DPT Essential Functions

Individuals earning the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree have demonstrated the ability, through didactic and clinical assessment, to competently practice the profession of physical therapy in all entry level settings. The education of a healthcare professional necessitates the integration of specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes in preparation for independent and collaborative practice.

The curriculum leading to the DPT degree requires students to demonstrate essential functions that are expected of all physical therapists working in the clinical setting. Demonstration of these functions (abilities, standards or qualifications) is necessary to ensure the health and safety of patients, peers, faculty and other healthcare providers. These Essential Functions are required for successful admission to, continuation in and graduation from Johnson & Wales University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.

Deficiencies in knowledge, judgment, integrity, character, or professional attitude or demeanor that may jeopardize patient care may be grounds for course failure and/or dismissal from the DPT Program. This document identifies the required essential Functions and serves as a guideline for professional expectations and should be used in conjunction with the policies and procedures outlined in JWU’s DPT Student Handbook (PDF).

These essential functions below are drawn from the Technical Standards for Physical Therapists and include, but are not limited to, the following:


A student must be able to observe and monitor fellow students, patients, simulated patients, caregivers/family members, volunteers, and faculty. The essential observation functions require the student to utilize their sense of vision, hearing and touch to perform the following tasks which are not exhaustive.

The student must be able to:

  • Observe movement patterns, activities and behaviors.
  • Observe signs related to physical status (e.g., vital signs, symmetry and condition of the skin, soft tissue & wounds) and behavioral status (e.g., facial expressions, tone & volume of voice).
  • Read information, in classrooms and clinical environments such as course materials, patient medical record, diagnostic tests, dials, displays and equipment related to patient care.


A student must communicate in a professional manner that meets the needs of the target audience (fellow students, faculty, staff, patients, caregivers, health care team members, policy makers & third-party payors) in written, verbal and nonverbal forms.

The essential communication standards include but are not limited to the following; the student must be able to:

  • Receive and respond to verbal and written communications in an appropriate and professional manner.
  • Obtain and report information verbally and in writing using the English language.
  • Participate in student, curricular and community group activities.
  • Apply teaching principles for patients, caregiver or simulated caregiver skill development to manage patients and simulated patients in academic and clinical activities.

Physical Performance Skills

A student must have sufficient mobility, coordination, gross and fine motor skills to manage heavy or immobile patients or simulated patients and equipment necessary for academic and clinical activities typically performed by a physical therapist.

These essential physical performance functions include but are not limited to the following; the student must be able to:

  • Safely lift, push, pull and carry heavy or immobile patients.
    o Specific requirements include:
    o Safely lift up to fifty (50) lbs. independently
    o Safely lift up to two hundred (200) pounds with assistance
    o Safely push and pull up to two hundred (200) pounds with assistance.
  • Maintain and assume a variety of positions including sitting and standing for up to three (3) hours continuously.
  • Generate and apply force (strength and power) with all body parts.
  • Have adequate joint and soft tissue range of motion and flexibility for frequent walking, bending, squatting, kneeling, stair climbing, reaching forward, reaching overhead, turning and movement of the trunk and neck in all directions.
  • Apply timely physical reactions to maintain safety to self and others.
  • Apply body mechanic principles to maintain safety to self and others.
  • Apply gross and fine motor skills and possess the hand dexterity to safely perform examination and therapeutic interventions.
  • Apply manual chest compressions and ventilations necessary for the performance of CPR.
  • Visually observe patients, dials and displays on equipment, and read from an electronic medical record.
  • Assess heart and lung sounds.
  • Palpate for temperature changes in the integumentary and musculoskeletal tissue.
  • Perform documentation of patient examination and treatment in the method specified by the DPT program and clinical sites.
  • Attend all classes in accordance with the DPT course schedule and attendance policy, including maintenance of a 40-hour work week during all full-time clinical experiences.


A student must have the requisite cognitive abilities necessary for timely problem solving, safety, judgment, and reasoning in academic and clinical settings.

The essential cognitive functions include but are not limited the following; the student must be able to:

  • Measure, calculate, analyze, comprehend, integrate, and synthesize a large body of knowledge.
  • Assimilate, understand, and integrate information from multiple sources such as patient medical history, examination findings, textbooks, published literature, internet, and presentations.
  • Select and utilize appropriate verbal, non-verbal, and electronic communications.
  • Utilize critical thinking skills and create effective solutions in all levels of the program.
  • Assess self-performance to continually improve professional skills and implement plans for professional growth and development.
  • Prioritize and manage multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • Comprehend and effectively communicate in the English language using proper spelling, grammar and vocabulary.

Behavioral and Social Attributes

A student must possess maturity, emotional health, and physical abilities required to fulfill all responsibilities in academic and clinical settings.

Essential behavioral and social functions include but are not limited to the following; the student must be able to:

  • Act in an ethical, legal, and responsible manner consistent with the Core Values, Code of Ethics for Physical Therapists, and Standards of Practice for Physical Therapy outlined by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the policies and procedures of Johnson & Wales University and the DPT Program.
  • Engage in patient care delivery in all settings and deliver care to all patient populations including, but not limited to children, adolescents, adults, vulnerable adults, or persons with developmental disability.
  • Demonstrate behaviors that protect the safety and well-being of fellow students, faculty, staff, patients, simulated patients, and caregivers.
  • Recognize and demonstrate respect for cultural, ethnic, ethical, and value differences among students, faculty, staff, patients, caregivers, and other health care professionals.
  • Participation in collegial productive group and team activities with diverse populations.
  • Manage personal and work-related stresses that may be physically, emotionally, psychologically or intellectually challenging in a timely, professional manner.
  • Demonstrate flexibility and adaptability to changing situations and uncertainty.
  • Maintain appropriate personal hygiene at all times, consistent with the close personal contact associated with patient care.
  • Adhere to timeliness and attendance requirements.
  • Transport self to on-campus and off-campus locations related to all required elements of the DPT curriculum.

Reasonable Accommodation for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Johnson & Wales University is committed to ensuring that otherwise qualified students with disabilities are given equal access through reasonable accommodations to its services, programs, activities, and education. Any student who has a documented disability and need specific accommodations, should contact the Director of Accessibility Services at Johnson & Wales University at 401-598-4689 to learn more about the process of applying for accommodations and determining eligibility for accommodations.

Students with disabilities are expected to perform all the essential functions of the program with or without reasonable accommodation(s). While the Johnson & Wales University will make every reasonable effort to accommodate students’ disability-related needs, it is important to note that the JWUDPT Program is not required to provide requested accommodations that would fundamentally alter the essential functions, qualifications, technical standards, or other academic or clinical requirements of the program, or result in an undue financial or administrative burden.

Certain chronic or recurrent illnesses and problems that interfere with patient care or safety may be incompatible with training as a healthcare professional or interfere with the ability to manage modern clinical practice. Other illnesses may lead to a high likelihood of student absenteeism and should be carefully considered.

Students will be dismissed from the JWUDPT program if they are unable to complete the Essential Functions noted herein even with reasonable accommodations. It should be noted that clinical sites may not be able to offer the same accommodations during the students’ Integrated and/or Full Time Clinical Experience(s) that were considered reasonable by the JWUDPT program during the didactic phase of a student’s education. Furthermore, students must be able to meet all Essential Functions during clinical experiences, with or without reasonable accommodations, within timeframes that are consistent with contemporary clinical practice.

Students will attest to their ability to meet all Essential Functions during orientation using the Essential Functions Attestation Form. Should a student become injured, suffer a change in physical/mental health, medical status (including pregnancy), or a faculty member questions the student’s ability to meet the Essential Functions listed herein, the student may be required by the program to seek confirmation of their ability to meet the Essential Functions by a Licensed Medical Professional using the JWUDPT Medical Clearance Form. Both of these forms can be found in the DPT Handbook here.