The first two years of practice:A longitudinal perspective on the learning and professional development of promising novice physical therapists

Lorna M. Hayward, Lisa L. Black, Elizabeth Mostrom, Gail M. Jensen, Pamela D. Ritzline, Jan Perkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background. Physical therapists work in complex health care systems requiring professional competence in clinical reasoning and confidence in decision-making skills. For novice physical therapists, the initial practice years are a time for developing professional identity and practical knowledge. Objectives. The study purpose was to extend previous research describing the experiences, learning, and professional development of 11 promising novice therapists during their first year of practice. The present study examined the continued development of the same therapists during their second year of clinical practice. Design. Seven researchers from 4 physical therapist educational programs in the eastern and midwestern United States used a longitudinal, qualitative, multiple case study approach. Methods. Eleven physical therapist graduates identified as promising novices were recruited using purposive sampling. Participants ranged in age from 24 to 29 years and entered varied practice settings. Data were collected for 2 years using semistructured interviews, reflective journals, and participant observation. Results. A conceptual model describing the participants' ongoing development during the second year of practice emerged. The 3 themes were formal and informal learning, increasing confidence and expansion of skills, and engagement in an environment characterized by collaborative exchange and opportunities for teaching. The second year represented consolidation and elaboration of practice-based learning and skills. The expansion of confidence, skills, and responsibilities and the externalization of learning the participants experienced promoted professional role formation. Learning previously directed inward and self-focused turned outward, fueled by growing self-confidence. Conclusions. Research illuminating the professional role formation experienced during early clinical practice is not widely available. The current study and further research into the learning and development of novice practitioners may assist educators in the design of pedagogical strategies and learning environments that enhance the professional development of physical therapists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-383
Number of pages15
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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