Experiences of physical therapists working in the acute hospital setting: Systematic review

Bonnie Lau, Elizabeth H. Skinner, Kristin Lo, Margaret Bearman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background. Physical therapists working in acute care hospitals require unique skills to adapt to the challenging environment and short patient length of stay. Previous literature has reported burnout of clinicians and difficulty with staff retention; however, no systematic reviews have investigated qualitative literature in the area. Purpose. The purpose of this study was to investigate the experiences of physical therapists working in acute hospitals. Data Sources. Six databases (MEDLINE, CINAHL Plus, EMBASE, AMED, PsycINFO, and Sociological Abstracts) were searched up to and including September 30, 2015, using relevant terms. Study Selection. Studies in English were selected if they included physical therapists working in an acute hospital setting, used qualitative methods, and contained themes or descriptive data relating to physical therapists’ experiences. Data Extraction and Data Synthesis. Data extraction included the study authors and year, settings, participant characteristics, aims, and methods. Key themes, explanatory models/theories, and implications for policy and practice were extracted, and quality assessment was conducted. Thematic analysis was used to conduct qualitative synthesis. Results. Eight articles were included. Overall, study quality was high. Four main themes were identified describing factors that influence physical therapists’ experience and clinical decision making: environmental/contextual factors, communication/relationships, the physical therapist as a person, and professional identity/role. Limitations. Qualitative synthesis may be difficult to replicate. The majority of articles were from North America and Australia, limiting transferability of the findings. Conclusions. The identified factors, which interact to influence the experiences of acute care physical therapists, should be considered by therapists and their managers to optimize the physical therapy role in acute care. Potential strategies include promotion of interprofessional and collegial relationships, clear delineation of the physical therapy role, multidisciplinary team member education, additional support staff, and innovative models of care to address funding and staff shortages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1317-1332
Number of pages16
JournalPhysical Therapy
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016

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