We already know that the physical therapy profession has many career avenues one can pursue: pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, cardiopulm, neuro, women’s health, and sports. As a 3rd year DPT student quickly approaching graduation, I am excited to pursue the numerous options offered, but I also want more for our profession. What other career opportunities can a well-educated Doctor of Physical Therapy use his/her knowledge base for?
Within the past 20 years, the PT profession has undergone multiple changes in order to improve the both the practices and patient outcomes. No longer is a master’s degree sufficient for entry-level practice. The American Physical Therapy Association has mandated that all programs for physical therapy be at the doctoral level by 2020. Within the past year, the APTA has published a new Guide to PT Practice 3.0, and has outlined new roles and responsibilities for PTs to get involved with population health initiatives. With the push for healthy living and keeping active, who is more knowledgeable in this domain than physical therapists? No one.
What is even more interesting is that technology has started to grow alongside one of the foundational components of the PT practice-- the exercise treatment plan. Now, startups (like Constant Therapy) and researchers are using virtual or internet-based home exercise plans to assist with rehabilitation for patients who have sustained a stroke or TBI. Now, and in the near future, the typical orthopedic patient will jump on this technological bandwagon using internet-based or gaming based home exercise plans to assist in their rehabilitation (shameless plug). Some even say that technological advances will render the PT profession obsolete. I highly doubt that, but if you’re interested in technology, PT is a fun field to get involved in!
Another exciting change is the result of the push for easier access to effective primary and preventative care. For example, as we age our body naturally begins to lose strength, bone density, quick reaction motor fibers, and our blood pressure slowly begins to rise.
How does one combat these changes?
Which profession understands how normal and abnormal physiological processes affect strength and endurance?
In fact, the concept of PTs acting as musculoskeletal primary care providers has already been shown to be successful in movement-intensive and movement-crucial organizations like the United States military. In a study published in Military Medicine, data was collected on treatment approaches and outcomes among PTs and family practice physicians serving as the PCP for members of the military with musculoskeletal issues. The return-to-duty rate was 50% higher for patients whose PCP was a physical therapist. That being said, why are Primary Care Physicians not referring their patients to physical therapists as part as a normal check-up? This lack of interprofessional care can open up new career opportunities for PTs. Another startup, PhysioCare, is trying (alongside many, many PT professionals) to address this issue first-hand.
I challenge other DPT students, as well as new or progressive-minded physical therapists to invest in changing the stigma of physical therapy from a reactive, fee-for-service based profession (that is many times underutilized and misunderstood), to a highly respected, knowledgeable network of professionals known for its forward thinking, its progress-minded initiatives, acceptance and use of technology, and its role in proactive primary care and population health. We’ve worked hard to get our degree-- let’s use our talents and knowledge not only to improve physical therapy, but healthcare overall.