Every year, at the APTA annual conference, one physical therapist presents the McMillan lecture. This honor has been bestowed on 42 PTs and in 2011, Gail M. Jensen, PT, PhD, FAPTA, presented a talk, "Learning: What Matters Most," to a packed ballroom at the Gaylord National Convention Center in National Harbor, MD.
"Physical therapy learning is a concept we take for granted, yet it is essential to what we do," said Dr. Jensen. Her talk focused on the concept of learning as a cornerstone of the physical therapy profession. She described three distinct types of learning: learning for practice; learning from practice; and learning in a community of practice.
Learning For Practice
"Our challenge in the profession today is to find better ways to get people learning," said Dr. Jensen. She talked about the need for practitioners to move beyond the critical thinking they focus on so much in school because it can be insufficient for approaching the complex situations they encounter with real patients in the real world. Physical therapists need a reflective ability and should work to understand what patients are thinking. Dr. Jensen emphasized the need for more narrative thinking. By understanding a patient's story, a PT can create a better treatment plan for him or her.
Learning From Practice
"Learning embedded in the wisdom of practice is perhaps the most dynamic yet underutilized part of physical therapy," Dr. Jensen said. She considered the academic/clinical divide to be dangerous and believes that teaching and learning are the responsibility of all PTs, not just the ones who work in colleges or universities. Physical therapists need to develop habits of life-long learning. Dr. Jensen displayed a map that showed how the majority of fellowships and other post-graduate educational opportunities are clustered around major cities on the coasts. She offered the idea that more educational programs be available to therapists around the country, including the Midwest, where she is from.
Learning in Community of Practice
"We continually learn together to see the whole," she said. Dr. Jensen talked about the meaning created in a community of practice. New physical therapists can move from peripheral positions in their practices to legitimate and full participants, with the support of the "veterans" in that community. She also discussed the need to "connect the profession to what really matters," i.e. the social contract of physical therapy. Dr. Jensen asked the audience, "Do we have a commitment to improving the health of the country?" The question received enthusiastic, affirmative applause. The PTs in the room clearly agreed with Dr. Jensen's proposal that "good health is a public good."
Dr. told the audience, "I take deep pride in being a physical therapist. From her passionate lecture, it was clear that also took great pride in the honor of being the 2011 McMillan lecturer.