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Procedures and Guidelines

Essential Skills and Attributes

Categories: attributes disability skills Physical Therapy

Essential Skills and Attributes Required for the Study of Physical Therapy at the University of Saskatchewan


The University of Saskatchewan program in Physical Therapy is responsible to society to provide enrolled students with opportunities to develop the qualifications (academic knowledge, professional behaviors, attitudes and clinical skills) to enter the profession of Physical Therapy.  The purpose of this document is to describe the skills and attributes required for success in completing the university program in Physical Therapy.  Students interested in pursuing a degree in Physical Therapy are encouraged to review the following document that outlines the requisite skills and attributes for the profession.

An offer of admission to the Physical Therapy program should not be interpreted as evidence that the Physical Therapy program has independently verified an applicant’s skills and attributes in the domains described below.  These skills and attributes are essential if students are to be successful in achieving the competency standards and occupational expectations of the profession.

The competency standards for Physical Therapy are described in the Essential Competency Profile for Physiotherapists in Canada.[1]  For this reason, students admitted to the Physical Therapy program must possess the skills and abilities described below in order to be able to develop the competencies required of an entry-to-practice Physical Therapist.  Students must be able to demonstrate sound clinical and professional judgment and demonstrate responsible decision making to become graduates who are cognizant of practice accountability issues, laws, regulations, professional codes of ethics and standards of practice.

In addition to obtaining a degree in Physical Therapy, an individual must pass the Canadian Physiotherapy Competency Examination (PCE) in order to obtain registration/licensure as a Physiotherapist in most jurisdictions in Canada.  The PCE has two components: a Written Component and a Clinical Component.  Prospective candidates should be aware that the Clinical Component requires candidates to demonstrate knowledge, skills and behaviours in communication, physical examination, analysis, evaluation, intervention planning and execution all in timed simulations of patient encounters.[2]

Students with disabilities who anticipate that reasonable accommodation will enable them to meet the required standards, as outlined in this document, are responsible for articulating their requirements and for being proactive in seeking such accommodation.  Requests for accommodation for disability or an extension of time to complete the program are considered on a case-by-case basis according to the applicable policies, regulations and procedures.  Applicants are strongly encouraged to seek out and review the policies, regulations and procedures regarding accommodation of students with disabilities at the University of Saskatchewan and the Physical Therapy program.  If admitted to the program, students will be required to follow the policies and procedures of the University, the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the School of Rehabilitation Science.

[1] The Essential Competency Profile for Physiotherapists in Canada was published in October 2009 by a partnership of the Accreditation Council for Canadian Physiotherapy Academic Programs, the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association and the Canadian Council of Physiotherapy University Programs. The document is available for download from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association website

[2] For more complete information about the national Physiotherapy Competency Examination, consult the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators

Description of the Skills and Attributes for Students in the Master of Physical Therapy program

Aptitude and attitude
Students seeking to enter the Physical Therapy program must have an interest in human movement, health and a desire to assist individuals to maximize their mobility, function and life participation.  They must demonstrate sensitivity, compassion, integrity, and concern for others.  Students must have the cognitive abilities to understand and develop the theoretical knowledge and technical expertise to work collaboratively with their peers, patients, and colleagues.  They must be respectful of individuality and diversity, build trusting relationships, demonstrate excellent interpersonal skills to engage and motivate patients and families, demonstrate creative problem solving skills and be able to manage multiple, potentially competing demands.

Information gathering/sensory skills
Students must be able to participate in learning situations that require skill in gathering information about a patient in the course of an assessment.  This information is normally acquired through observing, listening and palpating parts of the body.  Students shall be able to demonstrate sensory skills including for example detection of tissue texture and quality and thermal changes.  Gathering information also includes reading charts or other written documentation and use of assessment tools. 

Communication skills
Students must be able to speak, hear and write English, understand both spoken and written English, as well as observe patients, at a level to effectively and efficiently elicit information, provide information and to avoid mixing up words and meanings.  They must also be able to competently describe mood, activity, posture and perceive non-verbal communication.  They must be able to understand how they use non-verbal signals and interpret how others are receiving them as well as how they receive non-verbal signals from others while considering individual differences in expression and associated meaning.  They must have the ability to understand complex medical and technical knowledge.  Students must be able to communicate effectively and sensitively with patients, families and any member of the health care team.  Students must be able to coherently summarize a patient’s condition, assessment and intervention plan verbally and in text (handwritten or electronic) to comply with regulatory and organizational record-keeping standards.

Students must demonstrate a high level of communication ability as required for patient safety, informed consent and fully independent and ethical interaction with patients.  Students should note that the level of communication fluency required is often higher than is generally assessed in standard tests of language fluency. 

Critical thinking skills
Students must demonstrate the cognitive skills and memory necessary to measure, calculate, and reason in order to analyze, integrate and synthesize information.  In addition, students must be able to comprehend multidimensional and spatial relationships.  These comprehensive problem solving activities must be done in an acceptable timeframe relative to their peers.  Students also need to be able to demonstrate the ability to accurately assess their performance to further direct their learning.  Effective problem solving and judgment are necessary to address patient needs, and engage the patient in a safe and efficient manner.  Students must have critical appraisal skills in order to build a foundation for evidence-based practice.  Students must demonstrate these critical thinking skills in their course work both at the University and in the clinical environment.

Psychomotor /Physical skills
Students must demonstrate sufficient motor function to safely perform initial and ongoing assessments and interventions on a patient, including collecting data and performing assessment measures.  Students must be able to use common diagnostic aids or instruments either directly or in an adaptive form (e.g., sphygmomanometer, stethoscope, goniometer, reflex hammer, tape measure) and provide the necessary physical guidance for exercise and/or functional movement by instruction or demonstration.  Students must be able to execute motor movements reasonably required to ensure patient safety and treatment effectiveness, either through the students’ own movement or through their ability to guide or direct the movement of others.  Sample situations that require such movement include positioning patients in bed; balance, gait or transfer training; mobilization techniques; therapeutic exercise; or maneuvering in confined spaces.  In addition, students are expected to have the energy to be able to participate in all learning experiences of the educational program (classroom, laboratory, clinical) including being able to sit, bend, push, pull, reach, walk or stand for most of the day.

Emotional Health
Students must consistently demonstrate the emotional health required for full utilization of their intellectual abilities, in the context of the physical, emotional, and mental demands of the program.  Students must demonstrate adaptability to changing environments and the ability to function effectively under stress.  The development of mature, sensitive and effective relationships with patients, families and other members of the health care team is also required. Students must consistently demonstrate the emotional resilience and balance to manage a myriad of emotionally charged or ethically challenging scenarios that frequently arise in all work settings.