I don’t know about you, but I love the power of a meaningful quote: it can be interpreted in many ways, and it offers new insights every time you read it. That’s why, when I was at Ascend, I couldn’t help but think of some of my favorite quotes. And it’s these three in particular that perfectly frame my experience and represent my hopes for the future of our profession:

1. “ Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

In the physical therapy space, value seems to be the buzzword of choice. In fact, I’m almost certain I heard it at every single session I went to at Ascend—and for good reason. Right now, the physical therapy industry is in a state of transition. We’re fighting to prove our value and ascend to a higher place in the healthcare continuum. But to get there, we have to change. And changing effectively means:

Doing the Math

Daphne Scott, PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, OCS, of DS Leadership Life, spoke on cultivating positivity at work. And during her presentation, she gave the perfect formula that encompasses what’s involved in effecting change:

(Vision x Dissatisfaction) + (First Steps) > Resistance = Change.

In other words, for change to happen, your vision for the future, multiplied by your dissatisfaction with your present state, and then added to the first steps toward change, must be greater than the resistance you encounter. If we, as physical therapists and DPT students, can get on the right side of this equation and thus, change, we can ascend to greater value.

Putting Change into Perspective

Now, I want to give an example of how students (like myself) view change. During a conversation I had while networking with a private practice owner, I was asked, “Cruz, where can I find other students like you? I don’t know of any other students who would come out to an event like this.” My reply was simple: “We are everywhere! We are on Twitter and Facebook. We are looking for mentorship! We are looking for you—you just need to make yourself visible, and we will find you.”

Now, I want to make something perfectly clear: newly minted DPTs and DPT students do not have time to waste. We are hungry! For years, people told us to go to college so we could get good jobs—only to graduate and have hiring managers turn us away. Why? Because we didn’t have enough experience. We want to effect change; that’s why we decided to go to school in the first place—why we worked so hard to stand out among thousands of applicants and earn a spot in a DPT program. It’s why we scratched and clawed our way through didactic courses, clinical rotations, and the NPTE. Now, most students have upwards of $100,000 in student loan debt and sky-high interest rates. And yet, we’re still hungry for change.

Please, just let that soak in for a second.

Let’s apply the previously cited change formula to this situation. We (students and fresh PTs):

  1. Have a vision of becoming professionals of value.
  2. Are very dissatisfied with our present state as described above.
  3. Take the first steps in our careers and pursue residencies, join online mentorship groups, attend continuing education courses, and relentlessly network.
  4. Encounter massive resistance in the form of debt, fear, and inexperience.

That said, we’re still determined to change, and we will change. We will ascend, because we have no other choice if we want to succeed in this new healthcare paradigm.

2. “Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man; by then it was nothing to me but blinding!” – Bane (“The Dark Knight Rises”)

If you don’t remember this scene from the movie “The Dark Knight Rises,” let me remind you: Bane and Batman are fighting in Bane’s hideout, when all of sudden, Batman clicks a button on his famous utility belt and all the lights go out. Then, Bane mocks Batman in the darkness, because Bane was born in the darkness and Batman merely adopted it.

Okay, now that you’re familiar with the scene, let’s circle back to the healthcare landscape. Today, health care at large is a consumer’s playground. And for the most part, the days of limiting consumers with very few healthcare choices is long gone. On top of that, providers are feeling the push to provide better care at a lower cost. With all of that in mind, how will physical therapists (and the industry itself) survive—and even thrive—in this new paradigm?

Believing in a Solution

Ben Fung, PT, DPT, MBA, and Gene Shirokobrod, PT, of UpDoc Media—as well as Scott Hebert and Ryan Klepps from Strive Labs—touched on a topic that will be a game-changer for physical therapists, as it’ll help them do more than just survive in the future. And that topic is branding. Most of us would agree that the physical therapy industry has an obvious problem: we don’t have a brand. That’s evident in the fact that even our own patients don’t understand what we do. That’s where marketing comes in. Marketing can save physical therapy!

That’s especially true when it comes to marketing to patients directly—rather than relying on referrals from other healthcare providers. I actually discussed this very concept while networking with another private practice owner. During our conversation, he told me that he had started using social media to market his business—and that it was changing everything for him. That’s when our conversation led us to Batman. I brought up the “Dark Knight Rises” to illustrate my own experience in the PT industry.

Being Born and Molded by Technology

I told him that I’ve been using social media since I was a teenager—for more than 10 years, easily. You could say that I was both born in it and molded by it. We then talked about how people are consuming information in a radically different way now. Everything is mobile, and a large majority of the world is on social media. That’s why, for our profession to ascend, we must start marketing directly to the public.

But, I won’t stop with the Internet; the current healthcare landscape is molding me, too. And that’s because I don’t know any different. Yes, I know what struggles our industry has been fighting for the past 30 years—but I also know about the solutions that are on the table. I am coming into this industry with the knowledge of what we, as a profession, need to do to change and ascend.

3. “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton

Ascend changed everything for me. I have no shame in admitting that many of the topics were over my head. A couple of times, I even questioned my decision to attend in the first place. Everywhere I looked, I saw the best names in rehabilitation equipment, highly experienced clinicians, and extremely successful private practice owners. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb.

That said, every single time I felt out of place or doubted myself, someone was there—someone who wanted to get to know me better, shed light on my ignorance, and give me advice. Pretty soon, I was confident enough to humbly approach people and initiate conversations. This is exactly what I needed at this stage of my professional development. I needed someone to see potential in me and take the time to help me out. I needed leaders who were further along in their journeys than I am in mine to get on stage, put me on their shoulders, and showing me the way. In my experience, most physical therapists have this outlook regarding nascent DPTs. They’re willing to serve someone in need. And it’s this willingness to serve that makes physical therapists such phenomenal healthcare providers.

Taking the Next Steps

One of the most enlightening sessions during Ascend was the Payment Reform Panel. During this session, a group of panelists discussed complex issues and possible solutions that we can explore as a profession. There’s no doubt that we have many challenges ahead as reimbursements continue to decline and legislative issues continue to stifle our growth. However, I learned that it’s in our best interest to focus on the things that we can change. We have to start:

  • Ascending beyond the antiquated ancillary role by leveraging direct access and our diagnostic skill sets to their full potential.
  • Marketing directly to the public and sending a clear message about the true value of physical therapy.
  • Gathering objective data in the form of outcome measures to demonstrate our value.
  • Declining one-sided insurance contracts that don’t accurately reflect the value of our skillset.
  • Supporting the APTA to make our voices heard.

The path to the future has many challenges, and yet, I see massive opportunity. As long as we are willing to stand on the shoulders of giants, we will change and ascend our value as a profession.

Being Open to Networking

As Ascend drew to a close, I didn’t think my experience could get any better. But, the highlight of my trip was yet to come. Ben Fung of UpDoc Media (the speaker I mentioned previously), caught me before I left. He started a conversation with me about my experience. And what I thought would be a five-minute interaction turned into five hours of one-on-one mentorship! Ben is genuine, humble, and ridiculously talented, and he took the time to teach me everything I wanted to know about social media, marketing, and clinical excellence. I highly recommend seeking him out if you need to know anything about physical therapy marketing and business. I can’t thank him enough. And I can’t encourage you enough to be open to networking. You never know what kind of mentorship you’ll gain from the experience.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my experience at Ascend. I’m looking forward to next year’s event in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona!


Cruz Romero is a DPT student at Northern Arizona University.