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The College of St. Scholastica

A collaborative student and faculty research project from St. Scholastica’s doctor of physical therapy program (DPT) has earned national acclaim. The project “Relationship Among Student Mental Health, Student Self Efficacy and PT Education Attributes” was selected to receive the Physical Therapy Learning Institute’s 2021 Education Influencer Award.

This award is presented to a project that has the potential to positively influence excellence in physical therapy education and aligns with the organization’s vision and mission.

Physical therapy professor and program chair John Borstad oversaw the project with DPT students Zach Borer, Jacob Carlson, Justin Keller, Anne Spears and Logan Viegut. The national dialogue about student mental health issues inspired Borstad to reflect on an important question, “Is there anything we are doing in our program that is contributing to the [mental health] problem?” His students were also interested in considering how self-efficacy, or confidence, related to their experiences within the program.

Together, they compiled a list of all of the possible factors within the program that could positively or negatively impact mental health. The students customized an existing measurement tool for depression, anxiety, stress and self-efficacy and used this research to distribute a survey to all 144 students in the PT program. The survey was administered in February 2021 and resulted in 72 responses.

Among the survey’s main findings: instructor feedback and student anxiety are strongly related, and instructor feedback is also related to student self-efficacy. “Anxiety is lower in students related to getting feedback, for example, immediate feedback in how they performed on a practical or written exam or from their time in the labs.”

The survey also offered Borstad and his faculty an opportunity to make meaningful adjustments: professors now build in time at the end of a practical exam to give students immediate feedback and they make a concerted effort to return exams within 24 hours and assignments within three days.

“One of my next hypotheses is that it doesn’t really matter whether that feedback is good or bad, positive or negative,” said Borstad. “It’s the lack of knowing where you stand as a student that is anxiety-producing.”

Borstad presented the project at the Physical Therapy Learning Institute Education Leadership conference in October of 2021 and received news of the project’s award in December. Additionally, the program’s second-year students routinely present at the state association meeting and national meetings.

“That’s been a focus of the program is to give students these types of experiences where they can present their research and have a dialogue with other colleagues,” he said. “It’s a great growth opportunity for them.”

To learn more about the College’s doctor of physical therapy program, visit

Dr. John Borstad’s students are conducting their clinicals, but he improvised a way to capture a photo of all of them.