Advocacy strategies (FS-01)

Advocacy in physical therapy: strategies for individuals and organisations

Emma Stokes (Ireland), Jonathon Kruger (Australia), Kenneth Harwood (United States of America), Jon Warren (New Zealand), Zola Dantile (South Africa)

Focused symposium

Sunday 3 May 2015, 10:45-12:15, Hall 404

Advocacy in physical therapy: strategies for individuals and organisations

Stokes E. 1,2, Kruger J. 3, Harwood K. 4,5, Warren J. 6, Dantile Z. 7,8

1Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland, 2WCPT, London, United Kingdom, 3Northern Health, Melbourne, Australia, 4George Washington University, Clinical Research and Leadership, Washington DC, United States of America, 5George Washington University, Physical Therapy, Washington, DC, United States of America, 6University of St. Augustine, San Diego, United States of America, 7University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa, 8North West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa

Learning objectives

  1. To familiarise participants with knowledge required to develop & implement advocacy campaigns for professional organisations, including workplace advocacy and use of advocacy tools such as social & other media and campaigns
  2. To share specific case studies of the successful application of such campaigns in different physiotherapy contexts globally with a view to participants being able to apply their learning to local contexts
  3. By using social media, to provide an opportunity to engage participants prior to and during the focused symposium with sharing and dialogue about personal, professional experience of advocacy activities


WHO (2005) defines advocacy as a combination of individual and social actions designed to gain political commitment, policy support, social acceptance and systems support for a particular goal or program. The role of physiotherapists as advocates is increasingly important as our practice changes and develops, as health systems and services are rationalised and reformed, as regulatory and legislative frameworks develop and as reimbursement for our services becomes more complex.

Across the globe WCPT member organisations and individual physiotherapists are increasingly engaging in robust public policy discussions about the future of our health systems. Advocacy initiatives ranges from local workplace initiatives to lobbying of key opinion holders in policy development and government. Individual physiotherapists may have to advocate within their workplaces to retain or develop their services. They may also have to advocate on behalf of patients/clients to ensure access to appropriate physiotherapy and other services. Member organisations of WCPT have been successful in key initiatives for legislative reform for example, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy on legislation for independent prescription by physiotherapists and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association in Ontario with the College of Physiotherapists on authorised acts for physiotherapists but many smaller organisation face challenges to their practice, professional autonomy and reimbursement and do not have the expertise of these larger organisations.

For the majority, key skills and knowledge associated with the process of advocacy - message, context, strategy - are not considered as part of entry-to-practice education or later in professional life. For both individual physiotherapists as well as small to medium sized member organisations of WCPT, who rely mainly on volunteer effort, this activity may not be optimal because a lack of knowledge about how to systematically develop and implement an aligned advocacy strategy.

The purpose of this focused symposium is to demonstrate the importance of advocacy skills to physiotherapists, provide examples of successful advocacy initiatives in various parts of the world, and to delineate the skill set necessary to advocate on behalf of patients, the profession and high quality health care.

The examples will specifically include a patient advocacy initiative, a professional advocacy initiative and a health policy initiative. The extent to which the initiatives were successful or not will be examined and how the lessons learned can be applied by attendees at the focused symposium in their own circumstances. The presenters are drawn from 4 regions of WCPT [Asia Western Pacific, Africa, Europe and North America Caribbean] and from professional organisations ranging in size. They all have experience in education and international professional work that enables them to draw on experiences from their home countries and other WCPT member organisations where they are been engaged. They have demonstrated leadership roles in their own professional organisation, WCPT region as well with other organisations in health care, regulation and the charity sector.

The intended audience will be:


  • physiotherapists practising in a wide range of areas particularly those where there are new developments to roles and scope for example advanced practice roles
  • board or executive committee members of small to medium sized physiotherapy organisations e.g. WCPT regions, sub-groups, developing organisations, clinical or special interest groups
  • educators, particularly those who lead modules on professional issues or those who develop such courses for continuing professional development
  • professional organisation staff where advocacy expertise is not available
  • researchers - health policy, organisational development

We intend to augment audience participation in advance and throughout the symposium by the use of social media. This will allow us to demonstrate the intended learning outcomes that focus on practical aspects and tools for grassroots advocacy initiatives.


Implications / Conclusions

Advocacy and influence is an important skill of being a health professional, primarily to advance patient care and to improve general population health. Successful advocacy requires specific knowledge, skills and strategies as will be highlighted in this symposium. Although advocacy requires leadership it is also the responsibility all physiotherapists to ensure the role of the physiotherapy reaches its global potential.


Advocacy; Leadership; Policy

Funding acknowledgements

Not applicable

Relevance to WCPT and expected audience

The ability to advocate on behalf of patients/clients, physiotherapy services and the profession is key to the development of high quality physiotherapy services and key to the ongoing development & growth of the profession. This session is relevant to many participants at both the WCPT General Meeting and Congress and will equip such an audience with key practical skills on advocacy.

Target audience

Physiotherapists particularly in developing roles, leadership of professional organisations especially small-medium sized organisations, educators, researchers in health policy, organisational development.