APTA President Roger Herr, PT, MPA, provided his annual address on August 14 at the Omni Shoreham in Washington, DC.
On behalf of the APTA Board of Directors, welcome to the 2022 House of Delegates, to the first-ever APTA Leadership Congress, and to our second century as an association.
It wasn't long ago that our association capped off our 100th anniversary with a celebration at Keene's Chophouse in New York.
Keene's is a legend within our profession. It's the place where the organization that would become APTA was born. When we returned there last December, it was with our Centennial Scholars – a group of young leaders devoted to carrying our profession and association into the future.
What a great juxtaposition: thinking about our next 100 years in the place our first 100 years began.
That was the point. Healthy organizations don't get stuck in the past or get lost in the moment. They look ahead.
That's been hard for many of us to do in recent years because we've been reacting to a force of COVID-19. It's consumed our present.
COVID-19 put the concerns of today ahead of concerns of tomorrow, in large part because we weren't ready for it.
Back in 2019, not many of us thought about what would happen if a pandemic shut down entire countries for months, or even days. Few thought ahead about the effects a pandemic would have on education, on the supply chain, on our physical and emotional health. And certainly we didn't think ahead to the impact on patient care.
The pandemic brought disruption and stress – in particular to our clinicians on the front lines of patient care. It impacted our economy and our personal wellbeing. It took away gatherings and celebrations. It threw careers off course. And worst of all, it brought death and suffering.
The pandemic is part of our present, but through our hardship has come innovation and wisdom. We know so much more now than we did then.
It's our responsibility to use that wisdom, to ensure the old saying proves true: hindsight is 2020.
Hindsight is rarely enjoyable.
Hindsight often carries a sting of regret: If only I had noticed the signs. If only I had listened. If only I had paid more attention to what really matters.
There's no cure for that feeling. We can't undo the past. What we can do is affect the future.
We can exercise foresight.
We have an expansive vision. We have an ambitious mission. We have 100 years of history. We have a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Now we must apply foresight. And what do I mean by that word?
Foresight isn't prediction. Foresight is preparation.
In some ways, it's simple. On a sunny morning, our phone says it's going to rain, so we take an umbrella with us, even though the current conditions suggest otherwise. That's a kind of foresight.
However, applying foresight to our association, profession, and the transformation of society is more complex. But we must try, and a good first step is to embrace curiosity and understanding.
In late June, I issued a statement as APTA President in response to the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
I've heard from many members since then. I've heard from members who support the statement. I've heard from people who oppose the statement.
I'm doing my best to listen to all of these voices. I'm also seeking to understand. And I hope I'm not alone.
I knew everyone wouldn't agree with the statement, because there are many things about which our members have different and strong opinions. Disagreement is OK.
But I'm most concerned about the number of members who told me that they feel unsafe sharing their perspective in our association community. I hope we can do better.
We must listen to each other. We must be willing to allow new and dissenting voices to be heard.
If we can't listen, we cannot understand – and then we're just wrestling to be the person with the bullhorn.
Inclusive leadership isn't easy, but it's essential, and it starts with a commitment to each other.
Inclusion isn't just about making the circle bigger. It's ensuring those within the circle are able to contribute in meaningful ways. Different people. Different perspectives. Different experiences.
Sometimes that will lead to disagreement and even disappointment, but as leaders we must stretch beyond our comfort zones.
When we surround ourselves with those who have the same experiences and perspectives, we are standing in a place as the world changes around us.
Foresight isn't possible without accepting that progress doesn't happen without change.
For those of us who have served in leadership for a long time, embracing change can be hard.
It requires letting go. Letting go of personal control. Letting go of a rigid perspective of what APTA is and should be.
It might even be stepping back so others can step forward.
We can become champions for the next generation. We can bring new voices into the conversation.
If we want others to find a place in our association, we need to be the ones standing on the front porch to invite them inside. And when we do, we're not inviting them into our home, we're handing them the keys to their home. The future generation is becoming the present generation at rapid speed.
My question is, are we ready?
Engaging in foresight demands that we identify the built-in assumptions that define our current association culture and evaluate if they are serving our future.
Along the way, we need to acknowledge the external landscape around us and make sure assumption doesn't turn into denial.
The payment environment is a great example. Although we see new models being tested, progress is painfully slow. How much can we endure? What can we realistically influence? How can we ensure that our desire for sunshine doesn't get us caught in a storm without an umbrella?
If our solutions occur in the thought vacuum of what we think our profession deserves, we're not only failing to engage in foresight, we're failing to accept the present.
The use of digital technology to augment wellness, prevention, and rehabilitation is another example. It's here, now, and it isn't going away.
We must continue to hold the line that physical therapy involves PTs and PTAs, and we must prepare for digital health to be a fact of life, the predictable next step for a health system that always strives to support more people at less expense.
And we can't forget about our APTA.
Foresight demands a willingness to identify and test our assumptions about the association we all hold dear. Most of our profession don't maintain membership in APTA. If we hope to change that, we need to look at our governance models, our ways of working, and our opportunities for participation.
We need to ensure that the traditions of today are empowering the APTA of tomorrow.
Not everything has been uphill. In some areas, we have tremendous momentum.
One example is how the public sees our profession. Despite a long-held narrative that the public doesn't understand what we do, appreciation of the value of physical therapy continues to grow.
More and more people are realizing that physical therapy isn't only about recovering from an injury or surgery. They're increasingly looking to us for who we are: movement experts.
We see evidence of this in a recent public survey, commissioned by APTA, and we'll be sharing that this fall -- and we see it in the increasing traffic to our consumer website, ChoosePT.com.
You can also see this in the media: members of our profession are now routinely quoted as experts in many media outlets from the New York Times, to the Today Show, to Consumer Reports.
We're also seeing positive momentum in physical therapy education and professional pathways.
Partly fueled by the pandemic, education programs are having important discussions about the directions they need to take. Our Education Leadership Partnership inspired a roadmap for the future of education that's been well-received. And our PT Moves Me program continues to expand our recruitment efforts.
The needle is moving, as PTCAS data shows that applications from students in traditionally marginalized communities are growing.
We're on the right path.
As we strengthen our foresight, we must never forget our past. At the same time, we need to let the past be the past. That's where it belongs.
Our founders were curious, hopeful, and brave – and we must be the same. But let's appreciate that today we're operating far beyond their experience and vision – and that cycle will repeat itself forever.
Foresight is the best way to prepare for the future, but it isn't a crystal ball or a magic wand. Any act of foresight must allow for mistakes and disappointment.
Given the profession we're in, this shouldn't faze us. Our patients experience setbacks all the time.
That's part of any progress, and we see it everywhere.
Director Steven Spielberg was rejected twice by the film program at USC. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job. Stephen King's first book was rejected by publishers 30 times. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Vera Wang was a figure skater who didn't make the 1968 Olympics before she became a fashion icon. Mary McMillan founded our association, but before that she had to withstand a world at war.
The list is endless.
Frustration almost always comes first. Pain is a sign of growth. Progress is rarely a straight line.
Those of us gathered in this ballroom have the privilege of leading our association. With that comes the responsibility of foresight.
I urge us not to command from behind but to guide from out front, to spend as much time as possible focused on where we must be, not where we are.
Recent history reminds us that tomorrow usually looks a lot like today, until it doesn't.
Foresight is discipline, not dreaming.
The sooner we embrace that tomorrow will be different, the better we can prepare for what's to come.
Thank you, and have a great 2022 House of Delegates.