Advocating for the profession of physical therapy is more than just a practice of job security; it is a practice of encouraging the highest quality care of our patients. One of the sayings that I have heard in discussion with other professionals in physical therapy, which I think is particularly apropos, is the notion that “if you do not define yourself, someone else will.” I grew up in a household with 3 brothers (God-bless my mom), and one lesson I learned is that you never want someone else being the only one telling “mom” what happened—you want to be there to tell your side of what happened, too. When I was in 3rd grade, my brother and I were wrestling, and he put a hold in the wall of our bedroom. Although we originally hid it with a poster, eventually my mom found it and asked him how it got there. I was away at the time she asked him and, being the good brother he is, he pinned the whole thing on me! Because I was not there to advocate for myself, I now found myself in the inquisition having to prove my innocence (essentially fighting an uphill battle). Transitioning this anecdote to physical therapy, first impressions are lasting impressions. If a patient has a bad experience with a PT, or hears something bad about the profession of PT—true or not—it can set of a chain reaction of negative sequelae, that can be difficult to stop or reverse. If we allow others to define us as a profession, we had better be prepared to live with what they determine.
I am constantly amazed with the relative ignorance that individuals have, regarding the doctoring profession of physical therapy. The most common conversation I have with people, when I tell them I am in physical therapy school is “is that a 4 year degree program?” or (if I am lucky) “isn’t that a masters degree now?” I have found that there is a widespread lack of communication and general knowledge about the educational growth of our profession over the past 10 years. I get the question quite frequently (once people realize DPT stands for doctorate of physical therapy), “are you going to call yourself ‘Dr.’ when you begin practicing?” My original answer to this question was “no.” It just seemed that calling myself “Dr. So-and-So” was a bit pompous and arrogant—as if insinuating that we deserve special recognition for our achievements. Furthermore, I thought that, given the general ignorance in medical fluency of our society, calling one’s self “Dr.” could be confusing to patients or could be a disingenuous portrayal. While these points still remain relevant, I have decided that, given the lack of knowledge that people have regarding physical therapy, why should physical therapists have to discount their image because of a societal ignorance and misinterpretation? No one bats an eye when dentist introduces him/herself as “Dr.,” and, indeed, the chiropractic profession has fully embraced their titular distinction. So why not PT? Until individuals who acquire the DPT degree are understood by a wider audience as having doctorate degrees, it should be more commonplace and not stigmatized for a physical therapist to identify as a “doctor of physical therapy.” Given this notion, I think communication is key to avoid patient confusion or appearances or deception, and I think PTs should specify that they are “Doctors of Physical Therapy” whenever linguistically possible. I think that this is especially important in inpatient settings, where there are various professions of “doctors,” to prevent confusion of the patients.
Given the lack of self-definition and the public ignorance of physical therapy as moving towards an entry-level doctorate degree, I practice, and intend to continue to practice, advocacy on behalf of my profession. I do this through conversations with family, friends, and strangers who ask about my profession—and plan to continue this advocacy through community engagement initiatives. Community health, in my opinion, is an area ripe with potential for progression of our profession. If we can better tap the market and clientele that seeks health education we can be better positioned to define ourselves to a broader audience. I believe that PTs should do a better job of making themselves apparent at gyms, recreation centers, pools, sports teams, etc—and I intend to work to, not only better the individuals who frequent these locations, but to use these opportunities to better their understanding of what it means to be a Doctor of Physical Therapy
Artifact - #ChoosePT
The #ChoosePT slogan epitomizes the movement towards physical-based interventions from the purely medical framework. I believe that this notion is a valid and valuable one for PTs and should be a primary focus of their advocacy campaigns. Although there are certainly times and places for opioid prescription, if the dosage or frequency can be reduced, for example through physical therapy interventions, we as a society should push for such a shift. While opioid analgesics can provide short-term relief, physical therapy can provide the long-term benefits to obviate the need for such medications.