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Toni Talks about PT Today

We Need to Work Together

Published July 22, 2008 9:09 AM by Toni Patt
In the latest issue of PT Magazine, Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, OCS, talks about the need for PTs to work together no matter what degree they have. Throughout her article, Ms. Dunn provides examples of difficulties she believes PTs are running into as the three degree levels merge into one profession. Her intentions were good. But for some reason Ms. Dunn used her article to defend DPTs and tell the rest of us how we need to change. She relies on generalizations based on things she has heard rather than research to make her points. After reading the article I was offended. Why does all the responsibility to make things work fall on the rest of us?

One example she brings up is that PTs and DPTs were raised in different environments. I, and others in my age group, grew up using talking to convene information. You said what you needed to say. DPTs on the other hand grew up in the information age where everything is immediate. According to Ms. Dunn this results in communication problems because DPTs will tune out PTs if they take too long to get the point across. She refers to this as expecting information now. I refer to this as being rude. Common courtesy is to listen to someone while he or she is speaking. Tuning someone out because they are taking too long is rude. I don't care when you grew up.

She also brings up what she refers to as a difference in work ethic. DPTs, she believes, have found the balance of work and leisure.  The rest of us are workaholics who become burned out, used up and bitter. Ms. Dunn failed to consider that work environment and the pressures of providing health care are responsible for being overworked. Fewer people are asked to do more. For those of us with a work ethic that means occasionally we take the extra patient or stay late a few minutes to get everything done. Where is the value of leaving on time if things are being left undone or incomplete? The patients that the DPTs are missing because they've gone home are falling to the rest of us to treat. Yeah, that makes me overworked.

She does address what she refers to as the "unteachable" attitudes of DPTs. Instead of telling them to get over themselves and recognize experienced PTs as a valuable resource, the rest of us are scolded. We are not doing enough to make the DPTs want to listen to us. PTs are instructed to take a DPT to a legislative session. When do I have the time? I'm overworked.  We're instructed to incorporate evidence into our practices. I thought we were doing that. We're also instructed to become more comfortable with technology. Since you can't function in today's world without using technology I'm not sure what she means. Nonetheless these things will make DPTs more willing to listen to us. I have a suggestion. When they are students, tell them they will fail if they don't listen to their CIs.

I don't think her proposals are going to help us work together any better. For that to happen, each degree level needs to respect the others. We need to recognize that each group has something to offer and be willing to learn from each other. I'm not going to think much of someone who doesn't listen to me and thinks I don't know anything. Just like a DPT isn't going to listen to someone who thinks he knows it all but doesn't.  I work with someone like that. No one listens to him. Eventually we'll get it worked out. In the mean time, I think a little flexibility and respect will go a long way.


I initially read Dr. Dunn’s article and was “convicted.” Am I that typical DPT who “checks out” and comes off as overconfident and ready for the board room? It was time for some real reflection. Honestly, I was disappointed the article had to end, and was fascinated to find the observations of an experienced practitioner mirroring my own.  Admittedly, they were generalizations, and by no means were the strengths and weaknesses all encompassing.  Understanding this, it would be my hope that practitioners (and students) who read this do not get bogged down in the limitations of a short overview of the “challenges and opportunities” we face in the current professional environment.  

When reading the strengths Dr. Dunn focused on, I was able to reflect on the countless MS and BSPTs who have taken me under their wings in the clinic.  I have benefited greatly from those strong manual skills, the wisdom in relationships and team building, practice management, and as well as the other strengths to which she refers.  Many of the PTs I work with (all of whom have an average of 10 years more experience than I do) often jokingly call me “student” which I don’t mind in the least. My formal education may finally be complete, but with resources like the experienced PTs practicing around me, I would be a fool to think I had nothing left to learn.

And those BS and MSPTs have gone further, gently bringing me deeper into the profession, involving me in governance and advocacy, giving me a greater appreciation for the work they have put into creating Physical Therapy as it is known today.  Perhaps clinically I would have approached those experienced therapists “out of the blue” with a question, but to be perfectly honest, I may never have given advocacy a second thought without their initiation and I am thankful for their sacrifice in time and energy for me.

As a PT student, and now as a new professional, I think I speak for many when I say new grads are intimidated by the experienced, knowledgeable, and expert BS/MSPT for many reasons.  I have been in awe many times on a co-treat, or during a clinical discussion, watching an experienced practitioner work through something that might take me hours and a couple books (and maybe a website, email, and text message or two) to figure out.  I have also been ashamed as an expert practitioner pointed out to me how much debt I was going to be in upon graduation and that it would take me just as long to get to where she was clinically as it took her.  

While I can understand where she was coming from, and can explain the reasons why I believe the profession needed to move to the DPT degree, I mean this is to illustrate the point that new grads may need a BS or MSPT to step forward, look beyond the degree, and reach out to them.  And to my fellow DPTs, I’d say we certainly can do a better job of taking full advantage of the wealth of clinical and professional experience that surrounds us everyday.  We can also add to it, offering assistance with podcasts, websites, statistical analysis, and new evidence based approaches to aspects of patient care...but do this with, as Dr. Dunn says "professional humility" if you really want to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, this comment has turned out longer than expected, and I apologize for any incoherent ramblings. I do believe this is a very important, and perhaps under-addressed, “challenge and opportunity” we have as physical therapists.  I feel very strongly that by looking beyond the BS, MS, or D and focusing on the PT and the individual strengths each PT brings to the table, our profession – and most importantly, our patients - will be better for it. I would like to thank Dr. Dunn for her observations and the discussion that has followed, not just here but in other venues/media/etc.

Laura August 7, 2008 12:53 AM
Boston MA

Hi Toni,

I do see your point about these young ones being rude when not listening.  I have lived on a small island the past eight years and these young generation Y's here are not the same as in the Mainland, I am sure as even for this new generation here it is still "Island time".  

I was curious about the article you mentioned and did go and read it.  In my opinion, it had the flavor of being a  "motherly" talk, and although Dunn did hit some very minor points about technology, I can not agree totally as I am a baby boomer and I have 2 laptops, e-mail daily, I have 2 blogs, facebook, and MySpace; not to mention doing on-line banking and investments.   I spend several hours a day on-line doing research outside of employment. Oh, and reading your blog from time to time.  

I liked the way Wikipedia describes this Y Generation.  Two primary characteristics come up: peer oriented and seeking instant gratification.  Knowing these two characteristics gives me an idea of the barriers that I have read about on your blog.  



Laurie July 23, 2008 1:48 AM

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