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“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi, Indian spiritual leader, 1869–1948

Chapter Overview

Physical therapists are teachers first and foremost. Engaged professionalism involves the sharing of information in a rich variety of formal and informal contexts. Our audiences include colleagues, members of the health-care team, patients, families, and community members. This chapter explores strategies for “transformative teaching,” a form of instrumental communication where information is shared for the purpose of empowering those who receive it.

Key Terms

  • Behavioral objectives

  • Mentorship

  • Transtheoretical model of change

Physical Therapists Are Teachers First and Foremost

What Does It Mean for Physical Therapists to Teach?

Whether or not you realize it, the successful practice of PT involves the sharing of knowledge in many contexts to audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Even if you envision a career that precludes ever standing behind a podium, you have nevertheless embarked upon a professional journey that involves the use of effective communication skills to empower others toward a better quality of life. Thus, in the service of that worthy outcome, you will invest a considerable portion of your efforts in the process of teaching. Specifically, that process is defined as “imparting knowledge or intelligence, rules for practice, exhibiting, and inculcating (through frequent repetitions or admonitions).”1

This is a broad definition, which suggests that each time you impart (i.e., communicate) or exhibit (model or demonstrate) knowledge (e.g., a fact, suggestion, demonstration, or explanation), you are teaching. In the context of PT practice, your “audience” may be a single colleague who asks your opinion about a treatment idea or hundreds of peers to whom you speak in a professional context. It may be a younger colleague to whom you demonstrate a practicing example of professional behavior in action. Your “presentation” may vary in length from a 2-minute patient progress report at a team conference to a daylong continuing education workshop. It may be a skillful interaction with a difficult patient, which serves as a communication lesson to a physical therapy student under your supervision. Your “audiovisuals” may involve the simple demonstration of an exercise, an elaborate slide-based presentation, or the example you provide to others. As an illustration, consider the following clinical scenario from a physical therapist's workday.

Clinical Scenario Teaching as a Way of Being in Physical Therapy Practice

Emma is a senior PT on the brain injury unit at a large urban teaching hospital. As a senior PT, Emma provides education to PT students, clinical staff, medical students, and resident physicians in both formal and informal contexts. She is also the liaison to several PT programs in the area. In this role, she schedules student internships and provides guest lectures in neurological rehabilitation courses.

Emma begins ...

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