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The ability to think fast, act decisively, and respond correctly in the face of ambiguous information are not the skills typically associated with physical therapists.
But that needs to change, according to physical therapy professor Kristin Greenwood, who led a national task force that emphasized rapid clinical decision-making skills in PT education. As lead author of the 2015 report, she is helping to improve PT education nationwide.
Her innovations earned her the 2019 Distinguished Educator award from the Academy of Physical Therapy Education.
Since coming to Northeastern eight years ago, Greenwood has been on a mission to revamp PT education so that it includes a greater emphasis on rapid clinical decision-making skills.
“My goal has been to shift the focus from textbook education to active clinical decision-making,” said Greenwood, DPT’10, EdD’16. “I conducted a full curriculum audit to focus more on thinking in action rather than thinking about action.”
This approach is particularly important for physical therapists who work in acute care settings, where they may need to deal with an array of unexpected emergencies.
“You might be working with a patient who’s suffering from pneumonia, and suddenly realize that they’re growing combative because they have significant cognitive problems,” said Greenwood. “Or maybe you’re doing balance exercises with a patient when their blood pressure suddenly drops, and it looks like they might pass out. Do you steady them and wait for it to pass? Or do you need to get them back to their bed—and if so, do you need help? You need don’t want to have them halfway across the floor when you realize you need help.”
Greenwood has updated the Northeastern PT curriculum to ensure that students graduate with the skills needed to make emergency decisions on the fly. This includes multitasking, memorization, teamwork, assertiveness, communication, and decisiveness in the face of ambiguous information.
Students learn these skills in the Bouvé simulation lab, on co-ops, in the classroom, and during their clinical rotations.
“In order to be safe and effective clinicians, students need to be able to do and reflect at the same time, rather than just reflect on what they’ve done,” she said.