Navigating diagnostic uncertainty in musculoskeletal practice: The perspectives and experiences of new graduate physiotherapists.

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Diagnostic uncertainty in musculoskeletal pain presents as a frequent and challenging dilemma encountered by health professionals. Current literature indicates that diagnostic uncertainty impacts the clinical decision making of experienced physiotherapists. Despite this, the experiences and navigational strategies of new graduate physiotherapists, pertaining to this dilemma, are widely unknown.The aim of this study was to explore how new graduate physiotherapists experience and navigate diagnostic uncertainty when managing individuals with musculoskeletal pain.A qualitative study using a thematic analytical research approach was undertaken. A randomized sample of new graduate physiotherapists, working in musculoskeletal settings (n = 17), participated in semi-structured telephone interviews. Interview data was subsequently subject to thematic analysis.Four key themes emerged from the data: 1) diagnostic uncertainty is fraught with challenges; 2) diagnosis is not the end game; 3) intrinsic strategies and extrinsic actions and 4) the imperative role of clinical practice.New graduate physiotherapists frequently experience diagnostic uncertainty within musculoskeletal practice and are commonly challenged by this dilemma. Despite this, new graduates utilize several strategies to mitigate challenges including focusing on patient-centered care, maintaining transparency and relying on senior colleagues. Most strategies are directly attributed to clinical experiences. This study further outlines implications for physiotherapy curricula and workplace support.

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Authors: Allexandra Almond, Yixin Zou, Roma Forbes