Contextualizing the role of Filipino PTs in the country


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How do we contextualize the role of Filipino Physical Therapists in the country?

In a panel discussion on the topic during the national convention of Physical Therapists in the country, I was aghast at the apparent disconnect of the speakers to the current situation of Physical Therapists in the country or even the current public health situation in the country, this despite the speakers boasting of an impressive resume that highlights their years of service in the government health sector.

How dare they talk about the contextualization of the role of PTs in the country when they could not even articulate the situation of PTs in the country, so much more the physical rehabilitation needs of the country.

Their reason is that they want to “contextualize” the role of PTs in the context of the government’s health agenda that aims to provide and promote the wellbeing of both the well and the sick who suffer and are vulnerable from the triple burdens of disease, namely from incommunicable diseases (which is mostly lifestyle diseases), communicable diseases, and diseases brought about by rapid urbanization and industrialization.

That is not contextualization, rather, that is tailor-fitting the profession to an agenda that may not be based on the current situation or may not even address the current needs.

When one contextualizes, he endeavors to understand a certain situation based on the factors leading to its current state. As Merriam-Webster would put it, it is to provide information of a situation based on the conditions surrounding it.

If we would contextualize our role as PTs in light of the triple burdens of diseases, as the speakers insisted, one must first be able to situate oneself to the very situation that would make many Filipinos vulnerable to these triple diseases with special consideration on what makes these diseases a burden to them and then perhaps identify the rehabilitation needs of the people, enumerating the many possible scenarios where a PT could situate himself.

One must not merely look at their immediate environs, which may be that of large specialized hospitals, but must also look into the most basic institutions that are expected to deliver health services to the most number of people in the country, which may still be in rural areas, mostly in farming or fishing communities where the convenience of modern medical technology remains alien.

Meaning, one must look into the situation of rural health units, or barangay health units, and if we are to contextualize the role of Filipino PTs in these realities, we must try to understand where the Filipino PTs are in these particular situations. Are we even present in these settings?

What role must the Filipino PT then play in such situations? Is it enough for us to say that PTs must be aggressive in educating people on cardiac diseases and all, or of ergonomics and how their hospital gallantly preaches the gospel of ergonomics to patients lazing in the waiting area, waiting forever for their turn to be served by a government doctor, who himself is burdened by the number of patients that he had to face?

I reckon that the concern of these people in the lobbies of hospitals who apparently has become the subject of an experiment, regardless of how valiant the intentions may be, is not really keen on listening to a therapist babbling about conditions they are not interested at the moment as they have to address their current and immediate health needs. They’d rather benefit, at least emotionally, from a TV program that would make them laugh and smile as they wait forever for their turn for an available doctor.

Even so, let us consider the current situation of PTs in the country with whatever limited data we have.

According to the Philippine Regulations Commission, there are more than 27,228 registered PTs in the country as of November 2015, or at least those that are registered in the agency. Some may have already left the country, but that is beyond the point of this article.

With this data, it would be interesting to note that this number came way before the PRC and government decided to push through with the Continuing Professional Development as part of the requirements for the renewal of license.

It cannot be denied that many, if not majority, of PTs in the country are private practitioners, meaning they are “community-based PTs” with no fixed affiliation to a medical facility or unit.

It would also be interesting to note the number of these registered PTs who are actually practicing the profession as clinicians or academicians. Advocacy and policy making is still in its infancy stage for the profession, so the number may be insignificant.

We could not dismiss the fact that somehow there may be PTs who failed to get a job in the hospital or to go abroad and who are underemployed or in a mismatched employment as either staffs of politicians, or work for a government agency with responsibilities that has nothing to do with the PT profession, or have a totally unrelated job like perhaps in media, in contact centers, or in sales. Some may even have decided to join the wellness sector and turn into gym instructors or massage therapists.

I myself have worked as an encoder for a government social fund agency,  and became the secretary of a local legislator. Not because I am not interested to practice the profession, on the contrary, but because the country lacks meaningful employment for PTs.

The former has given me no opportunity to apply anything I learned in PT school, but the latter has given me the opportunity to practice my profession in a unique way. Not in treating patients, but in lobbying and pushing for the welfare of PTs in the area, which would include coaxing politicians into seeing the need for PTs in the barangay level, or, at most, in city health units. This beginning with the promotion of advocacies for the differently-abled.

This is the context that we must put ourselves into in order for us to be able to come up with a definition of what a Filipino PT is today.

What role do we play given these realities? What role should we play given these realities?

These are questions that need reflection if we want to contextualize our role as Physical Therapists and be significant in the country’s health agenda, including the panelists favorite, the triple burden of diseases.


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