Leadership in the American Physical Therapy Association: The Experience of Early Career Physical Therapy Professionals


Most professional associations, including the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) have paid staff. However, volunteer leaders commit time and energy to the work of the association to ensure the protection and advancement of physical therapy. As Baby Boomers retire, some groups have raised concerns about a potential void in leadership across different organizations that rely on volunteer leaders. The APTA has identified the need for leadership development in the profession broadly including the need for future leaders of the association. There is little known about the experiences of individuals who choose to seek and participate in these volunteer leadership roles in the APTA. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand the experience of serving in a volunteer leadership role in the APTA from the perspective of early career physical therapy professionals.


A phenomenological design was utilized to explore the experience of APTA volunteer leadership by early career physical therapy professionals. Thirteen physical therapists holding a volunteer leadership position in the APTA and in the first 7 years of clinical practice were recruited using purposeful sampling. One-on-one semi-structured interviews were conducted and audio-recorded. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed and coded using the constant comparison method.


Eleven themes emerged from the data, including: Passion, Internal drive, Always involved, Protect and advance the profession, Professional role models, Meeting the leaders, Someone asked, Support of others, Learning while doing, Future plans, and Encouraging others involvement. The importance of academic programs and faculty were highlighted in two of the themes: Always involved and Professional role models. Participants described their continuous involvement in volunteer leadership from an early age, and highlighted the impact of volunteerism and leadership opportunities as a student physical therapist. Of similar influence was the enthusiasm, active involvement and leadership of faculty role-models within the participants’ doctor of physical therapy programs.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: The Pursuit of Excellence in Physical Therapy Education

There are important internal and external factors that facilitate engagement in the association. The role of academic programs in identifying these individuals was emphasized by the participants in this study. The information gleaned from this study can influence how clinical instructors, faculty, and leaders in the profession attract volunteers for our professional association.


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  • Control #: 2523917
  • Type: Platforms
  • Event/Year: ELC2016
  • Authors: Dr. Lori Bordenave, Melissa Tovin, Dr. Mary Blackinton, Jennifer Canbek
  • Keywords:

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