When it comes to addressing mobility, physical therapists are the experts. The entire month of October is dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness about how physical therapy professionals are helping people worldwide move better, lead more active lifestyles, and achieve their mobility goals so they can continue doing the things they love most. In this article, we follow the evolution of the physical therapy profession to what it is today and discuss how physical therapists can lean into the doctorate title and embrace innovation to continue advancing the future of physical therapy.
Evolution of the physical therapy profession
Physical therapy as we know it in the United States began with the reconstruction aides, who were civilian employees of the US army during World War I. Reconstruction aides were college-educated, but their physical rehabilitation training was informal and primarily learned on the job. Early steps were taken to provide classes in “physical education” to offer a more standardized education. Later, these reconstruction aides recognized the need to organize together to advocate for professional and evidence-based practices, which is why in 1921 they founded what is now known as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the official scientific journal of the APTA, now referred to as Physical Therapy Journal. A major goal of both the organization and the journal was to establish best practices for movement disorders founded on peer-reviewed research and to deliver high-quality care by educated physical therapy professionals.
Throughout the second half of the 1920s, formal physical therapy education programs were established throughout the US. This led to the development of an accrediting body in 1983, known as the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), to ensure that all physical therapy degree programs upheld certain standards and provided thorough education to students who would soon enter the professional workforce and treat patients.
Education standards for the physical therapy profession have certainly evolved over time. Initially, those seeking to practice as physical therapists could obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field and then become certified in physical therapy. This became an entry-level bachelor’s degree in physical therapy, which later evolved into a post-baccalaureate master’s degree. As the physical therapy profession continued to advance, it was recognized that a doctorate-level degree was most appropriate to address the complexity of patient needs, evaluation, assessment, and treatment. In 2016, CAPTE declared that the doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) degree would be the entry-level degree for all accredited physical therapy programs in the US.
Leaning into the doctorate title
For physical therapists, the doctorate title is hard-earned and well-deserved. Physical therapists are truly the movement experts, highly skilled in addressing musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders. The current educational requirements are rigorous and provide the knowledge base necessary to evaluate patients in their entirety, identify the root impairment, develop personalized treatment plans, recognize red flags, and refer the patient to other specialties when required. It involves immense clinical decision-making and effective interdisciplinary collaboration. As a physical therapist, it’s important to embrace your worth and fully step into your critical role in the healthcare ecosystem. It’s also time to emphasize to your patients and colleagues the value physical therapists bring to preventative interventions and primary healthcare – particularly when it comes to the promotion of physical fitness, health, and wellness. There is a plethora of research that supports the importance of physical activity in preventing chronic illness, maintaining physical independence, and improving quality of life. Physical therapists need to play an active role in this sector of healthcare as professionals who are experts in injury prevention, optimizing functional movement, improving aerobic capacity, and facilitating safe strength gains. All individuals can benefit from regular visits with a physical therapist for guidance and education to help lead healthy, active lifestyles.
The best way to implement this? Empower yourself as a physical therapy professional with ongoing research to stay current on best practices. Continuous education to develop your physical therapy skills not only betters your individual practice, but the profession as a whole. Also, spend time educating your patients on the expansive role of physical therapists. Society needs to be aware of the true scope of the profession. Take it one step further and get involved with professional advocacy. Stay aware of current policy and proposed changes so that you can address it with your state representative.
Clearly, the physical therapy profession has evolved since the 1900s, and it will continue to evolve as time passes. This can be seen now perhaps more than ever with the introduction of novel technologies meant to improve the delivery of physical therapy care – for both providers and patients. While change always seems daunting, embracing innovation is fundamental to the longevity of the physical therapy profession. Utilizing technology to reach more patients, in new ways can be extremely helpful at not only assessing and treating existing movement disorders but also promoting increased physical activity and preventing chronic illness. Introducing digital options within your physical therapy practice will allow you to better connect with your patients, for a more well-rounded view of their health status. The more insight you have, the better you can personalize your treatment plan to their unique needs and offer additional education and guidance – as compared to only connecting with them in the clinic once or twice a week. Meeting patients where they spend the majority of their time helps facilitate meaningful behavior changes and lifestyle modifications for long-term outcomes. Physical therapists must be a part of health and wellness promotion, and technological innovation can help facilitate this involvement and bring great change.
Ready to embrace innovation and truly step into the title of movement expert? Learn more about how OneStep’s ground-breaking digital physical therapy technology can set your clinical practice ahead of the rest.