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The Expanding Role of a Physical Therapist in Patient Care

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As defined, physical therapists are health care professionals who diagnose and provide care for those with medical ailments or health-related issues that limit movement or abilities in everyday activities. As the medical field advances, however, the role of the physical therapist is expanding to include other aspects of health care.

While most associate physical therapists as the treatment providers to patients with issues that prevent or limit mobility, the responsibilities of a physical therapist have become much more than that in recent years. Today, physical therapists must be prepared to perform as a fundamental member of any health care team. Additionally, practitioners must be comfortable with and able to perform as a consultant, educator, administrator or clinical scholar. Consequently, the traditional entry-level education and previously required preparation for physical therapists has become outdated. Physical therapists now need more training, education and experience to perform at the same level as other key health care professionals.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is leading the initiative to ensure physical therapists are equipped with the critical thinking skills, education, and training needed to perform as a critical health care practitioner. To do this, APTA has crafted a vision statement known as Vision 2020, which states that by 2020, physical therapy will be provided solely by physical therapists that are doctors of physical therapy. The vision statement goes on to say that doctors of physical therapy will be acknowledged by consumers and professionals in the health care industry as “practitioners of choice,” who patients will have direct access, for “the diagnosis of, interventions for, and prevention of impairments, activity limitations, participation restrictions, and environmental barriers related to movement, function, and health.”

The specific elements of Vision 2020 are as follows:

  • Independent Physical Therapy Practice – Physical therapists must accept the obligation to act as an independent practitioner while also committing to best practices in regard to the patients. Referred to by Vision2020 as “Autonomous Physical Therapist Practice,” this type of method is branded by self-governing, determined, qualified judgment and deeds.
  • Independent Physical Therapy Practice – Physical therapists must accept the obligation to act as an independent practitioner while also committing to best practices in regard to the patients. Referred to by Vision2020 as “Autonomous Physical Therapist Practice,” this type of method is branded by self-governing, determined, qualified judgment and deeds.
  • DPT – The importance of a physical therapist to obtain a doctor of physical therapy degree is a reflection of the newly-anticipated growth of knowledge and expected responsibilities that a physical therapist should have in order to accurately engage in best practices with his clients.
  • Evidence-Based Practice – The method of utilizing evidence to accurately lead physical therapists to the best clinical decisions. This type of evidence-based practice includes the most recent and accurate research, clinical know-how, and the values of the patients, as well as the circumstances associated with patient and practice management.
  • “Practitioner of Choice” – Physical therapists who engage in the Vision 2020 program will be recognized as ideal providers among patients and other healthcare professionals. This includes diagnosis and intervention, as well as those disabilities related to mobility, function and overall health.
  • Professionalism – All physical therapists will be expected to be in a consistent state of professionalism by exhibiting core values and smartly relating the principles of “altruism, caring, ethics, respect, communication and accountability.”

The Doctor of Physical Therapy degree is a clinical doctoral degree program that reflects the growth and development of physical therapy, as well as the standards that must be adhered to in order to provide the best treatment possible. While today it is becoming standard for physical therapists to earn their DPT, it has not always been this way. Physical therapists who earned their undergraduate degrees before 1993 typically went on to earn a Master’s in PT. Since then, however, most physical therapy programs go from the undergraduate degree straight to the DPT. The post-professional transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program upgrades the clinical skills of BS/MS credentialed physical therapists to meet the needs of the current health care environment.

Physical therapists are now expected to do much more than just provide treatment to patients with issues limiting mobility. Physical therapists are expected to be fundamental health care team members who tackle prevention initiatives, such as decreasing falls for the elderly and the prevention of athletic injuries. Additionally, they are tasked with preventing movement and flexibility issues that can be brought on by chronic diseases or other debilitating health conditions. Preparation for these responsibilities is provided by the transitional doctorate of physical therapy programs.

Furthermore, as in most professions and degrees of study, the development of science and technology affects the skills required to stay current and on the forefront in the health care field. With more research available to health care professionals, new and different treatment options are being explored and put into practice. The Post Professional tDPT curriculum focuses on much more evidence-based treatments as more substantiation and case studies are becoming available. By obtaining a tDPT, physical therapists can be assured they are on the forefront of the science, technology and research needed to provide the best care for patients.

Doctor of Physical Therapy programs prepare physical therapists to be more well-rounded health care professionals, as these programs encompass much more than physical therapy practices alone. The DPT degree program requirements and range of skills can be applied to many different health care situations. As the role of physical therapists in patient care develops, physical therapists need these additional skills to provide proper care.

Physical therapists have begun to hold more integral roles in patient care as the health care industry and the study of physical therapy evolves. The attainment of a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree prepares physical therapists for this vital role that is becoming expected of them. Additionally, as the American Physical Therapy Association’s Vision 2020 strives for all physical therapists to earn DPT degrees by 2020, it is becoming increasingly important for licensed physical therapists without doctorates to complete a post-professional DPT program for further education and employment requirements.

By pursuing the post-professional (transitional) Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Utica University, physical therapists are well on their way to being essential health care professionals and will continue to work in more cohesive health care roles.

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