The impact of physical therapy residency or fellowship education on clinical outcomes for patients with musculoskeletal conditions

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Feb;45(2):86-96. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2015.5255. Epub 2015 Jan 10.


Study design: A retrospective cohort design was conducted using data from an electronic survey and an existing commercial outcomes database.

Objective: To compare the clinical outcomes of patients with musculoskeletal conditions treated by physical therapists who had completed residency or fellowship programs versus those who had not.

Background: There is an increasing focus on specialization through postprofessional education in physical therapy residency and fellowship programs. Scant evidence exists that evaluates the influence of postprofessional clinical education on actual patient outcomes.

Methods: Physical therapists using a national outcomes database were surveyed to determine their level of postprofessional education. Survey responders were categorized into 1 of 3 groups that included no residency or fellowship training, residency trained, or fellowship trained. Outcomes for 25 843 patients with musculoskeletal conditions treated by 363 therapists from June 2012 to June 2013 were extracted from the database. These data were analyzed to identify any differences in functional status change and efficiency achieved between the 3 groups. Potentially confounding variables were controlled for statistically.

Results: The fellowship-trained group of physical therapists achieved functional status changes and efficiency that were greater than those of the other groups. No difference in functional status change was observed between the residency group and the therapists without residency or fellowship training. The group without residency or fellowship training was more efficient than the residency-trained group. Fellowship-trained therapists were more likely to achieve greater treatment effect sizes than therapists without residency or fellowship training. Residency-trained therapists were less likely to achieve greater treatment effect sizes than the therapists without residency or fellowship training.

Conclusion: These data demonstrate that fellowship training may contribute to statistically greater patient outcomes. Residency training did not appear to contribute to improved patient functional status change or efficiency. It is unknown whether the statistical differences observed would be clinically meaningful for patients.

Keywords: fellowship; outcomes; residency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Efficiency
  • Fellowships and Scholarships*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy*
  • Physical Therapy Specialty / education*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult