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Essential Functions

In accordance with section 504 of the Rehabilitative Act of 1973 (PL 93-112) and incorporating the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA PL 101-336) enacted by Congress in 1990, the West Virginia University School of Medicine, Division of Physical Therapy has adopted minimal technical standards (essential functions) for the assessment of all applicants and students of the Division of Physical Therapy.

Because a degree in Physical Therapy signifies the holder is a Physical Therapist prepared for entry into the practice of Physical Therapy, it follows that graduates must have the knowledge and skills to function in a broad variety of clinical situations and to render a wide spectrum of patient care.

Candidates for a degree in physical therapy must have functional use of the senses of vision and hearing as well as somatic sensation including exteroception (touch, pain, temperature) and proprioception (position, pressure, movement, stereognosis and vibration). Candidates must also have sufficient motor function to permit them to carry out activities described in the sections that follow. They must be able to consistently, efficiently and effectively integrate all information received by whatever sense(s) employed, and they must have the intellectual ability to learn, integrate, analyze, and synthesize data.

A candidate for a degree in physical therapy must have a variety of abilities and skills which include observation; communication; motor; intellectual-conceptual; integrative and quantitative; and behavioral and social. Technological compensation can be made for some disabilities in certain of these areas, but a candidate should be able to perform in a reasonably independent manner. The use of a trained intermediary means that a candidate’s judgment must be mediated by someone else’s power of selection and observation.

1. Observation

The candidate must be able to observe demonstrations and experiments in both the basic sciences and clinical sciences. Basic sciences include but are not limited to anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. Clinical sciences include but are not limited to motor learning, pathology, radiology, pharmacology, and neurology.

The candidate must also be able to observe a patient accurately in a clinical environment in order to provide accurate evaluation, assessment and education in areas of posture, gait, movement patterns and functional abilities.

Observation necessitates the functional use of the senses of vision, hearing and somatic sensation, and is enhanced by the functional use of the sense of smell.

2. Communication

The candidate must be able to communicate effectively and sensitively with patients, families, lay public and members of the health care team. Communication includes not only speech and hearing but reading and writing. A candidate must be able to perceive verbal and nonverbal communication from patients and others, which may indicate changes in mood, cognition/ mental status, activity and posture.

The candidate must be able to effectively communicate to apply teaching/learning theories and methods in health care and community environments.

3. Motor

Candidates should have sufficient motor function to elicit information from patients and to perform appropriate physical therapy evaluation procedures. These procedures include but are not limited to assessment of vital signs; skin and vascular integrity; wound status; endurance; segmental length, girth and volume; sensation; strength; tone reflexes; movement patterns; coordination; balance; developmental stage; soft tissue integrity; joint motion/play pain; cranial and peripheral nerve function; posture; gait; functional abilities; assistive device fit/use; and pulmonary functions.

A candidate should be able to adequately perform the motor activities required to provide general care to patients. A candidate should be able to perform treatment procedures in a manner that is appropriate to the patient’s status and desired goals. These procedures include but are not limited to developmental activities; training for balance, coordination, transfers, gait, prosthetic/orthotics, bed mobility, functional activities of daily living, and wheel chair mobility; techniques for positioning, exercise, soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, massage, taping, splinting, wrapping, postural correction, and relaxation; tilt table, wheel chair prescription, recommendations for architectural adjustments, thermal agents, hydrotherapy, electrotherapy, traction, wound care, postural drainage, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (one and two-rescuer techniques for adult, child and infant.)

Such actions require coordination of both gross and fine muscular movements, equilibrium and functional use of the sense of touch and vision.

4. Intellectual-Cenceptual, Integrative and Quantitative Abilities


These abilities include measurement, calculation, reasoning, analysis, and synthesis. Problem solving, the creative skill required of every physical therapist, incorporates the use of all these intellectual abilities. It is utilized when determining the physical therapy needs of any patient with movement dysfunction, and when developing and documenting a plan of care for that patient. Problem solving also is employed when recognizing the psychosocial impact of dysfunction and disability on the patient and family while integrating their needs into a plan of care.

The candidate must be able to create, develop, and implement prevention and health promotion programs, and be able to participate in the process or scientific inquiry In addition, the candidate should be able to comprehend three-dimensional relationships and to understand the spatial relationships of structures.

5. Behavioral and Social Attributes

A candidate must possess the emotional health required for full utilization of his/ her intellectual abilities, the exercise of good judgment, the prompt completion of all responsibilities attendant to the assessment and care of patients, the development of mature, sensitive and effective relationships with patients families and members of the health care team, fulfillment of commitments, and accountability for actions and outcomes.

Candidates must be able to tolerate physically taxing workloads and to function effectively under stress. They must be able to develop healthy and effective coping behaviors, adapt to changing environments, and learn to function in the face of uncertainties inherent in the practice of physical therapy.

The candidate must possess essential personal qualities such as compassion, integrity concern for welfare of others, motivation, and interpersonal skills, and must be able to practice in a safe, ethical, and legal manner including the appropriate use of universal precautions.

The candidate must have the ability to develop management skills which include planning, organizing, supervising, delegating, and working as a member of a multi-disciplinary team, and also must be able to take responsibility for lifelong personal and professional growth and development.


For Further Information Call
(304) 293-3610

Prepared May 23, 1997
Reviewed November 8, 2004