PD values of Physical Therapists - survey results are in

In June 2015, Dr. James (Jim) Elliott and I created and distributed a survey intended to try and capture the continuing professional development (CPD) preferences and values of physical therapists (PTs) across as much of the globe as we could.  This was not a formal research study, that is, you won't see it published in a scientific journal.  Rather it was for our own information and for anyone out there who provides CPD to PTs.  Those who participated will know we made the results openly available in real-time for anyone who wished to access them.  This is meant to be open and anonymous data.  

Questions included traits of the instructor, CPD content, logistics and delivery.  We pushed the link out through our respective social networks including Twitter (@uwo_dwalton and @elliottjim), Facebook, and LinkedIn.  We were fortunate that the link got picked up by people and groups far more popular than us who pushed them out to their respective followers.  A nice example of social media working well.  In the end we received replies from 207 physical therapists, mostly from Canada, the US, and the UK.  Not a huge response, but nonetheless enough to make us adequately comfortable in the accuracy of the results.  Of course, normal caveats apply (this is researcher Dave talking now) - the sample was biased to those who use social media, we have not taken the time to calculate confidence intervals or run any inferential statistics, meaning that when we say 40% is more than 25%, we're just talking in absolute values but we can't say they are (statistically) truly different.  And of course, there's only so much one can glean from these types of surveys: they are not exhaustive and there's no chance for follow-up clarifying questions.  Perhaps some day we'll run this formally, but for now here are the results.

Starting with the demographics of the respondents:

Interpretation:  First of all, it was hilarious to see the tweets of respondents appalled that they were being considered 'late career' at only 16 years.  It was an arbitrary cut-off folks, you've no doubt got plenty of gas left in the tank.  Otherwise interpretation is fairly straightforward, twice as many females as males is generally in keeping with what we know of the broader demographics of PTs.  Interesting that we got the smallest representation from early career therapists, not sure how to interpret that.

With the demographics in mind, here are the meaty questions:

Q1:  Rank the following modes of professional development in order from ‘most likely to participate’ (1) to ‘least likely to participate’ (7).  

Ordered from most likely to least likely to participate.

Interpretation:  There's a clear preference for the traditional in-person face-to-face CPD offering.  Interestingly the webcast format is lagging somewhat.  Hard to interpret in this single snapshot.  Will be interesting to see what this trend looks like in another 5 years.

Q2:  When considering your options for professional development, please rank the below qualities of the instructor that might influence your decision, from most important (1) to least important (7).

Ordered from most important to least important.

Interpretation:  Huh, guess we need to stop flaunting our PhD's and 'awesome' Twitter numbers.  An interesting follow-up question would be to ask how people determine whether an instructor is considered a knowledge leader in the field.  One for the next round...

Q3:  When considering your options for professional development, please rank the below qualities of the course that might influence your decision, from most important (1) to least important (10).

Ordered from most to least important.

Interpretation:  Well, guess I might as well cancel that cruise ship.  These responses are actually quite heartening and, if we read a little between the lines, it would appear that people still value useful, impactful and accurate information that improves their practice/client outcomes over certificates for their wall/portfolio and marketing potential.  My physical therapy romaticism is being justified.

Q4:  When considering your options for professional development, please rank the below course logistics that influence your decision, from most important to least important.

Perhaps no major surprise here, the cost of course registration is rated most influential factor.  Of course, we could have asked something more nuanced, like 'course value', since surely some people will have been internally monologuing something to the effect of 'well, I'd be willing to pay more if I thought the course was worth it', but we intentionally did not include a value question since that would have quite obviously been number 1.  The notion of cost is a more challenging concept that fit better with the other elements here (travel, days off work, they also factor into value).  Of interest is that reviews of the course are mid- to low importance, but I wonder if that's because there are currently few options for leaving online reviews of courses.  An interesting thought for ongoing work.


1.       Please consider the following two scenarios, and then choose your preference:

Option A: The course is offered live and in-person (class or lab-based) in your home town.  Registration cost is $X for the day, offers a catered lunch, requires you to be physically present, and offers full interactivity with the instructor.

 Option B: The course is offered live and online (via webcast).  Registration cost is half of $X for the day, allows you to participate from home, will be recorded and video archived for later viewing, but interactivity is limited to typed questions in a question box.

Interpretation:  We got right down to brass tacks on this one and asked the question fairly point blank: face-to-face or online?  The results are overwhelmingly in favor of the face-to-face option, even at twice the cost of the online offering.  Of course, economists will tell us that if we were to do this properly, we would offer several options of cost and eventually we'd hit a point where preferences were equal (if you drop the cost for online low enough, eventually more people will prefer that).  My take away from this is that if you're going to offer an online course, half the price of live in-person isn't enough of a discount to entice participants.  We also realize that many PT CPD offerings include practice of technical skills, which are hard to do from behind a computer screen.  So, another more nuanced exploration for future surveys would be to explore the types of material that would be preferred online and the type that would be preferred in person.

So to summarize, it would appear that the PTs in our sample (remember: recruited largely through social media) don't generally care how many Twitter followers your have, or how many letters are after your name, and certainly don't care if your course is held in a beautiful exotic locale.  There's a clear preference for the tried-and-true here, in-person face-to-face weekenders that provide immediately applicable information for a reasonable price.  Perhaps no real surprise on that, although we can't help but wonder what these rankings will look like in another 5 years as technology and teaching strategies continue to improve.

For those who wish it, we are able to slice these data any way you want based on demographics.  Want to know if preferences differ by stage of career?  Or geographic region?  Feel free to reach out to me at dwalton5@uwo.ca and we can discuss your needs.

Got any thoughts or comments?  Feel free to leave them below.