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You can't really talk about APTA's transformative vision for the profession without talking about the future — and, more precisely, how we're going to get there. Pursuing our vision takes foresight, and foresight requires a commitment to investing in the people who will be leading the association and profession forward.

That's what the APTA Association Leadership Scholars Program is all about.

The program, which evolved from the award-winning 2021 APTA Centennial Scholars initiative, accepted its first cohort of participants earlier this year. The diverse group of PTs, PTAs, and students selected for the program have been engaged in virtual and in-person training and connected with capstone projects that will help round out their leadership journeys. 

Part of what makes the program such a standout is the way it pairs scholars with mentors who are both sensei and sounding board for the participants. Scholars often point to these relationships as among the highlights of their training, but mentors are also quick to point out that the benefits flow both ways.

"I get just as much, if not more, out of the program than the scholars do," said mentor Jamie Dyson, PT, DPT. "There is not one single recipe for success, so determining what small part I can offer to help them grow is such an honor every time I'm able to do it."

Anthony DiFilippo, PT, DPT, MEd, also a mentor, agrees.

"The rewards definitely flow both ways in the scholars program," he said. "It always energizes me, and I'm proud to be part of our leadership program and to be able to see the impressive young upcoming leaders in our profession."

Both DiFilippo and Dyson see the program's commitment to diversity as a particular strength.

"The diversity of the participants has been a joy to observe," Dyson said. "The scholars are from various backgrounds, practice areas, and cultures, but it goes beyond that — the diversity extends to their future leadership and professional goals. Not everyone has to strive to be president — a leader doesn't even necessarily have to lead a group. You can lead by just showing up and bringing others with you as you do it."

We asked four members of the 2022 class of leadership scholars to share their thoughts on the program. Here’s what they had to say.

Benjamin Aguila, PT, DPT

Owner, Life in Motion Physical Therapy, Jersey City, New Jersey.

What are your feelings about being a scholar?

It's been a wonderful experience: I am grateful to have been entrusted as a leadership scholar, as I have learned so much about so many aspects of servant leadership and governance, thanks to the generous mentorship of APTA leadership and staff in our learning journey. I'm learning how to best serve the physical therapy profession and the patients we advocate for. After completing the program I hope that I am able to honor and learn from the past, decide the issues of today, and be part of the cohort tasked to steer the future of the profession!

What have you been most excited about so far?

There were so many great ideas and discussions from all of the scholars! A small group of us went out for lunch, and we realized that if it was APTA‘s goal for us to collaborate and form the network of the next generation of champions for the profession, we would honor their investment. We promised to each other we would do all we can to earn that trust.

Has anything about the program surprised you? 

At a scholar event, you can’t go five steps in any direction without bumping into passionate leaders of the profession. To learn the history, breadth, and scope of the advocacy work of the APTA leaders who came before us was amazing, and the chance to be in the mentorship meetings with stalwarts of the profession was so encouraging for those of us who are just beginning our own leadership journeys. 

What skills are you learning or refining, and how do you see yourself putting them to use in the future?

The skills taught were wide-ranging, from high-level concepts, such as fiduciary duties, governance, and organizational frameworks, all the way down to the simple, daily task of how to run an engaging, efficient, and generative meeting. I was able to immediately put concepts into practice at the component level of leadership, as well as the professional development as a PT in my everyday clinical practice. Our clinic will take in student PTs on a regular basis now, and I hope to pass on this learning to our next generation as well. 

What advice do you have for anyone considering applying for next year's scholars program?

Apply for the program: It will not just enrich you with knowledge and skills, connect you with mentors, and expand your professional network, it will also give you context and nuance of the how and why our profession got here. The scholars program gives you the tools to be the best person you can be in our collective vision to transform society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience. 

Juliette Dassinger, PT,DPT

Physical therapist, Illinois Bone and Joint Institute, Highland Park, Illinois.

What are your feelings about being a scholar?

I have been involved with APTA at the state or national level since physical therapy school. Being a scholar gave me the opportunity to continue my involvement nationally and meet the leaders of this profession. It was a great reminder of why we are actively involved in APTA and how we are the change makers for future generations.

What have you been most excited about so far?

I’ve been excited to meet all the upcoming leaders in physical therapy. This is an excellent program to network with others who are like-minded and passionate about progressing physical therapy to the next level. As physical therapy has adapted and shifted over the last two years, these leaders have been through the difficulties of a pandemic and have created solutions for current issues and even orthodox beliefs about physical therapy. 

Has anything about the program surprised you? 

What has been a surprise but also a pleasure is having the opportunity to meet well-known leaders in physical therapy virtually as well as in person. Attending the first APTA Leadership Congress was an experience that I will never forget because I have gained insight into APTA operations and learned different leadership roles and pathways. This program has shown me leadership comes in all shapes and sizes, and it is best to think outside of the box to be the change needed. 

What skills are you learning or refining, and how do you see yourself putting them to use in the future?

One skill that I've utilized the most is working in a virtual environment. As all scholars are in separate locations, my current capstone team and others need to frequently communicate and meet in a virtual setting. As jobs and projects over the last two years have transitioned to a hybrid-type setting, it was this program that taught me how to use effective and consistent communication with my team and other scholars. 

What advice do you have for anyone considering applying for next year's scholars program?

If you have the slightest thought to apply, I suggest applying. It is the people you meet through this program that makes involvement in APTA and leadership worthwhile.

Paras Goel, PT, DPT, MEd

Home health PT, San Jose, California.

What are your feelings about being a scholar?

I have nothing but great things to say about the scholars program. The curriculum of the program is diversified and intriguing at the same time. The curriculum helped me to learn about the attributes of effective association leaders, the role of nonprofits in society, APTA’s core leadership competencies; championing diversity, equity, and inclusion; strategic planning; and more.

What have you been most excited about so far?

My capstone project! I am working on the research project about APTA component governance. I am conducting the research on governance structures through a comprehensive review of component bylaws, including chapter board and executive committee structure and terms, selection process for delegates, and identification of standing committees and special interest groups.

Has anything about the program surprised you? 

Definitely! I originally thought that the curriculum would be delivered via straightforward and one-way communication. However, it was very live and interactive, and I felt supported throughout the process. I got to meet inspiring leaders and mentors of the physical therapy profession.  
What skills are you learning or refining, and how do you see yourself putting them to use in the future?

I believe that leadership is a journey, not a destination. This program is helping me to fine tune my path for a successful leadership journey, and how I can develop my current skill set and leadership style to reach excellence. This experience has helped me see the big picture of our association and the physical therapy profession.

What advice do you have for anyone considering applying for next year's scholars program?

Get out of your comfort zone and go for it! I strongly recommend this program to anyone who wants to learn and progress their leadership journey alongside APTA. Choose the project that you are truly passionate about and lead the way for others to join.

Stephanie Long, PT, DPT

Regional director; director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Fox Rehabilitation, Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

What are your feelings about being a scholar?
Being selected as a scholar and having an opportunity to go through the program has been a true honor. It has allowed me to connect and collaborate with amazing colleagues from all over the country. Having the opportunity to connect with other clinicians who are also passionate about the profession has been reinvigorating!

What have you been most excited about so far?
The opportunity to learn from leaders in the profession regarding leadership and governance has impacted my day-to-day-work and the way I approach daily challenges.

What skills are you learning or refining, and how do you see yourself putting them to use in the future?
I am refining different concepts and techniques related to leadership. These are concepts I can use in my everyday life and work. This is the first time I am truly learning about how to approach governance and the unique skillset and thought process it requires.   

What advice do you have for anyone considering applying for next year's scholars program?
Take a moment to reflect. Look at the big picture and imagine the future of your career as well as the future of the profession. It is true that there may be no "right time" to start something new ... but there is no "wrong time" to invest in yourself! 

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