The standard doctorate of physical therapy program is 3 years with a majority of classes oriented toward Orthopedic and Neuromuscular (NM) pathologies. These courses focus in depth on pathophysiology of NM conditions, diagnosis, and treatment. Even the courses focusing on cardiovascular rehabilitation or pediatric care have strong connections back to the neuromuscular system. All of these classes have the common goal of making us experts in the human movement system.
How does Our Education compare to Our Medical Counterparts?
Largely, education in neuro-musculoskeletal medicine has shown to be inadequate in medical school curricula. Almost half of the American medical schools do not require any formal clinical or basic NM-skeletal courses prior to graduation. Additionally, <3% of all curricular hours in the typical Candadian medical school are devoted to NM-skeletal education. Think about these statistics for a minute! Our referral sources have very little, if not zero, education in our field of specialization. To make the PT case stronger, Childs et al published a study in 2005 that suggests Physical Therapists do not suffer from a lack of knowledge or diagnostic skill. The study found that Orthopedic Physicians (surgeons) had the highest level of competency regarding neuromuscular conditions. Physical Therapists with an OCS or SCS were the second most knowledgeable, following by Physical Therapists without a specialization. In fact, DPT students ranked above family practice physicians and physicians from many other specialties in regards to NM competency.
What Does this Mean for Physical Therapists?
Physical therapists are some of the most competent healthcare practitioners in regards to diagnosing and treatment neuro-muscular conditions. The American medical system does not properly train physicians to treat these conditions. PT's need to be present to assist in diagnosis, plan of care, and prognosis for these individuals. Secondly, we need to do a better job educating our referral sources on what we do and why we do it. Most physicians do their residency training in a hospital setting. Their picture of physical therapy is confined to their experiences. Many physicians do not know the vast capabilities of our treatments. This is our opportunity to educate.
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