Education Leadership Conference of the American Physical Therapy Association

Document Type

Conference Proceeding





Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a quantitative method to study the patterning and effect of relationships and how individual connections form into social structures that influence outcomes of the group. The purpose of this study is to explain the underpinnings of SNA and its application to PT education for student success and faculty development. This study is innovative and will be beneficial to the profession because there is currently no published literature exploring how PT education is influenced by social structures.


The aims of this study are to describe SNA and outline its potential to transform PT education. A literature search to identify studies that provide a theoretical framework and uses of SNA was performed using the following databases: CINAHL, Academic Search Complete, MEDLINE, Scopus and ProQuest. Studies in education, organizational management, and sociology were reviewed.


Only recently has SNA been identified as relevant in medical education despite wide use in the business and military sectors. Social Network Analysis focuses on relational data that explores 1) influences of direct and indirect ties, 2) structures and composition for enhancing or constraining information spread, and 3) impact of one’s position in the network. There is evidence network size is just as important as the depth and breadth of experiences each member-connection brings. Given that education and teaching are social in nature, opportunities for the use of SNA in PT education are abundant. It could shed light on the relationships between students, faculty and even entities on social media platforms. Early network analysis of a PT cohort could transform the PT educational experience through early identification to remediate students with ineffective networks for collaboration, information sharing and support. Another application includes measuring the flow of information and noting which students are brokering information that aids in maximizing the collaborations for team-based care. An effective network could also positively impact PT faculty and may reduce tension between the requirements of teaching, scholarly activity and service for progress toward goals of promotion and tenure. Network collaboration was shown by medicine faculty to provide vital knowledge and maximizing scholarly activity. Exploring aspects of PT faculty professional networks could lead to valuable information to balance the composition of network members’ expertise and leverage connections.


The value of SNA includes the ability to quantify relationships between people and explore how connections emerge as an asset or constraint. Adding measurement of relational factors to individual information could significantly increase the evidence to guide our understanding of actions for PT students and faculty success. Currently, SNA has not been reported in PT education literature but is a methodology that will produce substantial insights to transforming PT education.


Funding provided by the College of Allied Health Professions, University of Nebraska Medical Center and Education Section of the American Physical Therapy Association