Department of Physical Therapy Student Theses, Dissertations and Capstones

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Physical Therapy

Copyright Statement

All rights reserved. This publication is intended for use solely by faculty, students, and staff of Nova Southeastern University. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, now known or later developed, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author or the publisher.


College of Health Care Sciences - Physical Therapy Department

First Advisor

Mary Blackinton

Publication Date / Copyright Date



Nova Southeastern University


Background: There is an increase in the incidence and severity of mental health disorders in university students. Doctor of Physical Therapy students are at increased risk due to physiological, environmental, and generational factors. Design: Mixed-Methods, multi-site, descriptive study Participants: Current DPT students (N= 1228 ) completed a survey and DASS-42; 20 students demonstrating moderate severity on the DASS participated in telephone interviews. Methods: Surveys were emailed to 238 DPT program directors with a request to forward to students. Following the survey, a total of 20 interviews were completed. Results: DPT students were found to have higher DASS scores than their age-matched peers Depression t(1227)=10.76, p<.005, Anxiety t(1227)=7.33, p=.005, Stress t(1227)=2.91, p=.029. First year students were found to have the highest levels of anxiety (p=.001) and stress (p=.019) of the 3 groups of students. Several variables were significantly correlated to with higher than average DASS scores which included medication use, history of trauma, use of support services, 3.0 GPA or lower, family history of mental health disease, and a diagnosis or belief of a diagnosis of mental illness (p≤.005). Major themes themes emerged from the data: 1- When Accessing Resources Becomes a Stressor, 2- Seeking Support From Trusted Confidants (sub-themes: Leaning on Familiarity, Leaning on Genuine & Empathic Faculty), 3-Changes in Expectations & Challenges During Professional Education (sub-themes: Growing Up in Grad School, The Challenge of Balance, When the Stakes are Higher-Fearing the Fall), Theme 4- Striving For Perfection. Conclusion: This is the largest study to date that examined mental health issues in DPT students. Statistically higher DASS scores were found in DPT students when compared to their age-matched peers, with the greatest concern being on the 1st year graduate students. High DASS scores were also correlated to GPA, gender, medication use, support system utilization, family history of mental illness, history of trauma, and diagnosis of psychological disorder. The magnitude of the transition to graduate school may be contributing to high levels of anxiety and distress.




Anxiety, Depression, Graduate, Mental health, Physical therapy, Stress

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