#APTACSM #physicaltherapy take home message: Don’t Screw up the Whiskey

Just off of a great several days in San Antonio for my 29th Combined Sections Meeting (CSM). This conference has become the largest trade show professional meeting of the physical therapy industry profession. Hats off to APTA for the execution side, they did a terrific job and deserve an A++. With over 11k in pre-registrants, and well over 13k participants including vendors, it broke all of the records. The conferance app generally worked and you can’t beat San Antonio for a host city. The Riverwalk was in fine form and the weather was cooperative and as best I know, we haven’t heard of any first year DPT students being left behind.

Some general observations:

Name tag ribbons in, business cards out.

Yoga pants in, necktie’s out.

Software/technology vendors in, isokinetics out.

Implements for exercise in, ultrasound machines out.

Photo booths in, non craft beer out.

CSM is always a great time to meet up with old friends, meet new ones and take in as many presentations as you can. Still way too many choices on the content side which as you can see from the crowed Starbucks and hotel lounges can often lead to no choice at all. The shear number of booths make it impossible to spend much quality time with all of them and then of course there are literally hundreds of recruiters vying to attract all physical therapy professionals, especially the students. All told, these are good problems to have and I left the meeting more proud of our profession than ever.

There is a legendary story about Maker’s Mark Bourbon. The Samuels’ family, specifically Bill Samuels Sr. founded the bourbon in 1950’s after resurrecting an old family recipe that existed pre-prohibition. In fact, the current CEO is the third generation son to run the company. When grandpa Sr. was through and needed to hand it down to Jr., he gave him one simple advice and admonished him not to violate: “Don’t screw up the whiskey”. In effect, his son, a highly educated rocket scientist and lawyer was told that regardless of the temptation to lower cost, produce a diluted product for better profits, institute modern manufacturing processes, or embrace re-engineering-don’t. It can only result in an inferior or secondary product.

Physical therapy students are coming into the profession at arguably the most challenging time in healthcare with significant unknowns. They have received full disclosure and are well informed-reimbursement and regulations suck, salaries have been frozen and not in lockstep to overpriced tuition they are paying, and student debt levels for grad school are at an all time high. It could be easy to get dragged into the cesspool of negativity but I heard just the opposite from these bright kids-optimism and opportunities abound, jobs in all places available (except of course Boulder, CO), residency opportunities are becoming mainstream, documented efficacy and cost effectiveness of physical therapy is growing, and the most important reasons of all: PT professionals make a difference in people’s lives and our work is one of meaning and purpose.

Will the current physical therapy professionals, including the baby boomers like myself screw up the profession? Will we introduce yet more process improvement plans, more codes of ethics, more documentation requirements, more training in compliance, more CPT codes, more jurist prudence exams, more performance review plans, more rules and mandates? Will we have the boldness to resist the temptation to lower cost, produce more of a diluted product, or embrace a re-engineered process that turns our new PT’s into commodity widget makers and thus producers of an inferior or secondary product?

To me, this is the major take home message of #APTACSM. Let’s not screw up the whiskey. Let’s set our next generation up for success and work to remove all externalities that do zero to enhance quality or effectivenss but do succeed at suppressing excitement and greatly sidetrack the wide-eyed, unwavering commitment of our students to make an impact and a difference in people’s lives. We have a choice, we can leave a profession that attracts those who want meaning and purpose in their work or we can be an illusion and appear that way until we give them a license and immerse them into the distractors that consume and rob them of their purpose and joy. Lest we remember that these have been put in place by old incumbents, payors, and regulators under false pretenses. Let’s get this right and leave the profession to this next generation in better shape so that they can fulfill their dreams and aspirations. We owe it to them.