The Experience of Nursing Home Care: A Strong Influence on Physical Therapist Students' Work Intentions







Publication Date / Copyright Date

Spring 2002

First Page



Purpose: The general population is aging rapidly, and the need for physical therapists to serve the geriatric community is significantly increasing. There is a growing concern that students hare negative attitudes toward older adults and/or toward geriatric care settings. Negalive attitudes may affect the professions' ability to meet the growing demand for qualified clinicians in geriatric settings. Previous research is limited and has centered on students' and professionals' attitudes and intentions toward geriatric employment, with a focus on factors such as personal, educational, or clinical experiences that positively or negatively influence attitudes and intentions. Yet, few studies have investigated these experiences from a qualitative perspective. This qualitative study was conducted to gain in-depth understanding of physical therapist students' educational experiences in geriatric care settings.

Subjects: Fifty physical therapist students enrolled at a large southern university participated in the study.

Methods and Materials: Data were gathered through focus group interviews, one-to-one interviews, and journals in which students described their educational experiences with geriatric physical therapy.

Analyses: Data were analyzed using the constant comparative method and interpretive strategies to create a thick description of students' experiences. Methodological rigor was established through the trustworthiness and authenticity criteria espoused by Lincoln and Guba (1985). Two major themes, "caring" and "uncaring," were the essence of students' experiences and revealed their attitudes, beliefs, intentions, and behaviors regarding geriatric physical therapy.

Findings: The most significant finding was that students' negative experiences in nursing homes greatly outweighed the positive experiences, which led to negative beliefs and attitudes toward working in nursing homes. This resulted in their intentions to seek employment in other settings. Furthermore, students felt powerless to change what they believed to be negative aspects of nursing home care. Although students had positive attitudes toward elderly clients, they failed to recognize their potential to be moral change agents in this setting. This reinforced their negative view toward employment in nursing homes. The findings of this study have serious implications for geriatric education and can inform physical therapy educators, practitioners, and researchers. Knowledge of students' experiences can assist in the development of educational interventions designed to motivate and attract physical therapists to work in nursing home settings.


Medicine and Health Sciences


Attitudes, Geriatric Physical Therapy, Nursing Home Care, Phenomenology, Professional-Patient Relations

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