The UW-Madison Doctor of Physical Therapy Program curriculum focuses on the study of diagnosis and interventions for improving dysfunctional human movement and is built upon a foundation of scientific inquiry and critical appraisal of published works.

Classroom and clinical opportunities incorporate concern for the dignity of the individual by emphasizing integration of the patient into his or her own environment.

Lifelong learning, as well as continued academic and professional growth, are fostered such that graduates can be leaders in meeting the future needs of patients and the physical therapy profession.

Curriculum model

Systems and lifespan models, along with modified problem-oriented, traditional, and case-based models are integrated throughout the program’s curriculum, applying the Guide to Physical Therapist Practice nomenclature and organization.

For example, in the basic science and clinical science tracks, a systems model is utilized to organize content, with an emphasis on structure-function relationships and development across the lifespan. A problem-oriented model based on scientific method is used throughout the curriculum to guide critical inquiry, clinical decision-making and patient management. These processes are integrated with relevant content and ultimately applied during the clinical internships within the clinical practice track.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy Program curriculum also emphasizes evidence-based practice. Other trans-curricular themes include integration across domains, generalist practice, ethical practice, critical thinking and problem-solving, cultural diversity, patient-centered care, clinical medicine, prevention/wellness, life-long learning and openness to new ideas. These themes are successfully woven into the program’s curriculum, which is designed so that the courses build upon each other sequentially.

Educational principles

Consistent with traditional education theory, the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program’s curriculum reflects professional and institutional missions and is sequenced in a progressive fashion across cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains.

Individual student learning styles are ascertained through assessment exercises early in the program to assist the faculty in developing appropriate instructional methods.

The curriculum is based on shared responsibility between faculty and students, adult learning, collaborative learning, ability-based learning and assessment and the generic abilities.

These principles, along with the faculty’s instructional philosophy of integrating topics throughout all courses, guide the educational principles upon which the curriculum is built.

Generic abilities

Generic abilities and behavioral criteria specific to the practice of physical therapy were identified by the UW-Madison Physical Therapy Program faculty, and have been validated and accepted as defining physical therapy professional behavior.

The 10 physical therapy-specific generic abilities and the three levels of associated behavioral criteria exemplify the quality of professional behavior expected of Doctor of Physical Therapy Program graduates. Satisfactory progress is demonstrated by exhibiting beginning level criteria by the end of the first year, developing beginning-level criteria by the end of the second year and entry-level criteria by the end of the final clinical internships.

American Council of Academic Physical Therapy logo

These professional behaviors (generic abilities) are:

  • commitment to learning
  • interpersonal skills
  • communication skills
  • effective use of time and resources
  • use of constructive feedback
  • problem-solving
  • professionalism
  • responsibility
  • critical thinking
  • stress management

Mastery of this repertoire of behaviors facilitates the ability to:

  • generalize from one context to another
  • integrate information from different sources
  • apply knowledge and skills in the practice setting
  • synthesize cognitive, affective and psychomotor behaviors
  • interact effectively with clients, families, the community and other professionals

MEDIC clinics

The DPT Program recognizes the important role that service can play in students’ professional development, and DPT students are required to participate in service learning as part of their seminar courses. Service learning projects involve working with local and/or international community partners.

Established in 1990, MEDiC is a student-run program of the School of Medicine and Public Health, which includes seven health clinics throughout Madison. MEDiC's goal is to improve the health of underserved populations in the Madison area while providing educational opportunities for UW-Madison health professions students.

MEDiC is an interprofessional program, which provides an opportunity for physical therapy, medical, physician assistant, nursing and pharmacy students to work and learn together. DPT students are required to participate in one MEDiC clinic per semester.