Date of Award


Degree Name

Leadership Studies


College of Education

Type of Degree


Document Type


First Advisor

Dennis M. Anderson

Second Advisor

Louis Watts

Third Advisor

Marilyn Moffat


The entry-level degree for physical therapists today is a professional doctoral degree. It is similar to a medical degree program where the expected outcome of its graduates is clinical practice, and there is no formal training in academic teaching or administration. The purpose of this study was to determine the leadership characteristics, styles, and behaviors of accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program directors (PD) and to gain a better understanding of their preparation and path to program leadership. The survey instrument was sent electronically to all program directors of accredited DPT programs in the United States (N=233) and the response rate was 46%. The results of this study are presented as comparisons between PT Program Directors with DPT degrees and those with other academic terminal doctoral (OATD) degrees. Survey items included both qualitative and quantitative questions and analyzed for similarities, trends, and patterns between the two groups. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, t-tests, and chi square calculations. Significant differences were found between groups regarding leadership training, style, and characteristics. When asked about years of experience, overall, most DPT program directors were in their first DPT PD position and had between 3-9 years experience as a PD. Most subjects reported feeling moderately to wellprepared for their first role as PD, crediting the most useful primary means of preparation after earning their entry-level PT degree as (1) on the job training (79%), (2) completing an advanced degree (69%), (3) seeking a mentor (60%), and (4) leadership training from their institution (41%). Both groups reported the same four primary methods in the same order. Similarly, the method of leadership preparation of current PDs with a DPT in their role as PD did not differ significantly at the specified .05 level (x 2 = 1.54, df = 4, p = .672). The majority of PDs completed additional training beyond their entry-level PT degree in the topics of (1) conflict resolution, (2) communication, and (3) leadership in order to help prepare for their first role as PD. Most (84%) program directors reported that their preferred leadership styles were Servant leadership and/or Transformational leadership. A significant difference was found in the preference for the transformational style for the DPT group at the .01 level (z = 3.2137, p = .0013). Conversely, no significant difference was found for the OATD group’s preference of servant leadership (z = .5553, p = .5754). Leadership characteristics differed significantly between groups. The DPT group favored the characteristics of empowering and respect significantly higher than the OATD group. The OATD group favored knowledge and confidence significantly higher than the DPT group. No significant differences were found between groups regarding self-reported personal satisfaction in the role of PD and future career aspirations. The chi-square analysis found no association between the independent variables of highest PT degree earned and future career aspirations of all PDs (x2 = 5.79, df = 3, p = .2152) Both groups had similar plans for the next five years, with a combined total of 67% of current PDs planning to leave their post as PD, indicating a significant number of vacancies in the near future. Leadership training programs are essential for physical therapy faculty and clinicians who are considering a shift from clinical practice or teaching into administration. The survey findings suggest that there is a growing need to train and develop current PT practitioners and faculty members to fill the role of PT program director. As the entry-level degree of physical therapy has evolved quickly in the last twenty-five years from master’s to doctoral degree, qualified leaders and faculty are needed more than ever. Similarly, new DPT programs are opening frequently, and the demand for capable program directors is increasing. The majority of current PT PDs agree that securing a mentor and building a strong support network are key components of leadership development and should be an integral part of a leadership-training program. The results of this study suggest that formal training programs such as the American Physical Therapy Association’s Educational Leadership Institute Fellowship program, as well as advanced master’s and academic doctoral degrees that emphasize higher education administration, are valuable resources for leadership training. A well-defined, ongoing, and specific training program for future leaders, which builds on and leads to effective leadership behaviors and characteristics may be a potential solution to an impending leadership crisis in PT education. The results of this survey clarify the leadership training and career paths of current DPT program directors, and they identify the leadership characteristics and behaviors needed to lead a professional educational program in a unique and dynamic environment. These findings add to the growing body of knowledge of how to best prepare leaders for the future of PT education.


Educational leadership -- United States.

College department heads -- United States.

Universities and colleges -- United States -- Departments.

Physical therapy services -- Administration.