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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Gutsy Openmindedness

Published February 6, 2014 12:16 PM by Danielle Bullen
LAS VEGAS, NV--One of the highlights every year at the Combined Sections Meeting is the Pauline Cerasoli lecture. Named in honor of Cerasoli, a highly respected physical therapist who suffered a brutal attack at the 1996 meeting, the lectureship is awarded to a PT who has made significant contributions to physical therapy education.

This year's awardee certainly fit that bill. Leslie Portnoy, PT, DPT, PhD, FAPTA, is dean of MGH Institute of Health Professions. Portnoy opened her talk, "Choosing a Disruptive Path Toward Tomorrow," by reflecting on some of the themes of past lectures. She noted, "Change is the overriding theme." Physical therapists in academia, especially, must face change on a constant basis, as both the profession and higher education at a whole are altering rapidly.

She admitted, "Change is not something most of us like, bit it is happening." She quoted the very first Cerasoli lecturer, Katherine Shepard, PT, PhD, FAPTA, who encouraged physical therapists to "generate ideas that sound strange."  Portnoy expanded on that challenge, calling for "gutsy openmindedness" when it comes to the future of physical therapy education. Don't ask how, she urged, but ask what if?

"We must move academic physical therapy forward and exercise leadership as guardians of our profession's future." That was the challenge Portnoy issued the crowd. She raised several what if scenarios to move the profession ahead.

Does clinical experience drive education or vice versa? Many students receive conflicting info from their CI and what they learned in the classroom. What if there was a more seamless connection of education, practice, and research?

Beyond the physical therapy classroom, she noted, "Higher education is in crisis and can't survive without significant changes." Online education is the most talked about of those changes. What if PT education more fully embraced this model, which places faculty in the role of mentors, encouraging students as they learn at their own place?

A shortage of qualified professors is a problem across the health disciplines. 1/3 of PT faculties are over age 55. "What are we doing to groom physical therapists to become faculty?" asked Portnoy.  "What incentives are there to move into academia?" What if there were more combined DPT/PhD programs to prepare young physical therapists for the demands of teaching?

"We need a diverse community to generate new ideas," Portnoy said. Currently, 1/2 of PT programs have no minority faculty members. "Only by diversifying our student bodies will we change our future faculties."What if physical therapy schools broadened the profile of their students and looked beyond the typical profile of an admitted PT student when filling out new classes?

Changing the future of physical therapy education is a tough road. PTs must be willing to take chances and learn from their mistakes, to embrace disruption. Yet, Portnoy said, "I have tremendous optimism for our future."

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