Podcast: Listen to 'This Is Why'
An everyday approach to ensuring the profession's vitality.
As physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs), we tout our ability to help patients gain independence, participate in daily activities, and obtain or regain mobility. We generally gauge our success by defined outcome measures. But there is another outcome measure to consider: our impact on physical therapy's succession plan.
Like many of my students and colleagues, I was drawn to physical therapy at a young age when I witnessed its benefits to a family member. After my maternal grandmother had a stroke at the age of 64, I was unsure what her life would be like going forward. She no longer could speak clearly, walk independently, or drive. She couldn't use her left arm and had great difficulty managing activities of daily living.
Over time, however, with the assistance of a PT who worked diligently with both my grandmother and her primary caregiver-my grandfather- she regained a level of participation, becoming adept at getting around her apartment and the community. This required her to use a wide-based quad cane and wear special shoes. She depended on my grandfather for almost every aspect of her care, including hygiene and dressing. She needed help getting into and out of the car, rising from a soft chair or sofa, and negotiating the bathtub to take a shower. Her life-and that of my grandfather-was forever changed. Yet she continued to smile-and, oh, she had a beautiful smile!-while participating as best she could in every activity possible.
I used to think that exposure to physical therapy in my formative years, and my subsequent desire to pursue this career path, was unique. I now know otherwise. Having interviewed applicants to the PT program at the University of Colorado for nearly a decade, I have heard variations on my story told over and over. So many people choose physical therapy for much the same reason I did. Having seen physical therapy's positive effects on a loved one can have a huge impact on one's own desires and professional journey. Many other DPT applicants, meanwhile, tell me they selected physical therapy because a PT was instrumental in their successful return to physical activity after a sports injury.
Both paths are powerful, but what about the people who aren't exposed to physical therapy through these experiences? How can we excite and interest more young people to explore the career option of physical therapy? We never know who is watching us, and who may someday base his or her professional future-at least in part-on what we do and how knowledgeable, welcoming, and compassionate we appear to be. This is why it's imperative that we be the best PT or PTA we can be with every single patient. We are physical therapy's ambassadors.
Throughout my professional career, I have strived not only to do everything I can to help patients participate optimally in their own lives, but also to generate smiles and to inspire those whose paths I cross. This is my duty as a professional and a succession planner for the future of our profession.
Mary Jane Rapport, PT, DPT, PhD, FAPTA, is assistant director of the physical therapy program at the University of Colorado.
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