Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Curriculum & Instruction


Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Ivan Gill, PhD

Second Advisor

Patricia Austin

Third Advisor

Brian Beaubout

Fourth Advisor

Richard Speaker


With a growing and more diverse population nationally, physical therapist programs have evolved to meet the demands for physical therapists in our healthcare system. Despite the substantial efforts to increase student populations to meet workforce shortage, 5-35% will depart in the early years of their program. Current evidence suggests the association of measurable factors with students’ academic success in physical therapist education. However, these measurable factors have accounted for a small variance in explaining the experiences of academic success. In order to sustain the current healthcare system, physical therapist programs need to ensure that students persist and graduate.

The purposes of this qualitative study are to explore how recent graduates experience the first year of a physical therapist program and how these experiences contribute to academic success and persistence. Eleven recent physical therapist graduates were interviewed for the study. Program, student, and participant-generated documents were collected. Six themes emerged from the data: (a) establishing career goals, (b) evolving expectations from undergraduate to professional education, (c) encountering transitions in personal, social, and financial aspects, (d) balancing multiple identities (e) seeking supports inside and outside of classroom, and (f) modifying strategies to overcome academic challenges. The findings of this study indicate that the participants navigated a complex educational environment by integrating social and academic experiences to achieve their academic success. The findings can be used to inform physical therapist and undergraduate programs as well as potential and current first-year students.


The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.

Available for download on Thursday, May 23, 2024