There’s More to PT than Outpatient Ortho
There seems to be a misconception in the general public around what physical therapists actually do. So far I've been to two Christmas parties. Both times I had almost the exact conversation about what I do. When I said I'm a PT I immediately heard one of two things. Do you work with athletes? What can I do about my back? Naturally someone else wanted a massage. I think I spent more time explaining what I work with neuro patients then talking about anything else.
Last week the local PT school had its annual research day when the PhD candidates present some of their research and the third-year DPT students display their posters. This year there were four PhD presentations and 17 posters. Three of the PhD topics were orthopedic outpatient oriented. The other dealt with pain during therapy with pediatric patients. Ten of the posters were orthopedic in nature. Two of them were neuro related. Two were pediatric in nature. The remaining three dealt with topics relating to PT education. I found myself wondering why I was there.
This is disturbing to me. There is so much more to PT than outpatient orthopedics. You wouldn't think that if your opinion was based on the above two examples. I got the impression that's what the general population thinks. That also seems to be the areas PTs have the most perceived value. I doubt an OP ortho therapist is ever asked why she doesn't want to work with stroke patients instead.
The APTA might want to step back and think about this. PTs are being packaged as movement professionals with unique knowledge about the neuromuscular system. If the emphasis is only on OP ortho, the APTA and everyone else, is selling the profession short. If we want to talk about relative value let's consider pediatrics. Many of those patients have developmental issues. Without PT intervention, those children will never reach their potential and may be confined to a wheelchair the rest of their lives. How is that less important than treating total joint patients?
Physical therapy needs an image update. Not only are we a doctoring profession but we are a varied one. No one questions the value of one medical specialty over another. We just assume that person preferred to work with those patients. So why am I explaining why I like to work with stroke patients? This needs to be addressed on the national level.
They might also want to look at the transitional DPT programs. They seem to be oriented solely to those who work in OP ortho. I've been the only neuro person in every class I've taken. All of the assignments have been geared to the OP setting. The radiology class only covered the spine and peripheral joints. The only mention of neuro imaging was a mention that MRIs and CTs are used for brain scans. Well, doh. Here I thought I was going to learn something about reading them. That was just sad. I realize reading a brain MRI was beyond the scope of the class but infarct and ICHs show up completely different from each other on both scans. A discussion about what they look like and why it happens would have been nice.
I'm not putting down OP ortho. I just don't want to do it. I also don't want to do pedi, women's health or cardiovascular. Even so, I recognize the necessity of each and would never ask a pediatric therapist why she doesn't want to treat adults. Once again there needs to be some unity of the profession. How can we be considered a doctoring profession if we act as though we believe only one aspect of what we do is really doctoring?