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The Effects of the First Semester of a Professional Masters program on the Health and Well-Being of Physical Therapy Students

1 May 1999


Graduate programs require long hours within the classroom compounded by many hours studying and interacting with family or friends. A change in the students' obligations upon entering a graduate program can affect their health and mental well-being. The purpose of our study was to examine the changes in the health status of students in the first semester of a three-year Masters of Science program. The study analyzed cardiovascular fitness using a treadmill protocol, body composition with caliper measurements, subjective reporting of physical activity, psychological stress using the Derogatis Stress Profile®, and nutritional intake through a three-day dietary record.

A convenience sample consisting of 23 (21 females, and 2 males) first-year physical therapy students at Pacific University School of Physical Therapy, with a mean age of 24.053 +1- 2.041 years, were selected to participate in the study. Twenty female subjects were tested at the beginning and the end of their first semester of school. One female subject withdrew from the study secondary to personal reasons. V02max, percent body fat, physical activity levels, psychological stress, and dietary intake were analyzed using paired t-tests.

The results demonstrated a decrease in exercise time and no change in V02max or body composition. Subjects reported a significant decrease (p= .0034) in occupational physical activity levels from the physical activity questionnaire. Nutritional analysis revealed that the subjects were consuming less than their recommended amount of total calories as suggested by Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA). There was a significant decrease in consumption of Vitamin E (p= .0415) and selenium (p= .0030). Consumption of calcium tended to decrease and sodium consumption tended to increase, however these values were not statistically significant. Lastly, the Derogatis Stress Profile® demonstrated a significant increase in the subjects' subjective level of stress (p= .0001).


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