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Toni Talks about PT Today

Why I Became a PT

Published April 15, 2014 2:46 PM by Toni Patt

I was asked this question on Sunday by someone who doesn't know me very well. I had to stop and think a minute before replying. The answer is I don't remember. I remember applying to PT school. I remember PT school. I remember deciding I liked acute care the best. Yet I don't remember why I made a decision that has shaped my life for many years.

Now I'm wondering if I would give the same answer if asked today why I am a PT. I don't think so because so much as changed over the years. I'm no longer idealistic nor do I believe I can help everyone. There are some people I would avoid having as patients at all costs. I also realize there are limits to what can be accomplished.

If I had to choose all over again today, I don't think I would choose physical therapy school. This is partially due to how difficult it has become to get into and how onerous the education has become. If I base the choice on my experiences, I would consider neurology. If I base the choice on horses, it would be nursing because there are many more opportunities for a nurse than a physical therapist.

That's one of the big problems with our field. Where do the older PTs go if they aren't ready to retire? A few go into teaching. I know a few who started working in schools. I can see where some would choose outpatient. What about the rest of us? I have no idea what I'm going to do when I can't keep up physically.

The older I get, the more I think about that. I joke that I'll be working as long as I want to own a horse. That's true. But I don't know what I'll be working as. I thought I would teach, which meant a PhD. I've since discovered if you want a PhD, it has to be the only thing you want. And you must want it badly. I want horses more.

I need to remember why I became a PT. Maybe that will help me decide what I want to do next.

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I appreciate your comments, and your honesty. However I think in your many years as a PT youve somehow missed it. One would think that after many years in a rewarding and amazingly evolving profession that youd be more passionate today than you were yesterday. My only guess and this also comes from speaking to many ol' timers is that they no longer identify with today's PT profession. Some of the examples Im referring to are the push for autonomy, advanced clinical skills, DPT, direct access etc, etc.

The evolution of our profession has been a progressive not an onerous one. Weve come a long way since our humble beginnings when we were a certificate conferred profession (ca 1900-1930) where our scope of practice was covered to a one liner. Fastforward 100 years and in many states were now considered autonomous experts and in other states members of a multi-disciplinary team where our expertise is needed. We are indeed the experts of functional movement, a large umbrella which covers orthopedics, neurology, womens health, sports, pediatrics and even hippotherapy!.

The problem with our profession is in part due to the resistance to change, where progression and increase in scope of practice is viewed as..troublesome, burdensome. Well, that is because it involves change, it means hard work. Traits that all clinicians must possess.

Im more passionate today than I was 9 years ago, when my MPT was conferred, since then Ive completed an orthopedic manual therapy fellowship from a nationally recognized University, become board certified, purusing a second board certification and actively pursuing a t-DPT, Im also contributing to the literature and research by doing two national poster presentations later this year. I say this because regardless of the reason of why we chose our profession, we are in it because we chose people, patients, to serve them with 100% of our efforts. This also translates into always seeking ways to better ourselves, to engange in the latest evidence based practices, to pursue advanced training and skills, otherwise well....yes the train will leave us behind and we may feel that we no longer fit in.

I embrace the higher rigor to enter our entry level schools, after all we have become a doctored trained profession, I embrace the higher levels of practice and responsibilities that come with it. There is evidence in the literature that demonstrates that PTs with advanced orthopedic skills are as good as orthopedic surgeons in diagnosing conditions! We can all do it, we must simply go after those skills.

I cannot imagine doing anything else, and God willing Ill continue to make a difference in my patients lives both inside and outside until my body says otherwise. My hope is to make my passion a contagious one to each and every one of the DPT students that I train on a yearly basis.


Carlos Estevez, PT, OCS, FAAOMPT

Carlos April 17, 2014 9:36 AM

I am a PTA currently who is finishing my bachelors in a few weeks, then applying to the DPT school after a few missing pre-requisites.  The idea of returning to a PT program is a little daunting.  Financially and time wise.   However PT's have more opportunities in the field and I think I want my end goal to be Hippotherapy!  I have a tough time looking at my future and knowing if it's right for me and it's worth the burdens.  My drive is the horses, it's all I ever wanted in my life.  I take it day by day, semester by semester and life will work out for the best.   If you really want it it'll happen.   I took the schools mascot as my sign (A horse) that maybe this is the right move for me.  I may be young and the decisions and choices may be different.  But I keep faith things happen for a reason and you just got to look at the whole.  Your point about learning that you can't help everyone, I think that will be a hard lesson for me.  I am new in the field and with going back to school and working, sometimes I feel I just am not doing well at my job.  Unfortunately I compare myself to the therapists with 7-25 years experience.  I stress myself out when people don't get better and blame solely myself.  I will burn myself out if I keep thinking that way.  

Never give up on horses, they are my favorite thing.  I laughed when you said "I want horses more."  I say that a lot in my life.    Just take your time on decisions and I believe remembering what made you  become a PT will definitely assist in your choices. Though decisions on a whim have worked out well for me so far, ha ha.  

Amber April 15, 2014 5:06 PM

Your thoughts really resonate with me. I am trying to plan and negotiate that, 'next stage' myself. I love what I've learned about public health and I'm working to tie it in with my PT experience. It is a challenge because so very few have made that transition before. Being a pioneer at my age is a little more daunting than it would have been when I became a PT.

Whatever you do, don't give up on your horses! We need those non-PT passions to keep us human. Always factor that in your decision making.

Dean Metz April 15, 2014 4:05 PM

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