BACKGROUND: Many factors affect student learning throughout the clinical education (CE) component of professional (entry-level) physical therapist education curricula. Physical therapist education programs (PTEPs) manage CE, yet the material and human resources required to provide CE are generally overseen by community-based physical therapist practices. PURPOSE: The purposes of this systematic review were: (1) to examine how the construct of quality is defined in CE literature and (2) to determine the methodological rigor of the available evidence on quality in physical therapist CE. METHODS: This study was a systematic review of English-language journals using the American Physical Therapy Association's Open Door Portal to Evidence-Based Practice as the computer search engine. The search was categorized using terms for physical therapy and quality and for CE pedagogy and models or roles. Summary findings were characterized by 5 primary themes and 14 subthemes using a qualitative-directed content analysis. RESULTS: Fifty-four articles were included in the study. The primary quality themes were: CE framework, CE sites, structure of CE, assessment in CE, and CE faculty. The methodological rigor of the studies was critically appraised using a binary system based on the McMaster appraisal tools. Scores ranged from 3 to 14. LIMITATIONS: Publication bias and outcome reporting bias may be inherent limitations to the results. CONCLUSION: The review found inconclusive evidence about what constitutes quality or best practice for physical therapist CE. Five key constructs of CE were identified that, when aggregated, could construe quality.
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