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Toni Talks about PT Today

How Do We Define Professional?

Published December 16, 2009 9:46 AM by Toni Patt
This afternoon I caught the tail end of a conversation.  It sounded like someone was having a problem.  That happens all the time.  The phrase that got my attention was "we need to handle this in a professional way." I'm not sure what that was supposed to mean.  It implies that normally we aren't doing things in a professional way.  I know that isn't true.  Maybe the problem is a lack of definition of the word professional. 

Last spring I took a class called professional practice.  The entire course was devoted to defining the word professional as it relates to physical therapy and providing examples of professional behavior.  I think every practicing PT needs to take a version of that class.  Defining the word was difficult.  Finding examples once we had the definition wasn't.   Many PTs probably see examples on a regular basis but don't know what to call the behavior.  Any behavior or statement that doesn't seem right or makes you think twice is probably unprofessional behavior.

Here's an example.  One of the PTs on my unit is very unreliable.  She has called in sick on Monday more than once.  She never calls early enough for us to get coverage.  One day she came in 3 hours late without explanation.  She didn't want to stay late so cut back her treatment times by 30 minutes.  She also took a full lunch.  As a result, everyone else had to scramble to make up those lost 30 minutes on her patients so we would be compliant with the 3 hours rule.  That was unprofessional behavior. 

I worked with another therapist last year.  He considered himself ortho king because he only worked on the ortho floor.  He never helped the nurses with transfers.  He wouldn't put patients back to bed when requested.   The majority of the time he had a tech exercise with the patient.  He never stayed late.  He never helped anyone else.  The only positive thing he did was schmooze with the ortho docs.  Unfortunately he often did that when he was supposed to be seeing patients.  That wasn't professional behavior, either.

No one is perfect.  We all make mistakes.  These examples are more than a mistake. They are habitual errors in judgment (or lack of judgment).  Both therapists thought there was nothing wrong with what they did and probably would have been surprised to have it pointed out to them.  It's one thing to make a bad decision.  It's something else to not care.

So whenever I hear a statement involving the need to be professional I listen.  Most PTs are professional without even thinking about it.  Why do they make that statement?  Is it a special situation requiring delicate handling? Or, do they think they're not behaving in a professional manner and need to change?  The word professional is a squirrelly little word.    The APTA has composed several documents describing professional standards for PT and PTAs.  I've read those documents.  There's nothing in there we're not already doing. 

Instead of worrying about ourselves, we need to focus on those people, like my examples, who aren't behaving professionally.  Remember we aren't going to get the respect and recognition we want until the profession as a whole earns it.  Eliminating unprofessional behavior is a step in the right direction.  I realize if I point out unprofessional behavior to someone I'm going to be ignored.  If we do it as a group, and reinforce it as a group, we might make a difference.

posted by Toni Patt


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November 20, 2013 10:03 PM

You said, "Maybe the problem is a lack of definition of the word professional.  Last spring I took a class called professional practice.  The entire course was devoted to defining the word professional as it relates to physical therapy and providing examples of professional behavior...Defining the word was difficult.  Finding examples once we had the definition wasn't."

You are keeping me in suspense!  What was the definition?  

Janey Goude December 18, 2009 1:20 AM

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