Interview with Dr. Tonya Apke of The Ohio State University

Dr. Apke is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Clinical Education in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Physical Therapy Division at The Ohio State University.  She is board-certified in Orthopedic Physical Therapy, a credentialed trainer for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Clinical Instructor Credentialing Program and completed the APTA Health Policy and Administration Section Leadership, Administration, Management and Professionalism (LAMP) leadership certification program. Dr. Apke is currently President of the Ohio Chapter of the APTA and just completed two terms as the Membership Secretary of the APTA Academy of Education Clinical Education Special Interest Group. She has been a DCE for 20 years at two academic programs. Her research interests include clinical education models, impact of student clinicals on clinician productivity and leadership development. She teaches in the areas of professional issues, clinical education and health care policy.

Note: You should consult with your doctor or physical therapist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Apke and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

How did you become interested in researching clinical education for DPT students?  

I have been a DCE for over 19 years and the research came as a natural extension of my experience with students and clinical educators. We also have a very active consortium in Ohio and Kentucky that sparked my interest as well. We did some smaller projects and the mentorship and ideas grew from there.

What are some of the most important things we have learned in recent years about ensuring DPT students get the most out of clinical education?

Readiness for clinical education is a hot topic right now. Assuring that students are ready for the clinical environment in which they are completing a clinical is important to our clinical partners.  The importance of clinical partnerships has also been a focus and from my experience, the better the partnership, the more benefits each gains from clinical education. Finding ways to develop and nurture those partnerships has been one of our focuses, and we have moved from having a huge network of clinical sites to a moderate network of closer clinical partners. Also, although there is no definitive evidence to show the optimum length of clinical education experiences, we moved from shorter (4-6 weeks) to longer (7-12 weeks) experiences and saw more engagement from our students and more satisfaction from our clinical partners. Finally, emphasizing clinical reasoning in the didactic preparation helps students adapt to the unpredictability of the clinical environment.

You are currently researching how student clinical experiences impact clinician productivity. What are you learning?

Our study demonstrated that students do not have a negative impact on clinical instructor productivity and in most cases, improve it. We saw this in outpatient orthopedics, outpatient neuro, and inpatient rehab. Our data showed no statistically significant difference in acute care but other studies have shown a substantial increase in productivity in acute care.

How has technology improved clinical preparedness for students?

Having access to real time information to implement evidence based practice is the most significant way. Students are able to learn material in many ways that may best fit their learning style. Using online videos, rewatching recorded lectures/labs, and participating in online discussion groups are some examples of how we use technology to enhance their preparation prior to clinical experiences.

What are some of the challenges to optimizing clinical education and experiences for students?

The biggest challenge is securing adequate clinical placements in the acute care and inpatient rehab/SNF settings. We still require students to complete one of their clinicals in acute care and one in a rehab setting, which we define as inpatient rehab or SNF or outpatient neuro. Those placements are challenging to get, despite the success of our students. We are hoping the data from the study we just completed may help to demonstrate that productivity is not negatively impacted during student clinical experiences and thus encourage sites to take more students. We also sometimes see therapists who don’t utilize EBP or clinics with very high productivity expectations. Those factors make it difficult to teach and provide students with quality clinical education experiences. Finally, getting sites to agree to take students in the early clinical experiences is also a challenge. We typically have more than we need for the final 2 experiences but really have to work hard to have enough for our early 2 experiences.

How do you select new research topics?

Typically it is during conferences or in discussion with colleagues. We discuss some of our challenges and then look for opportunities to find solutions through research. Sometimes it is through other interests such as wellness and leadership and then seeing how to bridge those interests together.

What aspect of your research are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the productivity study we just completed. It started as a student capstone project with me and was very tedious and labor intensive in terms of the data collection and analysis. We worked very hard as a team, didn’t get discouraged, persevered through some setbacks and completed the project with a platform presentation and a publication that should be coming out in PTJ.

What advice do you have for those considering a doctor of physical therapy program?

Look into the profession and shadow in several settings. Talk to some newer graduates and get their thoughts on how to best approach DPT school. Then look for a program that is affordable, fits with your learning needs, has the opportunities that are important to you, and make sure you feel comfortable there before accepting. Also, getting into DPT school is competitive so start planning for this early in your undergraduate career.  Participate in activities that will build your resume such as service and research in addition to getting good grades. Finally, have someone read your essays to make sure they accurately reflect who you are, assure they are well-written and there are no spelling or grammatical errors!