A Cross-Sectional Study to Examine Evidence-Based Practice Skills and Behaviors of Physical Therapy Graduates: Is There a Knowledge to Practice Gap?

Curricula changes in physical therapy programs in Canada emphasize evidence based practice skills such as literature retrieval and evaluation. Do graduates employ these skills in practice? The objective of this study was to evaluate the use of research information in the clinical decision making of therapists with different years of experience and evidence based practice preparation. Perceptions about evidence-based practice were explored qualitatively. A cross-sectional study with four graduating cohorts was conducted. Eighty physical therapists representing four different graduating cohorts took part in interviews focused on two clinical scenarios. Participants had varying years of clinical experience (ranging from 1-15 years) and academic knowledge of evidence based practice skills. Therapists discussed the effectiveness of interventions related to the scenarios, and identified the sources of information used to arrive at decisions. Participants also answered general questions related to evidence based practice knowledge. Recent graduates exhibited better knowledge of evidence based practice skills compared to therapists with 6 to 15 years of clinical experience. However, all groups used clinical experience most frequently as their source of information for clinical decisions. Research evidence was not frequently included in decision making. This study used a convenience sample of therapists who agreed to volunteer for the study.

The results of this study indicate a knowledge to practice gap; graduates are not using the new skills to inform their practice. Tailoring academic evidence based activities more to the time constraints of clinical practice may assist students in being more successful applying evidence in practice. Academic programs need to do more to create and nurture environments in academic as well as clinical settings to ensure students practice using evidence based practice skills across settings.