4-Year Evaluation of a Multiple Sclerosis Educational Track for Physical Therapy Students
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the outcomes of the first 4 cohorts of students to complete MS STEP UP.
Methods: Students applied for selection to MS STEP UP in their first year of the DPT program at UNC. The 2-year educational track, conducted concurrently with the second and third year of the DPT curriculum, included didactic instruction, clinical experiences, service, and involvement with MS organizations. Scholars were encouraged to tailor class assignments and capstone projects to focus on MS-related topics. Volunteer clinical experiences allowed the students to observe MS-specialized physical therapists and neurologists. Scholars regularly participated in community opportunities including National MS Society events, board meetings, fundraisers, and self-help groups. The primary outcome used to evaluate the educational track was the MS Competencies Rating Scale (MSCRS), which was completed by each scholar before they started MS STEP UP and at the end of the first and second years. The activities of the scholars were also recorded in an Activity Tracking Form throughout the program.
Results: Since 2008, 8 DPT students have completed MS STEP UP; 4 of the first 6 have obtained the MSCS certification. On average, MSCRS ratings changed from a pre-program Likert scale rating of “below average” to an end-program rating of “above average” in most domains, indicating improved student competencies in MS-specific knowledge and skills at the completion of the 2-year program.
MS STEP UP improves the clinical skills and knowledge of DPT students and adequately prepares graduates to become certified specialists in MS. MS patient care will most likely benefit from the national expansion of MS STEP UP among DPT programs. Future research should evaluate the effects of specialized training for therapists and students on patient outcomes.