The Entry-Level Physical Therapist: A Case for COMFORT Communication Training

Joy Goldsmith, Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles, Brandi N. Frisby, Christine Small Platt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Entry-level physical therapists provide clinical care for patients with functional mobility limitations. Their care spans the continuum of settings, disease processes, and diagnoses. Although effective communication skills are required to conduct physical therapy work, there is limited instruction provided in physical therapy education and students receive little exposure to seriously or chronically ill patients. The goal of this study was to assess the effects of communication training for the entry-level physical therapist facing palliative and end-of-life communication with patients/families. A pre–post survey design and narrative writing were used to assess the effect of the COMFORT communication training curriculum provided to doctorally trained, graduating physical therapists. The study demonstrated decreased student apprehension about communicating with dying patients and their families, and a comparison of mean scores reflecting the students’ communication knowledge, confidence, and behaviors increased in a positive direction. As students became more willing to communicate, they were also more adept at integrating task and relational messages, as well as assimilating emotional support messages for patients and families. This study shows promise for the feasibility and utilization of the COMFORT curriculum for entry-level physical therapists. Further research should address the integration of COMFORT earlier into physical therapy education, as well as assess evidence of COMFORT communication skills in the clinical context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-745
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 3 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© , Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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