Date of Award

Spring 2006

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Urban Services - Urban Education

Committee Director

Dana Burnett

Committee Member

John L. Echternach

Committee Member

Dennis Gregory


The purpose of this study was to gather data on student background characteristics, the perceptions of social and academic support, and self-concept of current professional preparation physical therapy (PT) students. A second purpose was to determine whether any variables were predictive of academic success/retention and to investigate whether there were differences in those variables between majority and minority PT students. The study used mixed methods with entry-level PT students from Virginia and North Carolina. Questionnaires were collected from 575 of 778 PT students for a 74% response rate. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 respondents. Girves and Wemmerus' conceptual model of doctoral degree progress was used as the theoretical framework for the study. Statistically significant differences were found between ethnic groups in background characteristics, social support, academic support, and all self-concept variables. Overall significant predictors of success were: undergraduate grade point average (GPA), ethnicity, having personal financing sources or loans for school, achieving an award, perceptions that coursework was academically stimulating, perceptions of academic expectations, being satisfied with academic performance, perceived ratings of both undergraduate and graduate performance, and overall rating of their PT school experience. Statistical differences were found between the ethnic groups for predictors of academic success. The interview data supported the quantitative findings and added depth to the findings regarding both similarities and differences between the perceptions of facilitators and barriers experienced by majority and minority PT students. Constructs of the Girves and Wemmerus model were not fully supported for this population of graduate students; however, the combination of variables investigated in this study accounted for 55% of the variance in graduate GPA. The study's findings are utilized in making recommendations for the recruitment and retention of physical therapy students, particularly minority students, in hoping to increase the diversity of the physical therapy profession.