Ann Green (left) makes a point, watched by Suh-Fang Jeng

Entry level qualifications: which one meets the needs of populations best?

What physical therapist professional entry level qualification is needed to meet the needs of populations? Physical therapists from dozens of countries described their diverse perspectives at a major discussion session, and debated common ways forward.

Among the speakers was Ann Green from the United Kingdom, who called on physical therapists from around the world to be guided not by professional status considerations, but by what system of qualification will best suit the population.

She described how, in the United Kingdom, the profession had moved from the first granting of professional autonomy in 1977, to an all-graduate entry profession in 1992, and the addition of Masters degrees and professional doctorates as part of the professional education landscape. But now, she said, the UK government is encouraging a move towards employer-led apprenticeships, allowing people from more diverse backgrounds to qualify for professions such as physiotherapy by a variety of routes – from physiotherapy assistant right up to PhD.

She said that this provided real opportunities for increased participation and incorporating a wider range of skills into the profession. “Think about the people we serve, not ourselves as a profession,” she said.

In the United States, all accredited programmes now offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Sharon Dunn, President of the American Physical Therapy Association said that during transition to the DPT, there had not been professional consensus that this should be the entry level across the US. But the change had increased both expectations and trust from the public. It was important that academic infrastructure was in place to support the preparation for the new programme, she said.

“My advice with the DPT is to go all or nothing. We went all.”

Mohammad Bandpei from Iran described the difficulties of trying to establish a DPT programme in Iran – because of lack of professional representation within government and opposition from medics, who fear encroachment. A DPT programme was briefly established in Iran in 2007, but was closed after a year. Efforts by the Iranian Physiotherapy Association and WCPT to convince government officials of the benefits of a new degree have so far failed. Meanwhile, potential physiotherapists are leaving the country to train, or are choosing other careers in physical health.

“Global action needs to be taken on the quality of physiotherapy education worldwide,” said Mohammad Bandpei, who is Vice Chancellor for International Affairs at the Department of Physiotherapy, University of Social Welfare in Tehran.

Suh-Fang Jeng from Taiwan described how the country’s first DPT programme, at PhD level, was established in 2013, and was now providing a template for future DPT programmes.

“We hope that by 2030 all programmes will be DPT,” said Suh-Fang Jeng, who is President of the Taiwan Physical Therapy Association and Associate Dean, at the Graduate Institute of Physical Therapy, National Taiwan University College of Medicine.

The transformation from a Bachelors degree to DPT will bring challenges, she said. Longer courses mean that students need to find more funding, and faculties have more work to do. Her advice during periods of change was: “Make your rationale to policy makers and the public – show them how education will improve services.”

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