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Man Ther. 2012 Dec;17(6):549-53. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2012.05.013. Epub 2012 Jun 27.

A qualitative study of physiotherapy final year undergraduate students' perceptions of clinical reasoning.

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School of Health Care, Setubal Polytechnic Institute, PT, Portugal.


Clinical reasoning is a fundamental component of physiotherapists' clinical competence. However research examining how clinical reasoning is understood and developed in physiotherapy undergraduate courses is limited, particularly from the student's perspective. The aim of this study was to explore the current understanding of clinical reasoning held by final year undergraduate students, and how it is represented in the undergraduate musculoskeletal curriculum in Portugal. A qualitative research approach involving final year undergraduate students' from four different physiotherapy programmes was used. A total of 28 students participated in four focus group discussions, which were digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed thematically. Four themes were identified: 1) an instrumental process; 2) a clinician centred process; 3) a knowledge dependent process; 4) a context dependent process. Findings of this study suggest that the primary purpose of clinical reasoning was to assist musculoskeletal physiotherapists in the diagnosis and treatment of clinical problems, and to facilitate efficient management of individual practices. The insights into the promotion of clinical reasoning in undergraduate musculoskeletal curricula may have important implications for curriculum design, teaching and learning strategies, and graduation profile in physiotherapy undergraduate courses.

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