On September 21 and 22, I attended the Women in Physical Therapy Summit in New York City. The event, co-founded and organized by Dr. Karen Litzy, PT, DPT, a leading voice in championing #WomeninPT is partially a response to the pay and leadership gap faced by female physical therapists. Female physical therapists earn only 87.6% of what their male counterparts make and are less likely to own their own practices or be perceived as leaders in the field, despite making up the majority of practitioners. As Litzy told the American Physical Therapy Association ahead of the conference, “It seems that, oftentimes, speakers and panels at large conferences are vary male-dominated, and we wanted to give the opportunity for smart, successful women to share their stories and expertise.”
The summit, currently in its third year, was attended by nearly 100 physical therapists and physical therapy assistants including a handful of men. The day-and-a-half long event consisted of three keynote speakers, a panel discussion on leadership, three power talks, another panel discussion on the media, and break out sessions on topics such as marketing and negotiating.
The highlight for me was the opening keynote speech by President of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy, Dr. Emma Stokes, BSc (Physio), MSc (research), MSc Mgmt, Phd. Dr. Stokes spoke about the importance of joining and being involved in professional organizations such as the APTA, the hard work and loneliness that accompany being a leader, and how she sets aside negativity. The quote that stuck with me most was when she said, “You can have it all, in a lifetime … But you can’t have it all, all of the time.”
Major themes of the power talks were diversity and equity in physical therapy. As Dr. Uchenna Ossai PT, DPT, WCS, CLT, told the audience, “Being ‘woke’ is core to being a good leader.” While Merrian Webster recently defined woke as meaning “
aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice),” Dr. Ossai solicited and received definitions for the term from the audience, including the response, “You show up and know it’s not about you.”
Dr. Carrie Pagliano, PT, DPT, later recieved a round of applause during the media panel when she reminded a publication that is reluctant to publish articles on sex that “orgasms are an ADL.”
Day one of the conference ended with keynote speaker Maysoon Zayid, an actress, comedian, writer, and disability advocate, delivering a routine that had everyone laughing nonstop. In between jokes, however, Zayid touched upon the physical therapy sessions that have been integral to maintaining function with her cerebral palsy and reminded the audience, “The world is a broken place. But we can fix it. We can fix it with healthcare … We can fix it by not being an Internet troll … We can fix it by not just standing by.”
In addition to all of the great speakers and panels, some of the best parts of the conference were the discussions that took place during breaks. It was great to meet so many inspirational women, many of whom I recognized from social media. Everyone was friendly and excited to get to know one another and share ideas to advance the profession.
The summit concluded with keynote speaker Eleanor Bergstein, a novelist, screenwriter, producer, and director best known for Dirty Dancing. As she told stories about overcoming bad behavior at both the hands of men and women in Hollywood, she shared her thoughts on the #MeToo movement: “The behavior of men in Hollywood isn’t changing but women are more willing to pick themselves up off the floor and do something about it.”
If you can’t wait until next year to attend, you can purchase a virtual ticket at the summit’s website to watch recordings from the event.
Guest Contributor, Dr. Jasmine Marcus, PT, DPT is a physical therapist and writer. She graduated from Columbia University’s program in physical therapy and received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Cornell University. She has been quoted as a physical therapist in several national publications, served as a contributor to many physical therapy websites, and also edits PT application essays. Follow her on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram @JMarcusDPT, and check out her website.