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J Educ Eval Health Prof > Volume 14; 2017 > Article
Oh, Lee, Kim, and Huh: Suggestions for a standard clinical practice curriculum and learning objectives for physical therapy education in Korea
Since 1965, the Korean physical therapist licensing examination has been conducted to foster professional physical therapists. As the responsibilities of a physical therapist include measuring and evaluating patients’ physical function and developing the competence to establish treatment plans and predict the outcomes thereof, the need for a new examination system to help develop these abilities has been pointed out. This idea led to the introduction of case-based items on the examination in 2014, and it is expected that case-based items will replace all 60 existing practice items [1]. It is necessary to formulate a standardized curriculum and learning objectives for clinical practice before developing clinical cases based on clinical practice and case-based items. The present study aimed to suggest a standard clinical practice curriculum and learning objectives for physical therapy education in Korea to facilitate the development of case-based items for the Korean physical therapist licensing examination.
We conducted a survey of the programs of 14 universities and 19 colleges using a questionnaire to collect information about various characteristics of clinical practice from June to September 2016. Raw data were available from Supplement 1. Ten researchers and 12 advisers established a standard clinical practice curriculum and learning objectives by analyzing the collected data using descriptive frequency analysis and discussions using the Developing a Curriculum method. Through this method, it was possible to create an educational program capable of reflecting the tasks and techniques of each job.

Ethical approval

This research was authorized by the Institutional Review Board of Silla University (1041449-201708-HR-008).

The current status of clinical practice in physical therapy education in Korea

Representatives from 19 colleges and 14 universities answered and returned the questionnaires. The results of the survey are shown in Table 1.

Establishment of a standard clinical practice curriculum

A curriculum was designed that prescribed a period of 16 weeks of clinical practice, including 4 weeks of in-school training. Therefore, there were 640 hours of practice with 40 hours of practical training as suggested by the Korean Accreditation Board of Physical Therapy of the Korean Physical Therapy Association [2]. The 5 most common subjects at the surveyed colleges were measurement and evaluation, physical agency therapy, physical therapy for the musculoskeletal system, physical therapy for the neurological system (including physical therapy for pediatric patients), and physical therapy for the cardiopulmonary system. Additionally, 2 future-oriented subjects, physical therapy for the integumentary system and community based physical therapy, were added to these major subjects. Each of the subject areas was designated by referring to the National Health Personnel Licensing Examination Board of Korea’s middle category titles for practical items [1] (Table 2).

Establishment of learning objectives in a standard clinical practice curriculum

Based on the 2012 physical therapist job descriptions [3], an analysis of the clinical practice subjects related to the job of a physical therapist was conducted. The learning objectives for each subject were established by referring to a previous study [4] (Table 3).
Since 2014, the Korean physical therapist licensing examination has included 5 subjects covering 25 areas: basic physical therapy (anatomy and physiology, physical factor therapy, and public health), diagnosis and evaluation in physical therapy (principles of diagnostic evaluation, tests and evaluations, clinical decision-making, and physical therapy problem-solving), physical therapy interventions (musculoskeletal interventions, neurological interventions, cardiopulmonary system, integumentary system, and physical therapy problemsolving), medical law (medical law, medical technician law, welfare law for the disabled, welfare law for the elderly, and national health insurance law), and a practice examination (musculoskeletal system, neurological system, cardiopulmonary system, integumentary system, chronic and intractable diseases, community-based physical therapy, and measurement and evaluation) [1].
Clinical practice is useful for students to improve their interpersonal relationship skills with the members of a hospital organization and to cultivate the ability to cope with various situations. The training also helps students establish a specific career plan after graduation and develop the skills required for treating patients. Moreover, it enhances student empowerment, which contributes to more effective decision-making skills and self-efficacy [5].
In physical therapy education, clinical practice is an opportunity to apply theories learned in college in the clinical field and to learn how to apply specific skills. This is an important aspect of the curriculum, as it helps influence how the mindset of a professional physical therapist is established. It is critical for students to cultivate professional skills through clinical practice. Therefore, it is necessary to provide an environment with sufficient practical training to enhance practical skills and a professional mindset [6].
Through clinical practice, which is a crucial process in physical therapy education, students experience learning in various physical therapy fields, practice the basic roles and skills of a physical therapist, and acquire the ability to cope with the changing needs of patients [6]. In addition, previous research has proposed a standard curriculum for Korean colleges based on comparative analyses of overseas physical therapy curricula and clinical practice hours, with an emphasis on the necessity of increased clinical practice hours [7].
According to the study of Lee et al. [7] that analyzed the status of Korean physical therapy curricula, students fulfilled the average number of graduation credits specified by the Korea Physical Therapy Association. The study reported that no difference was found in the major curricula despite the fact that the curricula were dualized.
According to the report of Kim and Lee [6], the high-priority challenges that must be addressed to ensure effective clinical practice are as following, in descending order: difficulties in establishing excellent training institutions, the absence of university hospitals that meet the demands of the educational fields and common training programs, educational differences between schools and hospitals, and the absence of clinical practice quality control programs.
Practical programs presenting teaching methods (clinical practicums) between clinical instructors and students have been described in several advanced countries belonging to the World Confederation for Physical Therapy, such as USA, New Zealand, and Australia [7]. A standard curriculum for physical therapy clinical practice is necessary for the qualifying baseline of the licensing examination, so descriptions of acceptable examples of standard curricula among the advanced countries in World Confederation for Physical Therapy must be published, and suggestions should be made regarding the necessary period (hours) for clinical practice.
This study identified the subjects most commonly taught in colleges as standard subjects (musculoskeletal physical therapy, neurological physical therapy, cardiopulmonary physical therapy, and integumentary physical therapy).
The learning objectives of the standard practice curriculum were selected according to the basic job functions of a physical therapist. These functions included disease evaluation and intervention and training, as outlined in the 2012 physical therapist job descriptions.


The standard clinical practice curriculum was structured according to the subjective viewpoints of the researchers, based on preceding studies in the Republic of Korea and abroad and on a survey of domestic colleges. Therefore, these suggestions are limited to physical therapy education in the Republic of Korea.
In conclusion, we suggest a standard clinical practice curriculum and learning objectives for physical therapy education in Korea, as presented in Tables 2 and 3. It is also suggested that decisions related to the assignment of case-based items by major field, disease, and other classifications for the Korea Physical Therapy Licensing Examination be made as soon as possible.


Authors’ contributions

Conceptualization: OTY. Formal analysis: KBJ. Funding acquisition: OTY. Project administration: OTY. Writing–original draft: LKS, KBY. Writing–review & editing: KBJ, LKS.

Conflict of interest

No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.


This work was supported by the Korea Health Personnel Licensing Examination Institute research fund (Fund Number: RE 12-1718-12).

Supplementary material


1. National Health Personnel Licensing Examination Board of Korea. Scope of application in physical therapy national examination: application of case base item in physical therapy national examination [Internet]. Seoul: National Health Personnel Licensing Examination Board of Korea; 2014. [Cited 2017 Jul 20]. Available from:

2. Korean Accreditation Board in Physical Therapy. Handbook for accreditation of physical therapy education. Seoul: Korea Physical Therapy Association; 2016.

3. Oh TY, Lee KS, Shim JM, Lee BH, Choi JC, Ryu SH, Jo MS, Youk KC, Lee JH, Kim SS, Ha HK. Second job analysis of physical therapists in Korea [Internet]. Seoul: National Health Personnel Licensing Examination Board of Korea; 2012. [cited 2017 Jul 20]. Available from:

4. Kang MH, Kwon OY, Kim YW, Kim JW, Kim TH, Oh TY, Weon JH, Lee TS, Oh JS. Is there an agreement among the items of the Korean physical therapist licensing examination, learning objectives of class subjects, and physical therapists’ job descriptions? J Educ Eval Health Prof. 2016;13:3.
crossref pmid pmc pdf
5. Kang YH, Park JS. Influencing factors on empowerment improvement in health-related college students experienced clinical practice. J Korea Contents Assoc. 2012;12:223–231.
6. Kim KE, Lee BY. The relationship between satisfaction with clinical practice and clinical performance ability for nursing students. J Korea Contents Assoc. 2014;14:885–896.
7. Lee HS, Lee JH, Kim JH. The comparison of curriculums of physical therapy education department in the world. J Korean Soc Phys Med. 2010;5:151–164.

Table 1.
Duration, subjects, credits, periods, and places of clinical practice in physical therapy education programs, collected from 14 universities and 19 colleges in Korea from June to September 2016
Contents College University
Duration, subjects, credits Average duration (wk) 9.5 15
Average subjects (numbers) 2.0 4.6
Average credits (score) 8.4 12.4
Period 1st clinical practice 5 3
1st, 2nd clinical practice 11 8
1st, 2nd, 3rd clinical practice 3 3
2nd year, winter vacation 13
2nd year, 2nd semester 1
3rd year, summer vacation 11 3
3rd year, winter vacation 5
3rd year, 1st semester 6
3rd year, 2nd semester 2 3
4th year, summer vacation 4
4th year, 1st semester 12
Place University hospital 19 14
General hospital 19 13
Hospital 17 7
Clinic 5 2
Welfare center 3 2
Public health center 2
Nursing hospital 13 4
Children’s center 1 1
Fitness center 1 2
Others 4 3
Table 2.
Status of the standard clinical practice curriculum of physical therapy education, based on a survey of 14 universities and 19 colleges in Korea from June to September 2016
Period (wk) Subject Category in the Korean physical therapist licensing examination Present implementation at 33 universities/colleges (%)
1–2 Measurement & evaluation Muscle testing 81.8
Range of movement measurements
3–4 Physical agents in rehabilitation Pain relief 18.2
Neuromuscular stimulation
5–8 Physical therapy for the musculoskeletal system Soft tissue injuries 77.8
Skeletal tissue injuries
Diseases in the lumbar area
Diseases in the vasculature and nerves
9–12 Physical therapy for the neurological system Brain injuries and diseases 77.9
Spinal cord injuries and diseases
Peripheral nerve injuries
Developmental movement disorders
13–14 Physical therapy for the cardiopulmonary system Diseases of the cardiac system 47.8
Diseases of the pulmonary system
15 Physical therapy for the integumentary system Burns 19.2
16 Community-based physical therapy (11%) Patient education 11.4
Environmental evaluation
Table 3.
Learning objectives related to the tasks in job descriptions (units: importance score; maximum of 5 points)
Measurement and evaluation, physical agent PT for equipment Musculoskeletal PT Neurological PT Cardiopulmonary PT Integumentary PT
Collecting data 4.18 4.18 4.18 4.18 4.18
Medical history 4.18 4.18 4.18 4.18 4.18
Muscle testing 4.17 4.17 4.17
Examination of range of motion 4.27 4.27 4.27
Examination of walking 4.25 4.25
Examination of MS 4.03
Examination of NS 3.93
Examination of cardiopulmonary system 3.65
Examination of integument system 3.68
PT using equipment 3.92 3.92 3.92 3.92
Radio agent therapy 3.95 3.95
Hydro agent therapy 3.95
PT for MS 4.04
PT for NS 4.07
Therapeutic exercises 4.04 4.04 4.04 4.04
Electro agent therapy 3.95 3.95 3.95 3.95
Adaptive training 3.92 3.92 3.92 3.92 3.92
PT for the cardiovascular system 4.04
PT for the pulmonary system 4.04
PT for the integument 3.95

PT, physical therapy; MS, musculoskeletal system; NS, neurological system.

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