Sunday, February 20, 2011

4,000 to 1

A little over a week ago I had the chance to speak to a group of PT and PTA students in New Orleans. The Student Assembly leaders held a caucus to give their members a better understanding of involvement, governance, and engagement within APTA. During my talk I brought up the fact that there are about 4,000 Americans for every APTA member. I wanted to make the point that our profession's mission, enhancing societal health and function, requires their generation to be impassioned, involved, and willing to acquire new skill sets.

I single out the up and coming generation for a number of specific reasons. Needless to say, no PT or PTA, regardless of talent as a clinician, is prepared to directly influence thousands of consumers. And yet, that is our goal, an excellent and appropriate goal given our skills and ambition in the emerging health paradigm!

So strategically, how can physical therapy move to meet this challenge head on? Looking back to the ratio, we certainly can't expect the number of Americans to decline (nor would we want it to). However, influencing the right side of the ratio, APTA membership, presents an opportunity to shift things in the profession's favor. Clearly, I'm a big proponent for APTA involvement but it's not out of blind zeal. Upon leaving the bubble of academia, it is essential that PTs and PTAs maintain some line of communication with the professional world. Otherwise, as we do not sit for re-licensure, it's easy to become removed from all but the most local issues. If today's students don't feel a visceral connection between our mission and staying involved, complacency, disinterest, apathy, and a shrinking vision are on the horizon. But with a proper foundation and greater investment in leadership development pathways, this risk can be minimized.

Getting back to our societal goals, soon-to-be clinicians and those with several more decades to practice can and should cultivate some special talents. Community outreach must become a focus! Many of us are comfortable with social media and technology. This is a great place to jump off. How can we hook up groups of clinicians with teams of people seeking improved health? (This speaks to Carpe Sanitas and the "Team Wellness" concept that I should probably devote a whole blog to at some point.) And by extension, how do we pick out the smallest, most effective group of clinicians to assist a given team demographic? Who else will be in the group? Exercise Physiologists? ATCs? Dietitians? Nurses? Chiropractors?

PTs can create a program but for it be consumer-centered we must continue to earn our seat at the table. That will mean disrupting our standard practices, collaborating in new ways, and trying new things. If we don't disrupt ourselves, someone else surely will. (For a great read on this theme try The Innovator's Prescription.) What are your ideas for shaking up the status quo or for getting the benefits of PT to a big audience? I would love to hear them.



  1. I think we need a Jack Lalanne type of figure, (one PT to unite them all?). There is simply too much variability. How can we "Move Forward" if we cannot agree on the vehicle by which to travel? With the Web 2.0+ generation we should be able to figure something out but it still becomes very confusing with the personal trainers, chiros, and the like out there trying to sell their product. There seem to be attempts at a "position statement" from different aspects of the health world but a lot of those can be confusing as well (is the egg yolk "good for me" or not - make up your minds!)
    Here is one PT who took a niche and started putting out good content:
    It seems to be this type of grassroots push that will help shape the future of health. When someone puts out consistent product that makes sense and has some semblance of evidence/science behind it, we may just be moving in the right direction.

  2. I've been torn lately about the "vehicle" issue you've brought up Bo. In the past I've said that however PTs decide to specialize, we need to do it "smarter" than the MDs. Our skills share a similar diversity to MDs. Such a broad scope of practice contributes to difficulty in articulating one mission, or as you put it, having one vehicle.

    Setting us apart however is that we have only one umbrella organization, APTA. MDs have different colleges and academies and are therefore able to innovate without appeasing all factions within the association as a whole.

    So my conundrum is this: Would it be 'smarter' to split and innovate (divide and conquer) or to be different (remain a cohesive organization) and fight a potentially slower battle towards collective innovation?

    This is all conceptual and hypothetical but I think it's a relevant conversation as we seek to meet future challenges. Anyone else care to weigh in?