. Creating lasting relationships and associations may help to increase involvement and improve our professional communities in the transition from student to practitioner.
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