New York Medical College

School of Health Sciences and Practice

Doctor Of Physical Therapy DPT Program Professional Development


Becoming a Professional

In the physical therapy program at New York Medical College, each student is expected to learn, in addition to academic knowledge and psychomotor skills, the professional behaviors required to be a competent and caring physical therapist. The process of becoming a physical therapist begins on the first day of class in the first year and evolves progressively over the three years that the student spends at NYMC.

The approach used at New York Medical College to facilitate the learning of professional behaviors has two key elements. First, expectations regarding professional development are clearly communicated to the students. Second, students learn to assess themselves to determine whether they are indeed learning the professional behaviors. The purpose of this document is to describe the expectations regarding professional behaviors for students in the physical therapy program at New York Medical College and to outline the procedures for self-assessment.

Professional Behavior is the Ability to Use Knowledge in Clinical Settings

Professional behavior refers to the ability to use academic knowledge and psychomotor skills in real clinical settings. It requires the following higher level skills:

  • generalizing from one context to another
  • integrating information from different sources
  • applying knowledge and skills in the practice setting
  • synthesizing cognitive, affective, and psychomotor behaviors
  • interacting effectively with patients, families, the community, and other professionals


Professional Behaviors Depend Upon a Core Set of Generic Abilities

Generic abilities are behaviors, attributes, or characteristics that are not explicitly part of a profession's core of knowledge and technical skills, but are nevertheless required for success in that profession. May and colleagues (1995) used a survey approach to identify a core set of generic abilities for physical therapy. The Program in Physical Therapy at New York Medical College has adopted this set of generic abilities. They are listed and defined on page 18 of this document.

Ability-Based Learning is a Systematic Approach to Professional Development

Rather than simply assume that students will develop appropriate professional behaviors, the physical therapy program has instituted a systematic approach to develop and assess professional behaviors. This approach incorporates the professional socialization process into the formal curriculum by focusing on student competence in different types of professional tasks at key points in the curriculum.

This process assumes three general stages of learning, in which the student reaches three progressively higher levels of accomplishment: a beginning level, a developing level, and an entry level. When the entry level has been reached, the student is ready to function independently as a physical therapist; in other words, the student is ready for graduation.

In order to judge whether a student has reached a particular level of accomplishment, the generic abilities are further elaborated into sets of criteria. These are more specific examples of behaviors that are associated with each level.

The Development of Generic Abilities Occurs Through Self Assessment

Self-assessment is the fundamental method of ability-based learning. Assessment refers to a process of evaluating performance related to specific generic abilities. Assessment is carried out by considering examples of how the individual demonstrates the particular ability in specific contexts, judging those example behaviors against identified criteria for performance, and attempting to construct as full as possible a picture of that ability as possessed by the learner. Here at NYMC, the initial assessment is done by the student. Faculty members assist the students in this process through group discussions, and validate the assessments carried out by students. Thus, students learn to assess their performance according to established criteria.

Self-Assessment And Validation Is Repeated Each Semester

Self-assessment and validation of the assessment is carried out each semester.

First, expectations regarding professional development are explained to students early in the educational program.

Second, students learn to assess whether they have achieved these expectations. To assist in this process, students meet in small groups with a faculty member.

Third, faculty members meet as a group and consider each student's self-assessment. If the self-assessment is not considered accurate, students are required to redo the self-assessment.

Fourth, if a student does not meet the required criteria during a particular semester, a plan of action is developed by the student and approved by the faculty.

Students Must Reach the Required Levels of Accomplishment in Order to Progress Through the Program and Graduate.

Students are expected to reach the beginning level of accomplishment by the end of the Fall I semester, the developing level by the end of Spring I, and the entry level by the end of Fall II. Students are required to reach the beginning level of accomplishment by the end of the Spring I semester, the developing level by the end of Fall II, and the entry level by the end of Spring II. Successful completion of this plan will be required for a return to good standing, and further advancement through the program. Because of the sequential structure of the curriculum, remediation of professional behavior will result in the student having to wait a full year before resuming coursework. The reason for this regulations is that, as noted above, graduation from the program implies that the individual is prepared to function as a physical therapist and a health care professional. We consider professional development to be just as crucial a component of a student's education as his or her academic knowledge base and psychomotor skills.

Generic Abilities

Generic abilities are attributes, characteristics, or behaviors that are not explicitly part of the profession's core of knowledge and technical skills but are nevertheless required for success in the profession. Ten generic abilities essential for physical therapists were identified through a study conducted at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1991-92. The ten abilities and definitions developed in that study are given below.

Levels of Accomplishment in Professional Development





Beginning Level

Students demonstrate awareness of what they need to be able to accomplish, but a deeper understanding of the required abilities may be lacking. They demonstrate stated criteria for this level but they may be inconsistent and not able to exhibit the skill in all contexts.



Developing Level

Students demonstrate understanding of the required abilities and consistency in meeting stated criteria for this level; flexibility in adapting them to different contexts may still be deficient.



Entry Level

Students demonstrate understanding, consistency, and flexibility.