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Purpose: There is a potential link between the clinical education phase of a physical therapist’s education and increased incidence of student mental health challenges. The Director of Clinical Education (DCE) has a complex role in supporting students and clinical sites during clinical education experiences (CEEs.) The purposes of this study were to explore DCE’s experiences and perceptions with supporting students with mental health challenges during CEEs.
Methods: Two-hundred-twenty DCEs from accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy programs were invited to participate in an electronic survey. Survey questions included demographics, institutional and curricular characteristics, and current perceptions/experiences with student mental health challenges. DCEs (n = 106; 48.2%) responded and were included in the analyses. Analyses included descriptive statistics, simple frequencies, and binary logistic regression. Incident coding processes analyzed responses of open-ended questions.
Results: Seventy-four percent of respondents indicated awareness of a student(s) experiencing a mental health concern during a full-time clinical experience in the past 3 years. Regression analyses showed that length of terminal clinical experience, out-of-state placement, cohort size, and availability of online/video counseling were related to prevalence of DCE’s experience. Forty-six percent of DCEs indicated feeling prepared to deal with these issues, while 35% were ‘unsure’. DCEs indicated experience, training, and workload support as contributors to successfully supporting students.
Conclusion: Results contribute to the emerging understanding of the prevalence of student mental health challenges in physical therapist education from the DCE’s perspective. Our findings suggest that institutional and curricular characteristics are potential contributors to the prevalence of this issue. We recommend training and institutional support for the DCE in these situations.
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