Things Have Changed Since I Went to PT School
Lately I've been getting comments on my blog posts from people seeking advice about entering the PT profession, and asking how or why I became a physical therapist. The answers to both of those questions are complex. The medical environment today is significantly different from when I went to PT school 30 years ago.
I like to joke that I went to school "back in the day." I earned my bachelor's of science in physical therapy in 1984. That was so long ago I've had to relearn things at least twice. We don't even do most of the cutting-edge stuff from back then anymore. Reimbursement was different. Patients stayed in hospitals and rehab facilities for weeks at a time. No one complained about going home too soon.
The practice was different. The expectations were different. We had the time to work with patients. We had the opportunity to use our skills. No one entered PT school determined to only work in outpatient orthopedics or own his or her own clinic. You treated whatever came to you. I had the opportunity to watch my patients improve and build relationships with them.
The dynamics between patients, families and therapists were also different. On one hand, therapists were seen as important to the recovery process. On the other, there weren't that many of us. The conflicts between therapies and other disciplines weren't as pronounced. More importantly we charged for individual services performed. This was before the onset of DRGs. The rehab department was considered a revenue-generation source. No one counted minutes except on rehab.
I'm not going to try to describe how things are now. I hope people enter physical therapy programs for the same reasons as 30 years ago. I don't know that I would still become a PT if I had to do it all over again. Most of the reasons I entered the profession have been lost in transition. Back then I could never have afforded three years of graduate school after four years of undergraduate study. The option wouldn't have existed for me if that were the case.
I feel like I make a difference when I work with my neuro patients. That keeps me going. I love teaching others how to do what I do. That makes me feel good. Sometimes I feel like I'm working only to support my horse habit. I've been doing this for 30 years. I must be doing something right.