Education Doctorate

Number of Pages


Year Approved


First Advisor

Pauline Nichols

Second Reader

Lorna Hayward, Kristen Nichols-Besel


The number of nontraditional students in higher education continues to increase. Despite the increase in the number of nontraditional students overall, the majority of students enrolled in doctor of physical therapy programs are considered traditional. In addition, physical therapy students are among the least racially and ethnically diverse which does not match the demographics of society and is a contributing factor in ongoing health disparities and inequity. Educational bridge programs are a known strategy for improving diversity in healthcare and supporting nontraditional students. There are two skilled and licensed providers of physical therapy; physical therapist assistants (PTA) who are educated at the associate degree level and physical therapists who are educated at the doctoral level. The purpose of this qualitative comparative case study was to identify the characteristics of two PTA to DPT bridge programs that increase accessibility and support for nontraditional students. Fourteen faculty and students involved with PTA-DPT bridge programs were selected via purposive sampling and interviewed for this study. Two themes and several subthemes emerged from the data and were framed within Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Model (1979) to describe the various systems, individual to societal, that impact an individual student’s access to and success in PTA-DPT bridge programs. The implications for this research highlight a new supportive educational pathway, which is responsive to current trends in society and higher education, for students interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy.

Degree Name

Education Doctorate

Document Type

Doctoral dissertation