Purpose: Cultural differences and personal biases can affect the way a clinician provides care and the way in which patients receive it. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) designates cultural competence as one of the professional practice expectations for physical therapy students, although no standardized blueprint exists for Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs. This case report will illustrate how reflection can be used to facilitate a student’s growth into becoming more prepared to practice in a culturally aware and effective way. In addition, this report seeks to provide a student’s perspective on her efficacy providing culturally competent care, given her training and education through her DPT program. Method: This case report will present the interactions between a student physical therapist (SPT) and a culturally and linguistically diverse patient throughout a physical therapy plan of care. Subsequently, the reflections by the SPT on these interactions will be presented, and themes such as communication barriers, power dynamics, and patient expectations will be explored. Results: Through the student’s self-reflection, she determined both her strengths and areas needing improvement in providing an adequate cross-cultural interaction, in addition to delineating how her preparation in school affected these areas. Her strengths included 1) vulnerability to recognize her own shortcomings, and 2) a desire to create a meaningful connection with the patient. The areas needing improvement included 1) providing an open space for the patient to speak, and 2) setting patient expectations. The student’s DPT program facilitated her preparedness in cultural competence by 1) providing lecture content promoting cultural awareness, 2) encouraging reflection, and 3) hosting an event where the DPT students were able to work with international students of limited-English proficiency. Conversely, barriers to the student’s preparedness included 1) no mandatory community service reaching minority populations, and 2) no opportunity for an abroad immersion experience. Conclusions: Two main themes were drawn from the student’s reflection. First, continual self-evaluation and vulnerability are imperative to the process of becoming a culturally competent provider. Second, clinical experience dedicated to providing care to minority populations appears to be effective in fostering cultural competency in DPT students.

Author Bio(s)

Anna S. Kelly, SPT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy candidate at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA.

Deborah M. Wendland, PT, DPT, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Professions at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA. She is also a licensed physical therapist in the state of Georgia and a certified pedorthist.


We would like to thank Dr. Mary Anna Djire for providing guidance as a clinical instructor throughout the reflection process and for providing an open space to discuss topics such as cultural awareness.




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