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Raising the Bar in Rehab

Mandatory National Association Membership?

Published February 9, 2012 10:27 AM by Lisa Mueller

I met a friend for coffee this week, and we started talking about the Combined Sections Meeting in Chicago and our plans to participate in some of the APTA and WPTA events this spring. Eventually the conversation shifted to the APTA in general and the pros and cons of being a member. My friend pointed out that for chiropractors and medical doctors, membership to their respective professional associations is a requirement of their license. Some companies (in any profession) require their employees to be members of their professional association so the corporation can market itself as having 100-percent involvement in those areas. I didn't know that.

When I was in physical therapy school, it was "strongly encouraged" to be an APTA member, and we were required to have a copy of the APTA's Guide to Physical Therapy Practice book. The Guide was integrated into many projects and assignments throughout the three years in school. The APTA website was extremely helpful in finding research articles or news related to physical therapy and was a good resource throughout the years in school. The year after I graduated, my alma mater made APTA membership a requirement of the physical therapy program. I'm not sure if it is still a requirement.

There's a difference between mandating students and mandating professionals to be members of their professional association. Students are finishing school with a nice DPT degree and a student loan debt higher than many American mortgages. Adding additional costs for APTA membership (although discounted) only adds to the mounting debt crisis and at some point educators need to decide if those requirements are justified. Professionals, on the other hand, have an income and are better able to provide the out-of-pocket costs to become a member.

If APTA memberships were required of all professional physical therapists, membership would increase from around 30 percent (currently) to 100 percent. That means the funding for lobbyists who fight for our rights as practitioners and research funds would be substantially more than what they are accustomed to working with. Can you imagine how much the physical therapy profession could achieve with that amount of resources? As cliché as it sounds, if everyone would contribute, we could accomplish more together.

So, is it fair to ask everyone to be a member? Currently the APTA adjusts its services, including its website, to draw more professionals to join. The organization is constantly measuring the needs of the professionals and working to support all physical therapists. If everyone were a member, would APTA have the same drive? If increasing membership is a motivating factor for the APTA, how would its work change if membership was maxed out?

What do you think? Regardless of your views of the APTA, how would any business change if its sales were at the maximal levels? Would the quality of the company remain at its highest standard?


I believe each individual makes an excellent point on behalf of PT's, but what about the PTA?  The APTA makes no true allowances or pratical pathways for us.  The concept of levels or "specialties" is completely unrealistic. It has always been my belief that the APTA has looked at PTA's as a necessary evil that unfortunately may be losing stride with the increasing gap in education. This expansion is slowly being recognized by some insurance companies and as reported by Advance magazine, reimbursement is lost due to denials.  What is the APTA doing to ensure that PTA's do not lose their jobs at the conclusion of Vision 2020?

John, SNF/Assisted Living - PTA February 18, 2012 8:02 PM
Kernersville NC

So, when Vision 2020 occurs- do us old timer's with JUST a Bachelor's degree become obsolete?  Would I have to quit working so that all the PTs in 2020 will have their DPT?  Already, in the paper there are job openings that REQUIRE a master's degree that I just don't have.   I really don't want to go back to school (even online) to get my master's so that I can go back to school for a transitional DPT so that I can get a different job in the future.  Why weren't we grandfather'd in to having Master's anyway? I've been at this for 25+ years.  

I also believe that basically, the doctorate should be for those wanting to pursue it and not mandatory.

Shelah Mueth, Pediatric Home Care - PT February 17, 2012 1:06 PM
Kansas City MO

Over the last 20+ years I have witnessed our profession losing autonomy, losing various areas of our profession (ie. cardiac rehab, wound care, chest PT).  We have had direct access in my state for almost as long as I have been a therapist, yet it means nothing due to insurance regulations.  As therapists we were experienced direct care providers.  Now the push is to supervise more PTA's and push paper.  Over the last several years most organizations have decided that we no longer know how to dress professionally and insist on scrubs or worse yet, polo shirts.  I'm sorry, but I do not want to look like the person at Footlocker or Walmart.  The APTA has not done anything to help my profession or me that encourages me to renew my membership.

Kathy, Home Health - Physical Therapist February 16, 2012 10:42 AM
Tucson AZ

Curtis- THANK YOU so much for clarifying.  I apologize for not confirming my information before writing it in this blog.  


Lisa Mueller February 16, 2012 10:24 AM

I am a chiropractor and have many friends who are physicians and I can tell you your information is absolutely wrong. There is no mandatory membership for DCs and MDs. In fact, only about 25%-30% of DCs and MDs are part of their trade association (AMA, ACA, etc.).

curtis turchin February 16, 2012 8:11 AM
Graton CA

Toni... good point, but for me, my point that I stated earlier was enough for me to decide to let my membership go... as I did about 5 years ago. Your overview and personal take boils down to the basic premise... 70% of PTs have chosen not to be a member of the APTA for various reasons. Fact is... the APTA is not representing the majority of PTs and we are letting them know ...with our NONmembership! We all have our reasons and some PTs share your reason(s)/priorities, but not all. The bottom line.. is the bottom line...70% say "NO"!

Jeanne February 10, 2012 9:47 PM

Everyone makes a valid point.  But I think there is another piece to this puzzle.  We need to be asking why so many of us aren't members.  Saying it is expensive only goes so far.  Jeane mentioned adapting Vision 2020.  That doesn't go far enough.  The problem may be that PTs and PTAs see no benefit or value in being a member.

Think about it. The APTA talks abouts about lobbying for us, direct access, discounts on education etc.  But what does that mean to the average therapist?  Not a whole lot. Direct acess will mainly affect outpatient ortho.  

What about brand recognition?  That has been identified as a problem.  Yet many people still think of us as massagers or sports med if they even know what we do.  I'm still referred to as "the nurse" by patients.

If APTA wants more members then it needs to adjust it's focus to what the average, every day therapist cares about: salary, job security, etc.  When people start seeing a benefit of membership more will join.

Toni February 10, 2012 5:57 AM

When the APTA adjusts the Vision for 2020 to meet the needs of ALL the PT profession...including those who have practiced for over 30 years.... perhaps the membership will increase. PT should be a master's degree... and us "old timers" should be grandfathered in  (just like our OT colleagues). DPT should be available to those who want that route, but it should not be mandatory. The PT profession via the APTA/schools is "shooting itself in the foot"! Soon... PT's will be in short numbers..... Oh my ,is that what the 2020 Vision is truly about after all?...

Jeanne February 9, 2012 10:40 PM

How about if everyone who owns a gun join the NRA.  Imagine what the lobbyist could do with that kind of money and the support they could garnish from congress.

If you do not believe in an organizations mission or only part of it why waste money on it.  Now we see what kind of influence the national organization has when they mandate students to join.  Seems like the APTA has been lobbying PT schools heavily to secure funds not all students can afford.  

The Red Cross has never forced anyone to donate money, yet people like me do.  Maybe the APTA should take lessons from them.  

Jason Marketti February 9, 2012 10:17 PM

I agree with you Dean- the data speaks loudly.  If 70% of PTs are not associated with the APTA, then something isn't right. Most APTA members I know argue that it's important to be a member to maintain our research funds and money towards legislature- which I agree are important, but a professional association should do much more than that.

Thanks, also, for the comparison to the UK side of things.  Interesting to see the differences.  

Lisa Mueller February 9, 2012 8:41 PM

Yes, with more financial support, any organization could accomplish a lot more. But what if it is not what I want that organization to do? Or what if I don't like the way they go about doing what they do?

No, I speak with my checkbook. I write checks happily to organizations that I believe speak for me and work on my behalf. When an organization is able to capture only 30% of the professionals it targets, the problem is not with the professionals. The problem is that nobody believes that what the organization does is worth writing a check for. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists in the UK has over 95% of the registered physiotherapists as members. Membership is not mandatory, not even in the NHS. So why the difference? They work really hard on behalf of the profession here and they speak for physios of all types, not simply private practitioners or musculoskeletal physios. I happily write them a check every year. There is perceived value for the money. Like 70% of the American PTs I don't see the value for the money with the APTA so I'm not going to write them a check.

Dean Metz February 9, 2012 2:24 PM

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