The fact that I’m writing about professionalism in the workplace might make some of my friends and former colleagues snicker a bit. After all, I was never known for my poise in the clinic; instead, I was always the one with the dad jokes and over-sharing moments.
But I can also admit that, although I needed to be spoken to (sternly!) on several occasions, I have come a long way over the years. On that note, I’d like to talk about the APTA’s seven core values of professionalism, and how the little actions we take—or in some cases, fail to take—in the clinic can compromise those values in ways we might not even notice.
As PTs, we’re obligated to follow up on any concerns our patients might have regarding their care. If a patient mentions a new complaint or symptom—or shows signs of mental health needs—a simple “we’ll keep an eye on that” might not be enough. Be cognizant of the fact that your patients may open up in ways that allow you to truly help them—as long as you’re actually listening, that is. If they issue some sort of cry for help, it’s our duty to direct them to the right resources.
Putting patients’ needs above our own is one of the core values we observe as PTs. But how many times have we ushered patients out the door right on time because we needed to catch up on charting—even though we knew they still had important questions about their care? With burnout running rampant in our profession, it’s understandable when we have those moments. But remember: you went into PT to help others. If this is a recurring problem, consider speaking with your manager about building in additional time for documentation.
Are you guilty of checking your phone while your patient is doing therapeutic exercise? Do you chat with your coworkers while you perform manual therapy? These actions might seem benign, but they send the signal that you don’t care that much about your patients—or that you care more about office chatter than making personal connections with those in your care.
Investment in our profession is a core tenet of our field. While we’re not obligated to join the APTA or donate to PT fundraising efforts, doing so demonstrates that we’re contributing to the future of our profession. Even if you don’t want to spend the money on professional memberships, consider getting involved with events like PT Day of Service, which allow you to represent your profession with pride while helping underserved communities.
Have you ever waited until a patient is just out of ear shot—and then complained to coworkers by saying something like, “She is always whining about her recovery time. Why did she opt for surgery if she’s not willing to deal with the recovery?” Our patients confide in us and expect us to keep those conversations private. Sharing personal information about our patients is not only impermissible under HIPAA, but also a violation of the APTA’s core value of integrity.
It’s an interesting time in physical therapy. With education costs skyrocketing and salaries continuing to stagnate, we might not feel like shouting from the hills to attract fresh talent to our field. But, we have tons of opportunities to break out of the norm and build a successful career—by exploring telehealth options, non-clinical career paths, cash-based clinics, and integrative clinics, to name a few. And we have an obligation to uphold the core tenet of professional duty by representing our physical therapy proudly and professionally, whether we’re treating in the clinic, teaching, or holding one of many non-traditional PT jobs.
PT has historically been a largely misunderstood field. The general public often confuses us with personal trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists, and even nurses! I know I’ve been guilty of letting it slide when the occasional patient refers to me as a “trainer,” but that goes against our core tenets, and I’ve learned over the years that it’s not arrogant to correct people in those types of situations. When we take advantage of those small moments when we get to educate our patients about who we are and what we do, we’re representing our profession with pride—not to mention equipping those patients to go out and accurately inform the general public about the caliber of care they’re receiving when they attend physical therapy.
Whether we’re working in fast-paced ortho clinics or teaching at physical therapy schools, it’s vital to keep these core tenets at the forefront of our minds. They help us stay connected to our patients, our profession, and the reason so many of us went into the field in the first place.
Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways. Meredith is also the co-founder of NewGradPhysicalTherapy and works as a freelance writer and editor for a variety of publications.