A year ago, I was introduced to a post titled, “I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy“. This post attempted to define who we are, what we are and where we intend to go. While I appreciate the intentions of this post, I am left with the following question:
Why do we feel compelled to compare ourselves as Physicians? I am ok with us introducing ourselves as Dr. ____, as long as you have a doctoral degree. But recently, I have heard the argument (not just from the post above), that our knowledge of the musculoskeletal system is second only to Orthopedic physicians. This statement is often based off of this 2oo5 article by Childs et al. Lets take a closer look at this study (to see if it truly leads to the above statement).
This study was a cross-section design which looked at the results of a standardized test completed by 174 PT students and 182 “experienced” PTs. The test, as described by the authors, consisted of: 25 open-ended questions that were selected based on commonly encountered musculoskeletal diagnoses encountered in the primary care setting (ie, fractures and dislocations, low back pain, sciatica, and arthritis) and consideration of orthopaedic emergencies that warrant immediate referral to an orthopaedic surgeon or the emergency department (ie, compartment syndrome, hip dislocation, etc.)
The results of the open-ended questions were then graded by “physical therapist faculty with considerable experience in providing direct access care for patients with musculoskeletal conditions.” The scores and pass rates were given based upon criteria designed by Freedman and Bernstein, who conducted a similar study.
Childs et al then took the results of their study, and compared it with the results found by Freedman and Bernstein.
This where I suspect the conclusion made by many, is a bit misconstrued.
First, the graders of the test in each study had different levels of education. ie. Physical Therapists graded the results of the study on Physical Therapists knowledge, and Physicians graded the results of the study on Physician knowledge.
Furthermore, the study by Childs et al was published 7 years post-the Physician study. I am curious if the results would have been different if the Childs et al study was conducted in 1998 or if the Freedman study was performed in 2005.
In addition, both of these studies examined knowledge base off of a 25-question examination. This may limit their actual implications to clinical practice.
To truly compare results, as obtained by the two studies above, one needs to conduct one study, in which an examination is given to all of these fields of practice, the same way, at the same point of time, and graded by the same pool of examiners (who are blinded to the participants). Even in doing so, I am not quite sure if it would define who is better or safer clinical practice. It would tell us who got better results on a test (or who was able to answer a way which pleased the grader).
As Eric Kruger so eloquently wrote in his last post on this site: “What is not widely discussed is the drawbacks of science. Science after all can only tell us what has occurred and what is likely to occur given a specific set of determinants. What it cannot say is what should be or what could be. These are much more difficult questions to answer. In fact these are not scientific questions but belong to the province of humanism: the ethics, values, and knowledge surrounding acts of human creation. A particularly apocalyptic example is that of nuclear physics: a branch of science that has given us the atomic bomb. While science for its part has created the technology and power, it is us, as humans, that must determine its use.”
So in the above studies, who knows who is truly better within clinical practice. Who knows who is more right when science cannot say what should be or what could be. To move forward, I hope we will quit comparing our knowledge-base to Physicians and accept that we both have very unique and valuable roles in the healthcare fields. We need to stop saying we are “second only to…” and instead say, “I am a Physical Therapist. I may be able to help you. I offer conservative care.”
What do you think?
Categories: Critical Thinking