Date of Award



© 2021 Michelle L. Donahue

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Ella Benson

Second Advisor

Ashwini Wagle

Third Advisor

Therese Rafalowski Welch


Understanding the experiences of new physical therapists transitioning to the early intervention workforce will provide a richer exploration of the preparation of physical therapists, which can guide educators to ensure adequate preparation. Since passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1994, an increasing number of children qualify for service creating a growing need for physical therapists to provide service in the early intervention program. In this qualitative, interpretive phenomenological analysis, the researcher explored the lived experience of new physical therapy graduates. The preparation and adequacy of entry-level physical therapist education to work in the early intervention setting following graduation using a Discrepancy Evaluation Model was studied. A thorough review of the literature found significant variability in pediatric content taught in entry-level Doctor of Physical Therapist (DPT) programs. Additionally, limited research exists related to the lived experience of physical therapists working in the early intervention setting, specifically new graduates embarking on a career in this setting. The study was guided by the research question of how recent physical therapy graduates with less than two years of practice describe their lived experience of transitioning from a student to a therapist working in early intervention. The researcher used semi-structured, individual interviews with eight physical therapists working in the early intervention setting that graduated within 24 months. Findings suggest that, despite gaps in the participants’ preparation to work in the early intervention setting and numerous job challenges, therapists chose to enter and remain in this specific practice setting because they find purpose and validation in their relationships with children and families. The most meaningful pre-professional preparation strategy was full-time pediatric clinical education experiences. Mentorship and post-professional continuing education were necessary during the transition into the early intervention workforce. Recommendations for future research include exploring the unique provider-patient relationships in early intervention, the impact of mentorship in this setting, cross-disciplinary competencies necessary for comprehensive personnel development in the DPT curriculum, and exemplar pedagogy.


Ed.D. Dissertation