As the physical therapy profession enters its second century, APTA is doing its part to nurture the generations of PTs and PTAs that will shape its future — particularly the ones who've never considered a career in physical therapy before.
Called "PT Moves Me," the national campaign began just this year but already has notched up some significant achievements in its efforts to get the word out about the physical therapy profession to young people considering their career options, from elementary to college students.
The goal of PT Moves Me is fairly straightforward, according to Ryan Bannister, director of centralized application services and student recruitment.
"PT Moves Me is all about raising awareness of the physical therapy profession and, by doing that, opening students' eyes to the possibility that being a PT or PTA could be the career for them," Bannister said. "We're particularly focused on what we can do to increase the diversity of PT and PTA program applicant pools, which could ultimately increase diversity in the profession — something that's crucial to the future of physical therapy."
The program's focus on increasing diversity in physical therapy is aligned with APTA's overall strategic plan, which includes a commitment to efforts that will "nurture and support the growth of a more inclusive and diverse physical therapy community."
Although PT Moves Me is new, APTA has been actively engaged in student recruitment efforts for some time. The association has partnerships with HOSA - Future Health Professionals (formerly Health Occupations Students of America) and the National Society of High School Scholars, which provide inroads to students, and in 2019 engaged in a strong grassroots student recruitment effort that included attendance at more than 25 career conferences and fairs across the country. Most similar events were cancelled in 2020, but staff attended virtual events when possible.
Making Student Connections, Together
PT Moves Me is overseen by APTA's student recruitment team, but it is rooted in the creation of a network of volunteers committed to generating interest in the profession. Participants include DPT and PTA education programs, APTA components, and physical therapy educators, advisors, and influencers.
The first collaborative program launched under the PT Moves Me banner is what’s known as the PT Moves Me Ambassador Program, a project that enlists PTs, PTAs, and students associated with an education program or APTA state chapter to serve as — you guessed it — ambassadors for the profession. Ambassadors have access to APTA resources to support their work, as well as connections to a network of experts on everything from the rewards of the profession, to the nuts-and-bolts of the education application process, to what it's like to be a PT or PTA student.
To date, the ambassador program includes 271 ambassadors from 96 DPT programs and 33 PTA programs, and it will continue to grow. But the numbers don't tell the whole story, said Mya Shackleford, APTA's program manager for its student pipeline initiatives and its physical therapist assistant centralized application service.
"The ambassadors have been engaged and outstanding," Shackleford said. They recognize the need to spread the word about the profession of physical therapy in all communities; including those underrepresented in the profession of physical therapy. It's been inspiring to see the work they are planning and doing and to see the lives that will continue to be touched by the program."
Next Up: Chapter Ambassadors
Beginning this month, the ambassador program will be expanded to APTA chapters across the country.
"Getting chapter involvement in the program is exciting," Shackleford said. "It's a tremendous opportunity to expand our message and to connect with students at an even more local level. Our chapters are the experts on the profession in their respective states, and ambassadors affiliated with chapters could add a special depth to the program."
Off to an Impressive Start
Although the PT Moves Me Ambassador Program has only been operational since January of this year, participants already are making a difference.
Among the activities so far: participation in career fairs, presentations at high and middle schools, and education on PT Moves Me aimed at faculty and physical therapy students. Other inroads include Marshall University's efforts to create a long-term student recruitment program with nearby Davis & Elkins College, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's program known as ADEPT — short for "Advancing Diversity and Excellence in Physical Therapy" — aimed at creating and supporting pathways to excellence for youth from groups underrepresented in the profession.
"Some programs are just beginning their student recruitment and DEI efforts, and some programs have been hosting these types of events for years," Shackleford said. "No matter where they are along the line, the PT Moves Me Ambassador Program will provide resources, information, and support to assist in these efforts and highlight efforts when there is an opportunity."