Essential Functions for Physical Therapy Practice


All students in the physical therapy department must be able to perform the essential clinical as well as academic requirements, as the overall curricular objectives are to prepare students to practice in their chosen field.  These standards are applicable in the classroom, laboratories, simulated clinical settings and while on clinical education assignments. The purpose of this document is to assure that all students entering the physical therapy program know and understand the requirements, and can make informed decisions regarding their pursuit of this profession. Students must be able to meet these standards with or without reasonable accommodations.

Basic Requirements

Physical therapists must have the capacity to observe and communicate; demonstrate sufficient gross and fine motor ability to perform physical diagnostic examinations and interventions; physical strength, dexterity, agility, and endurance; emotional stability to exercise good judgment and to work effectively in potentially stressful situations; and intellectual ability to synthesize data and solve problems.  

Procedures for Implementation of Essential Functions for Physical Therapy Practice

  1. All applicants will be referred to the Department of Physical Therapy Essential Functions upon application to the program.
  2. Accepted students (and parents/guardians if student is <18 years of age) will review the Department of Physical Therapy Essential Functions and sign the Affidavit entitled, Essential Functions for Physical Therapy Practice before the beginning of the first semester in the physical therapy program. Students with documented disability may meet with personnel from Student Accessibility Services to sign the Affidavit.
  3. The document will be reviewed with students throughout the program in related courses (i.e., Professional Development and Preclinical Conference I-IV).

Student Accessibility Services

The Ithaca College student handbook details services available to students with disabilities (http://www.ithaca.edu/attorney/policies/vol7/Volume_7-70103.htm#70103). Services and accommodations for students with disabilities are coordinated by Student Accessibility Services.

The Manager and specialists of Student Accessibility Services are available during College business hours to assist students in accessing reasonable accommodations and in determining which accommodations are appropriate. The nature and extent of a student's disability must be documented by a physician or health care professional. The presence of a specific learning disability must be documented by a psychologist or learning disabilities specialist. Students with psychological/emotional disabilities can obtain documentation from either a psychiatrist or a licensed psychologist. Students seeking accommodations are required to meet with personnel in the Student Accessibility Services each semester to discuss accommodations for the current semester. If a student has not identified to the office by providing documentation on his/her disability and consented to the limited sharing of information regarding the disability, she/he will not be eligible to receive accommodations. Students, parents, faculty and staff members are encouraged to call at any time to discuss issues related to access or in supporting students with disabilities

To allow auxiliary aids and services to be obtained or appropriate academic adjustments to be made by the start of the academic term, the student or prospective student who believes that he/she will need an academic adjustment/auxiliary aids and services must complete and return the Disability Identification Form with documentation of their disability Student Accessibility Services as soon as possible. Timely submission of materials is encouraged.

Accommodations identified after the start of the semester will be honored, but grades achieved prior to that time will remain unchanged.  Ithaca College is unable to make accommodations that impose an undue burden, present a threat to the health or safety of the individual or others, or fundamentally alters the nature of the curriculum including didactic component, laboratory, patient simulations, and clinical education coursework

Students must follow the procedural guidelines as written in the most recent edition of the Ithaca College Student Handbook (http://www.ithaca.edu/attorney/policies/vol7/Volume_7-70103.htm#70103and the Americans with Disabilities Act (http://www.ada.gov/). 

Essential Functions for Physical Therapy Practice

Each accepted student must complete the affidavit entitled, Essential Functions for Physical Therapy Practice, that attests to their ability to fulfill the Department of Physical Therapy Essential Functions as outlined in the list below. 

Standards, Functions and Example



Essential Function 

Practice Example


Students must possess the emotional ability to adapt to the environment, cope with stressors, and assume daily responsibilities.

Student will:

  • possess emotional health required to make sound judgments
  • demonstrate behaviors appropriate to the situation
  • use appropriate coping strategies
  • demonstrate active learning
  • respond to stressful situations effectively by recalling knowledge from short term and long term memory

Student will:

  • explain/articulate the patho-physiology of disease in a classroom, laboratory or clinical situation, in medical and layman’s terms
  • manage more than one patient at one time
  • demonstrate flexibility in managing, organizing and administering care to patients  in clinical settings
  • create functional interventions outdoors, in small homes, on playgrounds, and in hospital rooms
  • implement stress management activities when necessary


Students must possess the ability to understand and utilize verbal, non-verbal, and written communication, including oral and written English clearly, effectively, and efficiently.  

Student will:

  • explain treatment procedures
  • initiate health teaching
  • document and interpret patient/client information
  • utilize effective note taking skills
  • complete written and reading assignments in a timely fashion
  • assess and respond to verbal and non-verbal communication 

Student will:

  • document medical information according to physical therapy practice standards
  • give oral presentations  to a variety of professionals
  • provide training and  teaching to patient/client, family members and other professionals
  • provide information to health care teams for optimal patient/client management


Critical Thinking

Student must meet academic standards and possess critical thinking abilities sufficient for making sound judgments. 

Student will:

  • utilize their full intellectual abilities with an understanding of the rationale and justification within clinical and laboratory settings.  
  • recall, interpret, analyze and apply information from a variety of sources, including reading material, lecture, discussion, patient observation, examination and evaluation
  • determine what data and methods are needed to solve problems
  • demonstrate appropriate responses to emergency situations

Student will:

  • obtain examination data and develop a plan of care given a patient/client diagnosis (ie/ stroke)
  • develop and progress an exercise program for a patient/client with cerebral palsy
  • adapt and change an intervention within a session, depending on patient response
  • establish a list of differential (alternative) diagnoses given a patient problem
  • conduct a self-assessment and create a professional development plan based upon areas that need attention


Students must possess adequate strength, dexterity, balance, and sensation, to accurately carry out physical activities through an 8-10 hour work day 

Student will demonstrate:

  • a variety of patient examinations, interventions including (but not limited to): palpation, auscultation, joint mobilizations, patient transfers, ambulation training 
  • safely guard patients with limited mobility or unsafe balance responses
  • observational skills to obtain accurate information in classroom, laboratory, and clinical settings
  • provide safe, reliable, efficient emergency care

Student will:  

  • assist a dependentpatient with a joint replacement with transfer (bed to chair)
  • provide cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • safely guard a child with autism on a balance beam
  • prevent a patient/client with a head injury from falling while negotiating stairs
  • read numbers on a goniometer
  • use electrotherapeutic modalities 
  • assess color changes of the skin


Student must possess interpersonal abilities sufficient for appropriate, respectful and effective interaction with individuals and caregivers of various backgrounds.

Student will:

  • develop mature, sensitive and effective rapport with peers, faculty, health care providers
  • function effectively in environments with high physical and mental demands
  • display flexibility and adaptive skills in a variety of conditions  
  • demonstrate professionalism, compassion, integrity, empathy, interest and motivation
  • interact with groups from various social, cultural, and religious backgrounds

Student will:

  • participate in small and large group discussions
  • deal with sensitive, confidential information respectfully and within the ethical standards of the profession
  • meet externally established deadlines
  • provide emotional support to patients/clients during critical periods
  • use “people-first” language when speaking about patients/clients with disabilities
  • initiate communications to clarify situations 

Adopted 4/16/10; revised 5/21/10, 7/17/19