Over the past couple of decades, the practice of medicine has expanded, and now there are specialists for nearly every diagnosis. This is true for physical therapy, and yet we have not been as successful with letting the public know. I do not hesitate to tell poor schmuck #1 that he should certainly seek physical therapy for his knee, and that it is not my area of expertise. I go on to explain that there are physical therapists who specialize in orthopedic issues, and there are even physical therapists who specialize in optimizing golf swing and performance, and if he would like recommendations for local therapists, I would be happy to provide him with a couple.
I think it is wonderful that we have developed specialties in our practices. The body is complex, and just as I would prefer a cardiologist read my EKG and decide a treatment for my cardiac symptoms over an internal medicine physician, patients would prefer the same with their PT care… as long as they realize it’s available.
Know your niche – and be comfortable there! There will certainly be a population with whom you most enjoy working, and a diagnosis you understand how to treat. Embrace it, and promote it! Again, the body is complex, and so is how it moves. You will be a better therapist when you are enjoying your work, and not just trying to treat every client who comes to you for help. This also means that you need to be okay with what you don’t know… Yes, I learned the basics of women’s health PT in school, but I also know that does not mean I could or should try to figure out the best plan of care just because the client came to me.
We all know all the areas in which our profession can specialize; I will not go through all of them. But one example I always think of is the women’s health area of practice. I will be honest, I would not know where to start with an evaluation, nor would I have a clue as to what sorts of treatments would be best. But I think this is an awesome service to people who need it. I think many women do not even realize that there are treatment options for incontinence or pelvic pain, let alone know that physical therapy has experts for these specific issues. I let people know about this area of practice despite the fact that I can’t help these patients personally. Because it helps to promote our profession.