APTA’s Vision 2020

Posted on August 2nd, 2013 by Denise | No Comments

APTA’s Vision 2020


Denise Koonce OTR

I can remember twenty plus years ago when there wasn’t a clinical specific doctoral degree offered in physical, occupational, or speech therapy.   I also remember when the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), in the late 80’s and early 90’s, began discussing the steps necessary to pave the way for the future and require a doctoral entry-level physical therapy degree as the preferred degree.  The discussion was immense and the opinions polarized.  Despite the controversy within the profession regarding a doctorial level degree, the first post-professional transitional doctoral physical therapy program began in 1992 at the University of Southern California.  Then in 1993, Creighton University offered the first entry-level doctoral physical therapy degree program.  Now there are over 200 universities offering a doctorial entry-level physical therapy degree. 

The American Physical Therapy Association began the discussion and path towards a doctoral entry-level degree as one step in reaching a higher goal.  The long-term goal was and is to evolve the profession of physical therapy to be an autonomous and direct access provider.  By doing so the profession would no longer require a physicians order or prescription to initiate an evaluation or provide treatment.  After years of discussion, APTA formally documented this effort in their 2000 vision statement entitled Vision 2020.  APTA’s Vision 2020 was voted on by APTA’s House of Delegates in 2000 and approved.  Vision 2020 included six key elements necessary to meet their vision.  The six key elements were autonomous physical therapy practice, direct access, doctor of physical therapy and life-long education, evidence-based practice, practitioner of choice and professionalism.   In 2007, a task force for strategic planning further described and operationally defined the six key elements providing depth to their vision.     

One of the key elements appears central to the success of their vision, that of a doctoring profession.  As of January 2016 a DPT, or doctorate of physical therapy, will be the minimally required degree from educational institutions accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).  Most universities have already phased their masters programs into entry-level doctoral programs with less than a handful of master programs continuing.  If you have already graduated from an accredited physical therapy school but have a baccalaureate or masters degree you have the opportunity to return to school as a post-professional doctorial candidate and receive your post professional transitional entry-level doctoral degree or t-DPT.  By doing so, you will have the opportunity to officially raise your formal educational level to the current curriculum standards offering parity with current graduating DPT classes.  This in turn meets one of the key elements of Vision 2020.  That key element is to have all physical therapists, regardless of years of practice or degree previously obtained, meet the new expectation of holding a doctoral degree in physical therapy.   This provides APTA, and those it represents, with a stronger unified voice to meet their vision.    

If you are in the group of physical therapists, which graduated with a bachelors or masters in physical therapy, and are considering entering a transitional doctoral program don’t wait too long.  While universities have been offering post professional transitional entry-level doctoral degrees since 1992, they expect the programs to eventually be phased out.  The number of t-DPT programs has already diminished over the last 10-15 years.   As the gap between currently practicing physical therapists, who obtained a baccalaureate or masters degree initially and then returned to school to complete their t-DPT, and those graduating with an entry-level doctoral degree narrows, the need for the t-DPT programs will diminish.  So if you are interested in advancing your degree then it is advisable not to wait to long to return to school or you may miss your opportunity for the transitional advanced degree offering.  

I view the vision of APTA to be bold and strategic for the profession’s future.  However, there are still battles to win, such as recognition from payer sources as an autonomous provider and questions to be answered, such as what is the progressive role of physical therapy assistants, before the realization and actualization of their goal.  Regardless, they have a vision, a strategic plan, and a multitude of committed physical therapists.  We would enjoy your comments regarding APTA’s Vision 2020, so please share them with us.

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