Written by Rachel Jermann & Ian MacMurdie, originally published on the PT Pintcast blog in 2016.
On Tuesday, June 7, motion RC 11-16 passed the APTA House of Delegates (HOD) unanimously. The motion reads:
That the American Physical Therapy Association evaluate existing and emerging data available from internal and external sources, such as the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy and the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, to identify possible effects of student loan debt upon the physical therapy profession, and develop a plan with feasible options to address the identified issues with implementation initiated no later than June 2018.
How did RC 11-16 come to be?
The original motion was first brought to the House of Delegates discussions by the Oregon Chapter. The motion is intended to address the growing issue of student debt within the profession. While the problem of student debt is not unique to the physical therapy profession, with the recent change to the DPT degree, we have not seen a concurrent increase in pay for the amount of education, resulting in a higher debt-to-income ratio. The support statement by the Oregon Chapter proposed four different ways in which the APTA could address student debt, including offering financing options, education for students on debt, advocacy, and a call to the Foundation for Physical Therapy to expand its mission to include scholarships for students. The support statement cites concern for the direction of the profession as one of the motivating factors behind this motion. Are new grads forgoing residencies or mentored positions in favor of higher paying jobs? Are certain specialties or geographic areas losing talented new grads because the pay is not enough to allow them to pay loans? Will the profession stagnate if student loan burden is not addressed?
You can read all conversations on RC 11, including the original motion and support statement, leading up to the HOD on the community discussion board, The Hub.
The final motion was the product of collaborative efforts between the Oregon Chapter and the Student Assembly Board of Directors (SABoD), with a driving force of a student-led grassroots movement to support the motion. The Reference Committee played an important role in helping to edit and shape the motion so that the interests of both parties were represented. Arriving at the final motion was not easy; this was an ongoing process of collaboration and discussion among several states, with the Student Assembly Board of Directors working to make sure that there were clear, actionable items to directly benefit students in the short term. The motion now calls for the APTA to address this multifaceted problem with both short and long term tracks.
“I was thinking we could start a national movement!” @BethHornSPT
The movement started with an unanswered question during the May #xchangeSA chat about House of Delegates with Alexis Morgan (SABoD) and Keaton Ray (OR).
Beth Horn, (Arizona Student Special Interest Group Chair, Northern Arizona University) and Rachel Jermann (Wisconsin SSIG Chair, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee) organized a conference call with 20 students from 15 different states on May 20. The SABoD had not yet issued a public statement on RC11. Due to the nature of the motion and the effect that it would have on current and future students, these students decided to start a grassroots student movement to support the motion. The intent of the movement was to contribute to the discussion surrounding the motion to ensure that student perspectives were heard and accurately represented in the final language of the motion.
A letter, originally written from the students at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee to the Wisconsin Physical Therapy Association Chief Delegate, was edited and adapted by students all over the country. This letter was sent to SABoD and chief delegates across the nation, expressing support for the motion, and asking those parties to do the same.
The letter also became a petition on change.org, and went live on May 22. The letter can be read here.
By the time RC 11 was read on the floor of the House, the petition had collected 2,451 signatures, with 49 states represented.
As part of the campaign to spread awareness about RC 11, student leaders reached out to opinion/ thought leaders within the PT community including Heidi Jannega, President of WebPT, Jeff Moore of the Institute of Clinical Excellence, John Childs of Evidence in Motion, and PT Pintcast, who spread the word about RC 11. Their contributions to the movement can be found here:
More students than can be mentioned contributed to the movement and passing of RC 11. Some tweeted, some wrote blogs. All of them passed the word on to students in their state, in other states, and to their delegates. At APTA House of Delegates, stories were circulating of students debating the verbiage of the motion during their lunch hour. This movement would not have been possible without the intense efforts that students put in over the two weeks leading up to the HOD.
What does RC 11 passing mean?
- Bottom Line: The profession has acknowledged the problem of student debt and agreed to address it.
The motion addresses a shorter term solution and a longer term investigation. Short term initiatives have already been put into motion. The APTA began initiatives when the motion was first brought forward. The APTA Board of Directors announced their intent to support the motion, as well as listed their current efforts to address the issue. Because of this motion, here are just some of the actions the Board and staff have already initiated:
- Gathered APTA data on student debt including CAPTE’s Aggregate Program Data Report 2014-15
- Compiled information on potential finance/refinance organizations – banks and aggregators
- Compiled information on educational providers
- Reviewed federal loan options
- Reviewed online refinancing information of American Medical Student Association,
- American Dental Association, American Medical Association, and American Bar Association
- Drafted RFPs for finance/refinance and educational programs
(Taken from the Hub)
Ideally, within the next year or two, APTA will have been able to secure partnerships with vendors to offer student loan refinancing of significant value. These short term initiatives will allow the APTA to act immediately to serve current students and new grads, and can also make incoming students more aware of managing their debt early in their career. In short, having a student body educated on their potential debt and how to manage it can only strengthen the profession.
The long term efforts to address this motion include partnerships with the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy (ACAPT) and Commission on Accreditation Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). These organizations can provide valuable information on the cost of education, where students are headed post-grad, and how the APTA can effectively get ahead of the debt problem. Without understanding the depth and breadth of the problem, short term solutions are only a band-aid. You can find ACAPT on Twitter: @acapt2
- Will this motion cause an influx of PT students because it would decrease the cost of education?
Not nearly. The cost of education is outside the control of the APTA and ACAPT. However, raising awareness about the debt-to-income ratio, providing education to students to control burgeoning debt, looking at ways to decrease the cost of education, and taking a hard look at what students are spending on the doctorate degree all contribute to making DPT education sustainable. Additionally, the loan refinancing option is a back-end solution; it does not make the base cost of education less expensive, it simply provides a better management strategy with lower interest rates.
- Keep up the intensity on RC 11.
From Derek Fenwick, President of the Oregon Physical Therapy Association: “The real work for change starts now. Students must keep the pressure on APTA to become the organization they want it to be to serve their needs.This means being vocal about watching the progress and asking for updates from their local APTA leaders over the next year.” Never stop asking questions.
- Learn how to use our voice as students.
Students have a voice that can only be made stronger through communication across states, movements such as these, and conversation about the issues that will affect us as practicing clinicians. Unity within the profession begins day one of PT school, not the day after graduation, and can be fostered at all levels: within schools, within your state, and through national endeavors.
RC 11 was just the beginning; in the wake of its passage, the grassroots movement realized that their work had only begun.