A special thank you to Craig Bowen PT, DPT, Keaton Ray PT, DPT, ATC, OCS, and Meghan Simonetti PT, DPT, MSHA for their contributions to this piece. This piece would not have been possible without their help. For the most part I have summarized and paraphrased their verbal and written comments in order to sustain a cohesive narrative.
As research for another piece I began looking into the demographics of the House of Delegates and was surprised to find that I recognized quite a number of delegates through mutual involvement in the APTA Student Assembly. The very precise science of recognition by Team Talus has thus far yielded a tally of 10 new grad or Fresh PT delegates. As of this writing we are awaiting more detailed demographic breakdown from APTA. One of my early guiding questions was: “What impact do the FreshPTs have at House of Delegates? My conversation with a number of these individuals both surprised and encouraged me. Their experiences while at times unique often shared common themes. While further investigation is needed to fully describe how Fresh PTs shape and are shaped by House of Delegates, I wasn’t surprised to hear how the FreshPT is a vital member of the House of Delegates.
For the purpose of this article I am defining “new grads” as physical therapists who have graduated within 1-2 years, while FreshPTs are PTs who have graduated within ~5 years. I believe these definitions are consistent with popular lexicon while these terms lack formal denotation. Also, for the purpose of this piece I am neglecting analysis of the relatively young population of mostly Gen Xers who have been leading the APTA at various levels for a number of years.
Who are the Fresh PTs serving in the House of Delegates?
Overwhelmingly the FreshPTs who are delegates today were involved in the APTA Student Assembly while in school. Some such as Ray or Simonetti were delegates themselves in the Student Assembly, others like Bowen were active in the Student Assembly on project committees as well as locally in Student Special Interest Groups. All agree that that their involvement made the transition from student to fresh PT delegate much easier by establishing their professional networks and learning how the APTA and HOD works.
While everyone agrees that their background helped prepare them to be a delegate there is some disagreement about the degree of difficulty associated with becoming a delegate while still fresh. Craig Bowen PT, DPT for instance felt in his state of New Jersey the transition from student to delegate was relatively easy. He was involved as a student so he knew who all the movers and shakers in his state were even if they didn’t all yet know him. He was able to get around this by producing a video introduction as part of the election process to increase his recognition. Bowen did add that other states with stronger, older delegations may likely be harder for a Fresh PT to break into.
Meghan Simonetti PT, DPT, MSHA believes it can be challenging for a new grad to break into a delegate role. “I think it is way harder for a new grad to be a delegate. Some of it is justified – being a delegate is really hard work and having experience is definitely advantageous to your delegation…How can we train and teach new individuals to be great delegates if they don’t have an opportunity early in their career?” Keaton Ray PT, DPT, ATC, OCS strikes a middle ground between the two. “At first glance it may seem more difficult for a new graduate to be elected to the House, simply from a lack of experience perspective. However, I do believe it might just be easier for a new graduate to get involved. As a student and a new professional, we are itching to get you involved and glean your perspective.”
What makes them tick? Why are they delegates?
The FreshPT delegates are universally driven by passion for the profession and the desire to contribute to it. Bowen, a New Jersey native and graduate of Rutgers University in 2015, who recently transplanted to San Antonio Texas to work in a level 1 trauma center described a sense of empowerment when you feel like you’re contributing. Ray, a 2014 graduate of Duke University and co-founder of MovementX who is based in Portland Oregon adds: “I have a passion for optimizing the way we function as a profession…and I believe in order to really make a difference, I need to have an extensive understanding of how change comes about. There is no better place than the HOD to get that experience as well as meet other thought leaders in the profession. Simonetti, a graduate of Rosalind Franklin University with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy and Masters of Science in Health Administration in 2014 works in outpatient serving the North Shore of Chicago and would agree. “The opportunity to serve as delegate, in my mind, has always been a way to make your voice heard. I was fortunate enough to observe my first HOD when I was on the Student Assembly Board of Directors… Having experience at the behind the scenes action was really exciting for me and I’ve wanted to be involved since. I also think that as a Delegate you get to meet other leaders in our profession that you may not have crossed paths with.”
What do they bring to the table?
The delegates commonly describe perspective as a strength they all bring to their delegations. Ray reports that her relative lack of experience allows her to avoid getting lost in the weeds when facing policy discussions with implications for the future of the profession. The practice of asking “why?” is used not to arbitrarily challenge the conventions of the past but to refine our path for the future. Bowen describes openness to debate and ideas. His fresh perspective allows him to see from multiple points of view and avoid entrenchment.
Intimacy with “the student experience”
Since these FreshPTs are only a few years removed from Physical Therapy school they bring familiarity for the experiences (dare I say) plight of the PT student. Older clinicians generally remember what it was like for them to be in school, and while they do tend to be sympathetic to the situation of current students the greater intimacy of the Fresh PT with the student experience does lend them to be more acute advocates for issues affecting students. Mandatory residency and student loan debt were a few of the motions mentioned by the delegates that they worked closely and actively on.
Eagerness to learn
Another unifying characteristic of the Fresh Delegates I spoke to was an eagerness to learn. They don’t come to House of Delegates with rigid agendas or aspirations to revolutionize the Association. All appreciate the history of the profession and the experience of those who came before, and desire to learn from them in order to help lead the APTA into the future. They speak fondly of their mentors who they often mine for advice during times of uncertainty.
What Challenges do they face?
Generally fresh delegates deal with challenges similar to other delegates (especially new delegates of any experience level). According to Simonetti, “Keeping up with all of the prep work on the Hub was challenging as a first time delegate. Figuring out the language and the purpose of the motions took me longer than it should have. Luckily, I have a very supportive delegation that helped break things down for me. My other personal challenge was feeling brave enough to speak for or against motions during the house. I would discuss my opinion with my delegation and someone else would speak for me up at the mic.” Bowen confirmed the practice of “having someone speak for you at the mic” and felt like it was a good alternative as new delegates build their confidence in the House. “I think those challenges are common for all first time delegates, however I will say that, as with most #FreshPT, I feel judged being a young therapist which prevented me from feeling confident enough to speak up at the house.”
Ray also felt like her challenges were related to character and personality and has had to learn patience and to adapt to the pace of the House. “One of my biggest challenges is patience. I have the tendency to want to move fast and break things (ala Mark Zuckerberg) and often the House of Delegates can feel like we make change at a snail’s pace. We have all heard that the millennial generation wants to make change, make it now, and ask for forgiveness later kind of thing. That’s me to a tee.”
“However, with a large and well established association such as APTA, change doesn’t always happen overnight. But when we look back on the last 25 years of policymaking and the HOD, we can obviously see how far our profession has come. My advice is to keep everything in perspective, little efforts by a lot of brilliant people can make substantial change.”
What do they end up doing?
The delegates I spoke to described fulfilling roles similar to all the other delegates from their states with a single caveat for their first year. To my surprise they weren’t social media managers, they weren’t tweeting, blogging, or any other activities millenials are stereotypically assigned to perform. They described following the HUB, researching motions, and discussing and debating the motions with the rest of their delegate colleagues. It is apparently common for motions to be assigned based on knowledge and experience; ie the beefiest motions usually are assigned to more experienced delegates. Their first year however, expectations are a little lower. Bowen in particular described how it’s fine to to take more of an observer role your first year as a delegate since there is so much to learn. You are researching motions, asking questions and engaging in discussion but you aren’t expected to lead debate on the House floor your first year.
Are More Fresh PT delegates needed?
Membership demographics from APTA’s 2017 annual report indicates that approximately 30% of membership is composed of students while 66% are practicing PTs or PTAs. Talus is currently awaiting a more detailed demographic breakdown from APTA. Our analysis based on APTA’s published delegate roster yielded a total of 436 voting delegates. Estimating with our tally of 10 Fresh PTs currently serving as delegates at the House yields a 2.3 percent proportion of the total House body. Given that students lack voting representation at the House of Delegates through both their states and the Student Assembly it seems reasonable that their natural advocates would be FreshPT delegates- if there were more of them.
There is a mixed opinion regarding whether more Fresh PTs are needed at House of Delegates. Bowen and Ray felt that while the Fresh PTs have an important role at the House, they are currently represented adequately at HOD. They cited the importance of maintaining institutional memory, and passing on historical experience. FreshPTs need mentorship and time to learn how the house operates- thus a very large influx of of new fresh delegates could have negative consequences.
Ray stated: “I think there is a delicate balance to be had. I don’t have any numbers to cite but at the moment there is a healthy handful of delegates who are 5 years or less (I can think of 6 right off the top of my head!) The fresh perspective helps keep us grounded in current times, but the more experienced PT keeps us rooted in a historical perspective. My hope is that we can continue to have a solid presence of Fresh PTs in the House who will remain an involved body long term!”
Simonetti however felt that more Fresh PTs are needed at House of Delegates with the understanding of the learning curve associated with becoming a delegate. “But I absolutely think that there is a learning curve. This year as delegate I learned so much… I look at my term almost as an apprenticeship. As a #FreshPT I view things different and have different priorities – making sure those are represented at the House is so important to the future of physical therapy. However, the experience of our current delegates who have learned from past mistakes must guide us in the right direction. I feel like it is the responsibility of each chapter to have a delegation that is representative of its state, not only regionally but also demographically. Knowing that there are more and more millennials in the workforce, there needs to be more millennials in the House. I am a firm believer that us #freshPT need to be better represented in the APTA leadership and embedded with our experienced counterparts, not assigned new titles of “early career delegate” or something like that.”
There are not many Fresh PT delegates and thus they don’t constitute a major voting block at House of Delegates. It’s therefore difficult to directly quantify the impact that they have. Talus Media looks forward to gathering further data and experiences of these remarkable young leaders. The true impact of this generation of delegates may not be confined to the motions passed or rejected this summer in Orlando. The impact will ultimately be decided by the leaders that these delegates become in 5, 10, and 20 years from now as well as the next generation of leadership they inspire. All the delegates I spoke to encourage involvement. Ray concluded: “As a student and a new professional, we are itching to get you involved and glean your perspective. Don’t be afraid to put your name out there and find a mentor who can help you through the process!”