Embedding Population Health in Physical Therapist Professional Education


Todd E. Davenport: 0000-0001-5772-7727

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Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Journal









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The future of health care professional education is moving from a focus on the individual to embrace the health of the larger society. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the connection between social determinants and the health of populations. There are frameworks and competencies to support the delivery of population health content in the entry-level Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) curriculum. Three options for integrating population health content into the DPT curriculum are presented: (1) threading the content throughout the curriculum, (2) concentrating the content in 1 or 2 identified courses, and (3) offering elective courses. Each of these strategies has benefits and challenges, but threading the content throughout the curriculum provides the best opportunity to reinforce population health competencies across populations and practice settings. Experiential learning using authentic scenarios provides an ideal opportunity for students to understand population health concepts in a real-world context. Activities that incorporate interaction with other health professions broaden students' perspectives of the role of different professions for achieving population health goals. Examples of learning activities are included in 3 competency areas, Foundations of Population Health, Prevention and Health Promotion, and Health Policy. Current societal issues provide an opportunity to enhance population health education from a meaningful perspective for students. The topic of health equity presents an opportunity to tie social and political factors of population health to social justice and health outcomes. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic puts issues of mental health, health disparities, and health systems front and center in our understanding of population health. Impact: Health care practitioners are looking at health through the lens of health equity and acknowledging the impact of social and political determinants on health to address health disparities, decrease health care expenditures, and respond to changes necessitated by pandemics such as COVID-19. As health care systems and practices are rethought and reconstructed, the intentional integration of population health principles woven into the fabric of professional education is a critical component of preparing future providers. This article describes how population health concepts can be meaningfully embedded into the DPT curriculum along with providing realistic examples and activities.