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Program Framework and Outcomes

Framework and Objectives Upon Which the Program in Built

Columbia’s curriculum recognizes that physical therapy is a complex profession in which answers are context dependent. The philosophy of the curriculum is designed to develop competent clinicians who can embrace this complexity. Physical therapists’ practicing in today’s clinical arena need to exhibit multifaceted reasoning skills and be committed to lifelong learning in order to apply appropriate knowledge and skills in an ever-changing environment. To this end, the curriculum is based upon a dynamic framework that defines the profession of physical therapy and graduate education.  This design progresses from simple knowledge to complex integration and application.  Course objectives illustrate a hierarchy of learning within each of the academic semesters and throughout the curriculum. The methods of instruction include strategies from both receptive (instructor-directed activities) and discovery learning (student-directed activities).


The elements of the curriculum framework include:


1. Definition of Physical Therapy

As a science, physical therapy examines human motion at the tissue, organ, and systems levels. It brings together theories of the basic and behavioral sciences that help explain normal and dysfunctional motor behavior. Physical therapy offers a unique synthesis of biological and behavioral theories and examines the interplay of physical and psychological factors on human motion.  In order to have the requisite clinical skills, the curriculum is grounded in the following course work (see under Curriculum for a listing of the specific courses):


     Scientific Foundations

     Clinical Sciences

     Critical Exploration

     Professional Development

     Health Systems Management


     Clinical Education


2. Clinical Decision Making

Provision of physical therapy services includes clinical decision-making underlying the individualized evaluation and treatment process.  This includes, but is not limited to, patient/client problem identification, examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis and intervention.  Recognizing that clinical decision-making occurs on a continuum from the novice to the experienced practitioner, the curriculum provides didactic, integrative seminars and clinical education experiences to foster this development.


3. Adult Learner

Recognizing that graduate students are adults with different needs and approaches to learning, the curriculum moves beyond traditional teaching tactics to adjust to the diverse needs of the learner. It is also expected that students will assume varying degrees of responsibility for their own learning; hence, the curriculum facilitates this process through faculty role-modeling, and by activities that facilitate ways of accessing and using information.


Students entering the program are assumed to be motivated learners with a self-selected career goal.  The curriculum progresses from the simple to the complex to allow students to use new and well-established skills to address novel, unexpected and increasingly complex situations.


4. Professional Education        

The unique body of knowledge ascribed to physical therapy must be transmitted within a limited time frame to those who are entering the profession. Students must learn to manage their time effectively in order to meet content requirements as well as analysis, synthesis and integration.  This requires a collegial environment in which the faculty assumes the role of facilitator and mentor rather than the student’s only source of knowledge.



5. Service Context

Traditional health care facilities are no longer the only arenas of practice for physical therapists.  Students need to become familiar with a variety of existing and emerging practice settings. As health care is ever changing, students must become familiar with change as an environmental reality. In response, they learn ways of anticipating, planning for and responding to change.



6. Society

Membership in a profession carries privileges and responsibilities assigned to that profession by society.  These responsibilities include, but are not limited to, a need for adherence to ethical standards, which requires familiarization by the student.  Students must also acknowledge that the profession has made a covenant with society to approach every patient/client with the highest degree of integrity to provide humane care.


Program Outcomes

Upon completion of the 3-year curriculum, students will have met the following objectives:


     Development of critical analysis and decision-making skills and the ability to integrate academic course work and clinical experience within an evidence-based framework.

     Development of clinical skills necessary to practice competently and effectively in a variety of settings

     Capacity to continually refine practice skills, post-graduation, through continuing professional education and integration of new scientific information.

     Provision of life long learning skills necessary to anticipate future changes in the provision of physical therapy in response to societal needs.

     Assume an active role in the development of their own critical inquiry, which ultimately facilitates initiating the process of specialization.


The above outcomes are affirmed through 4 broad performance indicators:


Performance Indicator

Defined As

Manifested Through the Following Coursework

Conceptual Competence

Understanding the theoretical foundations of the profession

Scientific Foundations, Clinical Sciences, Critical Exploration, Professional Development, Health Care Systems & Management, Electives

Technical Competence

Ability to perform skills required for the profession

Clinical Sciences, Clinical Education I, II

Integrative Competence

Ability to merge theory and skills in the practice setting

Capstone Project, (Systematic Review), Clinical Internship, Optional Research Practicum Elective

Career Marketability

Ability to become marketable in a practice area of choice

Advanced Track courses, Electives, Clinical Internship


In fulfilling the above espoused curriculum framework and outcomes, students work with faculty members who are integrally involved in the process of critical inquiry and who serve as role models in all aspects of the profession. 


The program utilizes the university's enormous resources of equipment and clinical experiences, and builds its curriculum to educate future physical therapists who will serve at the forefront of health care as competent clinicians, consultants, administrators, educators and researchers.


Graduates of the program are eligible to sit for the national licensing examination under the auspices of the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy Education. All states require licensure to practice and these licenses are based on the results of the national examination that is given during specific test dates at testing centers throughout the country. Columbia students are well prepared for the licensure examination and have consistently scored above the New York State and national averages (see facts and figures). To learn more about the licensing examination, go to