Department of Physical Therapy Student Theses, Dissertations and Capstones

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Physical Therapy

Copyright Statement

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College of Health Care Sciences - Physical Therapy Department

First Advisor

Melissa Tovin

Publication Date / Copyright Date



Nova Southeastern University


BACKGROUND: Physical therapists (PTs) may care for full-term or premature newborns in all levels of hospital nurseries. There is some endorsement in the published physical therapy literature for restricting practice in the nursery setting to only those PTs with specialized training.1-4 PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of becoming and being a physical therapist in a special care nursery (SCN) or neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) from the therapists’ perspective. METHODS: The participants were physical therapists who have practiced in a SCN or NICU in the United States. A phenomenological approach was used and data was collected through interviews. The constant comparative method was used to analyze the data and identify common themes to describe therapists’ beliefs about becoming and being a physical therapist in a hospital nursery. RESULTS: These four themes include: 1) Never Alone, which reflects the unique collaborative culture of the NICU; 2) Families First, which speaks to the need to focus on the family, avoid judgment, and facilitate their involvement in the care of their child; 3) Take a Deep Breath, which reflects the need to be mindful and cautious because of the potential to do harm due to the extreme fragility of the infant; and 4) Know What You Don’t Know, which reflects the depth and breadth of knowledge necessary to work in the NICU/SCN. CONCLUSIONS: This project was the first to systematically research practicing therapist’s beliefs and perspectives regarding PT practice in the SCN and NICU. It is evident that current practice does not align with the adopted statements from APTA and APPT, as well as other professional associations. Much evidence draws attention to the fragility of premature neonates, yet our PT practice and education does not appropriately address these concerns.


Physical Therapy


Health and environmental sciences, Education, NICU, Neonatal, Phenomenology, Physical therapy, Qualitative

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