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Toni Talks about PT Today

The Perception About PT

Published March 27, 2015 4:40 PM by Toni Patt

Last weekend I had dinner with some friends. One of my newer acquaintances knew what a physical therapist does. First he wanted to know what clinic I worked at. When I told him I work in a hospital, he wanted to know how I liked working with shoulders and knees after surgery.

I finally had to explain in detail what I do each day. This included an explanation of the difference between orthopedic patients and neurological patients, and my preference for the latter over the former. I don't know which he had more trouble believing: that I actually do what I do or that I wasn't searching frantically for something orthopedic.

Given some of my comments about lack of brand identification for the profession, you might think I would be happy he knew what a PT is. His knowledge didn't make me all that happy. His concept of PT was so narrow it excluded the majority of what we do and where we do it. At least he didn't ask for a massage.

This is an example of another divide in our profession. The divide of how we are described. The information that is out there focuses on outpatient, orthopedic therapy. To the uninformed that is the impression being issued. With the exception of pediatrics, I have yet to see anything that shows PTs doing anything that isn't orthopedic.

The ads for local PT schools feature orthopedic settings. Whenever PT is discussed as a career, the accompanying picture is some kind of outpatient setting. I don't think I've ever seen a picture in a catalog depicting anyone with any visible impairment. Everyone looks like they're at a clinic receiving therapy.

This misconception isn't doing us any good. The promotion of PT should be all of PT, not just a special interest group or featuring generic pictures that could have been taken anywhere. I lay this problem at the feet of the APTA as well. They are so driven toward direct access and practice without referral, the rest of what we do seems to have been forgotten.

At the end of the evening, I asked my new friend about his PT experience. As I suspected, he'd been to an outpatient clinic for back pain. But he only went one time. The co-pay was too expensive. He went to a chiropractor instead and feels much better.

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Hi Toni,

Nice to see another PT that is not brainwashed by academia or Private practice who seem to feel that the only way to protect our profession is via legislation.  Pardon me.  That may have been a little strong but, you get my drift.  I think that professional performance and marketing are equally important....and...Yes, the facilitation of public awareness of us as a profession.  I have thought for years that the APTA shoul focus more on this.   Even thought that we should mimic the campaign the American Dental Association lauched almost 50 years ago to fight tooth decay.  They successfully established the paradigm that people should brush 3 times a day, floss once per day and see their dentist every 6 months.  It was brilliant.  Where is our campaign?  There are many things that could be prevented by proper posture and specific exercise and stretching.  In many cases, common and prevalent problems such as osteoarthritis and its associated back, neck and shoulder problems could be avoided if they were monitored and advised every 6 months by a PT.  In my opinion, this is the direction that the APTA should be moving.  One which markets our profession and establishes our services as necessary rather than optional.  One that is part of the solution to the cost of healthcare rather than part of the problem.  One that only PT's are qualified to do.  

Barry Fitch, PT - DPT/Pres, Progressive Physical Therapy April 16, 2015 12:39 PM
Columbia SC

Re the article "The Perception of PT,"  I wish to thank Toni, not Nancy for writing it.  Sorry about that.

Julie Agbasi, Acute Care - Physical Therapist, Hospital April 11, 2015 7:30 AM
Boston MA

I totally agree with you, Nancy.  I am glad that you wrote this article because it needed to be written.

I am frustrated by the narrow view of Physical Therapy.  But that gives me the opportunity to educate people about our profession.

I love acute care; it's sad that outpatient orthopedics gets all of the attention.  Acute Care therapists do great work, which isn't easy.

What makes it worse is another PT (who works in other Outpatient setting), actually told me that acute care was repetitive! You can imagine my shock.  Again, we as PT/PTAs, need to educate everyone re: what our profession is really like.


Julie, Acute Care - Physical Therapist, Hospital April 11, 2015 7:25 AM
Boston MA

Many professional have spent many years in Home Health. I have spent about 35 years in home health and find it rewarding. Going each year to be a better clinician. Love it.

Eunice , home health - PT DPT April 10, 2015 6:50 PM

I agree with you that we, as a profession, need to do a better job at branding ourselves!  There is a huge percentage of PT and PTA's practicing in the acute care, and other non-OP Ortho settings, that are not APTA members.  Perhaps if they joined and made their voice heard this would change!

Daniel Curtis, PT, DPT April 4, 2015 8:59 PM
Orlando FL

Wow Toni! Good for you! I have been practicing as a PTA for almost 25 years and have spent the last 17 in an acute care hospital. Although my choice of workplace is not at all glamorous, I LOVE what I do. You are absolutely correct that medical in- patients are NEVER the focus of community discussions about the PT profession. I feel that the outpatient/sports medicine community has consistently had a louder voice than those therapists who work with the critically ill. I don't want the delight is caring for these fragile patients. However, the patients on our caseloads deserve a "shout out" for the difficult journey they undergo to reach maximal functional level. Thank you for putting your voice out there and God Bless you for choosing the "messy"  side of our profession.

Nancy, Acute care - PTA, Hospital April 2, 2015 10:23 PM
Louisville KY

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