Almost everyone has been treated—or knows someone who has been treated—by a physical therapist. The field of physical therapy encompasses not only rehabilitation after injury and surgery but also a wide range of preventive health services and vital lines of research. Dr. Alan Jette, PT, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of Physical Therapy (PTJ), the scientific journal of the American Physical Therapy Association, shares his vision for PTJ and his take on opportunities and challenges for the physical therapy profession.
What led you to the field of physical therapy?
Like many, my first exposure to physical therapy was as a patient. As an 11-year-old boy, I fell from a high tree house and fractured my right femur and both wrists. After weeks in traction, I needed considerable rehabilitation to help in my recovery. Subsequently, as an undergraduate student in western New York, I worked as an orderly in a local nursing home and rehabilitation center where I was first introduced to the emerging field of geriatric rehabilitation. That experience led me to change my major from sociology to physical therapy.
How and when did you get involved with Physical Therapy (PTJ)?
Dr. Jules Rothstein, former editor-in-chief of PTJ, first encouraged me to get involved in PTJ. At the time, we were both fellows of the rheumatology association and doing similar research in scientific measurement. Through his encouragement and support, I served on the PTJ editorial board from 1990–1996 and as deputy editor from 1993–1996. I also served as acting editor-in-chief of PTJ in 2005 after the untimely passing of Dr. Rothstein. Involvement with PTJ has been the major way in which I have tried to give back to the profession of physical therapy.
Describe what you think PTJ will look like in 20 years and the type of articles it will publish.
I see PTJ becoming the top international rehabilitation science journal that focuses not only on publishing the best in rehabilitation science, but on using various forms of social media to help move new evidence into rehabilitation practice worldwide.
What is the most important issue in the field of physical therapy right now?
In my opinion, in the United States, the major challenge for the profession is to expand its role as a key member of the health care team. Fulfilling our potential there will be difficult without also overcoming other significant challenges, such as patient access barriers and narrow and restrictive payment policies.
Are there any areas you think are overlooked?
Due to payment barriers, physical therapists are not involved enough in population health and prevention of disease and disability.
How would you describe PTJ in three words?
Science, Scholarship, Global.
Tell us about your work outside the journal.
The focus of my research is on the science around disability: its definition, measurement, epidemiology, prevention, and treatment. As a physical therapist who is a professor of health policy and management in a school of public health, I work on the boundary between population health and rehabilitation. My current research involves preventing disability among adults with spinal cord injury, helping create a center devoted to active aging, and implementing a major project aimed at helping the US Social Security Administration develop and use standardized approaches to examine human functioning that relates to an individual’s ability to work. Each year, I teach a doctoral level course on scientific measurement at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. I also serve on several panels of the National Academy of Medicine related to disability and population science and policy.
Feature image credit: “Senior Male Patient Working With Physiotherapist In Hospital” by monkeybusinessimages via iStockphoto.