Background: The events and social conditions experienced by a generational cohort are thought to shape values and behaviors. Numerous studies have correlated generational differences with unique professional behaviors and educational preferences. However, few studies have examined this theory in the practice of physical therapy. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess generational differences in ranking of the Generic Abilities, a tool for assessing professional behaviors, as used in physical therapy in the United States of America. Methods: An online survey including demographic information, region of residence, years of experience, and ranking of Generic Abilities was sent via email to clinical partners and diverse regional university physical therapy education programs. Comparisons of ranking between generations, sex, geographical region, years of experience, and practice setting were evaluated using a Kruskal-Wallis H Test. Results: Overall, all generations ranked professional behaviors similarly. Stress management was the only Generic Ability with a significant difference between generations (p = 0.001). Millennials ranked stress management higher than both Generation X (p = 0.010) and Baby Boomers (p = 0.023). There was a significant difference in rankings by years of experience for professionalism (p = 0.028) and stress management (p = 0.010). There was no statistical difference in rankings by sex, practice setting, race, educational and career status, or geographical region. Conclusion: With only one statistically significant exception, physical therapists and physical therapy students, regardless of generation, rank the Generic Abilities similarly, indicating that professional values may supersede those of a particular generation. Higher ranking of stress management among Millennials may indicate needs that impact career longevity. This knowledge can be utilized by educators and employers to implement strategies to improve success as younger generations progress through the work force.

Author Bio(s)

Catherine Noonan, PT, DPT, PCS, CEIM is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Campbell University. She is a board certified specialist in pediatric physical therapy.

Jennifer Bunn, PhD, is an Associate Professor and the Director of Research in the Department of Physical Therapy at Campbell University.

Heidi Shearin, PT, DPT, is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Clinical Education in the Department of Physical Therapy at Campbell University.





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