By on July 1st, 2019 in Physical Therapy

New APTA President Sharon Dunn looks to the future

New APTA President Sharon Dunn looks to the future

As a physical therapist for the past 30 years, Sharon Dunn, PhD, PT, OCS, has seen many changes in the profession. In her new role as president of the APTA, Dunn will represent more than 90,000 member PTs, PTAs and students of physical therapy.

Dunn, who assumed the role of APTA president in June, is the rehabilitation sciences department head and director of the physical therapy program at Louisiana State University Shreveport’s School of Allied Health Professions. spoke with Dunn about the future of the profession and the issues she’s hoping to address as APTA president:

Q: What are some of the current opportunities for PTs?

A: As a result of the Affordable Care Act, physical therapy and all of healthcare is changing from volume-based care to value-based care. I think there will be new opportunities for PTs based on the ACA’s emphasis on prevention and wellness programs.

I also see opportunities for PTs to partner and collaborate with other healthcare professionals such as advanced practice registered nurses to provide team-based care, particularly in rural areas. PT is often referred to as “healthcare’s best kept secret,” but I don’t believe that we should be a secret anymore.

In all states, patients now have direct access to a PT, and employers are consulting with PTs for onsite injury management and prevention. PT is a low-risk alternative to surgery, and employers are also seeing how PTs can save their company money by mitigating conditions such as low back pain and other work-related problems. Data have also shown that working with a PT – and specifically adhering to a PT’s discharge instructions – helps to decrease hospital readmissions.

Q: How has physical therapy changed since you first entered the profession?

A: I became a PT after earning my BS in Physical Therapy from LSUHSC-Shreveport in 1987. I then went on to complete a Master of Health Sciences degree and earned a PhD in cellular biology and anatomy. I also have a certification in orthopedic physical therapy. Today, the expectation is that all PTs should be practicing at the Doctor of Physical Therapy level. As of this year, all accredited and developing PT programs are DPT programs.

I think there was some anxiety when PTs heard APTA’s Vision 2020 statement that by 2020, physical therapy will be provided by PTs who are doctors of physical therapy. It doesn’t mean that we expect all PTs to have their doctorates by 2020. As of the end of 2015, the Commission on Accreditation of PT Education will no longer accredit non DPT-level programs. Nondoctoral level PTs who are currently in practice are expected to ensure their continuing competence in the field. A transitional DPT is also offered at many institutions for those who already hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in PT.

Q: How will PTs play a role in caring for aging baby boomers?

A: Today’s boomers want to stay active, and I believe that PTs will play a big role in that. PTs can address prevention initiatives such as reducing falls, improving physical activity to mitigate chronic disease and secondary health conditions, and tailoring wellness programs for populations that have chronic conditions and/or disabilities. Boomers are astute consumers, and I believe they will view PTs as active partners in their healthcare who can keep them active and living independently longer.