Ultimate Guide to Pro Bono Physical Therapy

The Ultimate Guide to Pro Bono Physical Therapy

“I know that we will be the sufferers if we let great wrongs occur without exerting ourselves to correct them.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt has always resonated deeply with me. There have always been individuals who go above and beyond their normal duties to advance the sectors of humanitarianism, technology, and medicine in order to better society.

My whole life, my father, David, has been a source of guidance on how one goes about giving back to the community. Multiple years as a community board president and community affairs associate for his pharmacy showed me the impact a person can make without being paid. He instilled in me at an early age the importance of supporting your fellow human being in their time of need.

I have found many ways on my own time to provide services for underserved individuals in and outside of the physical therapy sector. Issues with the healthcare system are obvious. With the costs of healthcare constantly increasing, too many individuals in America go uninsured or underinsured.

In this guide, I will explain the importance of pro bono services to the new grad physical therapist, and how each physical therapist can get involved in their own way. However, research regarding pro bono physical therapy is surprisingly lacking. This guide will present the most up to date information on legal protection and financial preservation for both new grad PTs and clinic owners interested in providing pro bono services. How do we provide physical therapy services for those who cannot afford it, whether they are uninsured or underinsured?

What are pro bono services and why should new grad PTs provide them?

Unlike traditional volunteerism, healthcare pro bono work involves healthcare professionals using a specific set of skills in their scope of practice to help restore the health of the underserved/disenfranchised without payment. I have found that as among most healthcare professions, empathy is the most admirable quality of a physical therapist. Setting aside time to provide pro bono physical therapy should remind us why we want to be PTs in the first place: to help people.

According to the APTA, pro bono physical therapy work is, if not a moral imperative, at the very least strongly suggested for physical therapists. This is because providing physical therapy to those who may not be able to afford it on their own—whether because of financial struggle, disasters, or lack of availability—is part of physical therapists’ obligation to societal wellbeing.

Although I have met many physical therapists who participate in pro bono services, there are still so many who do not. Physical therapy needs a cultural upheaval so that providing pro bono services becomes a permanent fixture in our industry.

As new grad PTs, introducing yourself to this realm of service can open up a horizon of opportunities. These opportunities include the following: leadership positions, participating in small grants, creating art projects, giving professional presentations, and designing educational programs, among many others.

Pro bono opportunities can have a profound effect, not only on yourself but also on the people you help. Maggie Delaney, PT, DPT, began providing pro bono services by volunteering in a clinic: there, she says, she had “the opportunity to not only put into practice what I was learning in school, but to collaborate with professors, students of other health disciplines, and to become more comfortable interacting with a vulnerable patient population.”

The ability to navigate different cultures, backgrounds, and settings can help the new grad PT improve their clinical and communication skills. This fosters great clinicians. Maggie Delany writes, “One of the most significant skills I developed was deeper compassion for individuals from every background and life situation, which is crucial for patient-centered care and attention.”

According to Tony Bare PT, DPT, physical therapist and clinic owner of Bare Necessities Physical Therapy in Wyoming, “pro bono service should be part of every medical provider’s obligation.” Tony goes on to argue that pro bono services are a great way for physical therapists to reach the public about the services they provide as well as a way to market their services.

Similarly, Chaim Backman felt the need to get his clients—who were also his neighbors in the community—to start moving more. In an article for PTinMotion, Backman writes, “I came to realize that, more and more, my recurrent message to them was, “You need to start living a healthier lifestyle. You need to start exercising.”” Our communities need people like us to show compassion and treat patients because we sincerely want to better the health of the entire population.

The logistics of providing pro bono services

Providing pro bono services does not have to be complicated. Nor does it require sacrifice beyond your means in regards to time and money. There are many ways in which a physical therapist and a private practice can provide for or contribute to pro bono physical therapy services.

Free and Charitable Clinics—of which there are around 1,200 in the US, according to Nann Worel, the President of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (NAFC)—are a major aspect of the healthcare safety net in the United States. These clinics are community organizations that provide healthcare to underserved individuals who would otherwise have nowhere to go.

Working with the NAFC can be as easy as simply writing a check to a local organization or charity. But donating money does not really capture the true sense or the principle of pro bono. Hands-on work seems to me to be the most rewarding: after all, this way one can really see the results firsthand, as it were.

The ethical code as part of the APTA on pro bono services does not provide specifics on how many hours and in what ways can PTs can provide such services. I hope to provide you with some ways to do this and how to protect yourself.

Guidelines for legal protection

Many clinic owners and individual PTs wonder how to provide these services while being protected from litigation and financial difficulties. It raises the common question of “why help those who are already receiving free services when there is still a risk of a malpractice claim?” However, there are some solutions to these problems.

Good Samaritan Laws

The AHLA and the AMA foundation came together to provide healthcare professionals with a guidebook to setting up free clinics. According to the AHLA/AMA Legal and Operational Guide for Free Medical Clinics, “Good Samaritan (GS) statutes offer an available affirmative defense and protects persons against civil liability for injuries or even death due to negligent actions or omissions while rendering health care assistance, usually under emergency circumstances.” Although the law is subject to change by each state and district, the general reason behind Good Samaritan laws is to encourage individuals to offer assistance to those who are ill, injured or incapacitated. It is important to research your own state’s Good Samaritan law as they can differ from state to state.

According to Lori Khan MS, CLT, DPT, “lawsuits against health care providers who volunteer their services in Kansas are defended by the Attorney General’s office and funded by the Kansas Tort Claims fund even when malpractice or professional liability insurance is also provided.” Taking that general principle and applying it to pro bono healthcare can be the start of getting more professionals to volunteer.

Medical Malpractice (Liability) Insurance

Most PTs at this point in practice after graduating (~5 years) have liability insurance. I believe that this is absolutely necessary to protect yourself in your day to day practice whether you practice in the outpatient, inpatient, corporate, and/or academic settings.

The need for liability insurance protection does not change simply because the service is provided pro bono. I personally provide pro bono services outside of clinic. The reason I have liability insurance excluding practicing in clinic is the fact that I would not be covered by my employer’s liability insurance. More simply, this means you could be held liable if you provide pro bono services in your employer’s clinic without their knowledge and without your own liability insurance.

However, just because you have liability insurance and are protected by Good Samaritan laws, if it can be proven that you provided services that are deemed negligent, you will still be in trouble. PTs need to abide by their state practice acts in their entirety. This may seem obvious but there have been instances of PTs failing to abide by their practice acts and incurring revocation of their license, as well as legal and settling fees.

A percentage of positions seen by physical therapists will have TriCare or Medicaid and many may not know how to approach providing pro bono services. These are all questions that the APTA receives frequently, and the APTA provides resources for PTs who need them.

Documentation of Pro Bono Services

As you may have learned in school, documentation plays a huge role in all areas of PT practice and healthcare in general. It was always taught to me that if it was not documented, it never happened. Documentation stays the exact same whether you treat someone regularly through insurance/self pay or during the provision of pro bono services.

Third Party Payer Issues

According to the APTA, neither your clinic nor yourself may waive co-pays or deductibles because those are not seen as pro bono services and doing so may be deemed fraudulent. The APTA has outlined the risks of discounting or waiving your fees in third party situations. Kathleen Cianca gives a rundown of four ways that therapists could meet their pro bono ethical requirement without waiving copays and deductibles, etc. They are:

  1. Provide no-cost or reduced-cost professional services to uninsured individuals
  2. Donate therapeutic services to charitable organizations
  3. Participate in volunteer activities to improve access to physical therapy
  4. Donate money to groups that offer professional services to individuals with limited resources

Hospital discounts

For those individuals who work in the hospital/SNF setting, the US Department of Health and Human Services in accordance with the Office of the Inspector General has provided a guideline on how to offer hospital discounts to those who cannot afford their hospital bill(s). This document can help those who work in the hospital setting to guide their patients in the right direction if paying the bill becomes an issue. Physical therapists will always be advocates for their patient/clients and shouldn’t stop even with the ever-growing red tape in the healthcare system.

Medicare Beneficiaries

According to the APTA, if a physical therapist is a Medicare provider, they cannot provide pro bono services and not submit a claim to Medicare. APTA goes on to state, “If the service is not a covered service under Medicare, the physical therapist does not have to be an enrolled Medicare provider but must provide the beneficiary with an Advanced Beneficiary Notice, which is used to inform the patient that Medicare will not pay for the services being provided.” In order to comply with the law, physical therapists should familiarize themselves with what Medicare does and doesn’t cover.

Guidelines for financial protection

As stated previously, inherent in pro bono services is an expenditure of money and time. I have encountered many who do not provide said services due to the apparent cost. I am here to give you a quick rundown on ways not to break the bank. I must stress that this service shouldn’t feel like a chore or a pain. I participate because I love what I do and want to be around others who do as well.

Clinics: Do Not Underbill

Underbilling, which was outlined under the legal protection section, is also important in regards to the financial economy of your clinic. Bisagni and Scott explain, “Despite the apparent good intention, this practice violates a contractual agreement between the provider and the [payer], and circumvents the very measure in place to reduce overutilization of healthcare resources and patient and societal exploitation.” This practice has negative effects such as lost revenue, devaluation of services, risk of CMS fraud or investigation, HIPAA violations, and discrimination suits.

Tax Deductions

When it comes down to the almighty dollar, the IRS is king. Understanding how to negotiate tax deductions when it comes to your practice or individual provision of pro bono services is key. For the most part, you cannot deduct fees you would normally charge for your services as pro bono services, but you may be able to take deductions for certain qualifying expenses on your income tax return. For example, if you travel to another clinic or geographical location to provide a service, you can deduct the cost of travel and accommodations but not the service itself.

It is also important to determine the difference between pro bono and volunteer work. There are several similarities, but they’re different in some fundamental ways, particularly with regard to taxes. The IRS treats pro bono services and free or discounted services and volunteer services differently. It uses separate guidelines to govern how you can deduct associated costs and expenses.

There are times when an individual provides pro bono services at cost. Returning to the previous scenario, the physical therapist might ask for payment regarding travel expenses. Volunteers for charitable organizations may also be able to deduct travel expenses, but with more restrictions and at a lower percentage rate than for true pro bono services.

Types of pro bono services for physical therapists and student PTs

Many physical therapy programs across the US provide students with opportunities to volunteer in open free clinics. Service learning provides opportunities for students to serve the community while expanding clinical experience. In an article by Stickler et al., results demonstrated the effectiveness of student-run pro-bono physical therapy clinics in improving the quality of life for both physical and pain measures. Participation in the program was a meaningful experience and developed ownership, leadership skills, and pride among the students.

Student-Led University Based Clinics

Chester Community Physical Therapy – Widener University

A wonderful example of the impact a student run clinic can make is Chester Community Physical Therapy Clinic led by students from Widener University. Initially, the students and faculty at The Institute for Physical Therapy Education at Widener University regularly volunteered their services to the outside community, giving blood pressure screenings, checking the safety of assistive devices and leading community physical activity programming. However, they thought they could do more. They recognized a need to provide pro bono physical therapy services for the uninsured and underinsured in Chester and surrounding communities. In September 2009, they launched the student-led Chester Community Physical Therapy Clinic.

In an article in Physical Therapy, the authors interviewed the inaugural members of the Chester Community Physical Therapy Clinic, and described the model of their practice. For those interested, the qualitative study describes both the setup and functions of the clinic as well as the motivations that led to its launch.

C.A.R.E Clinic – Saint Francis University

C.A.R.E. stands for “Community Access Rehabilitation for Everyone.” The clinic is student-run and provides pro bono physical therapy for underserved individuals in the rural community of Loretto, PA and its environs. The goal of the clinic is to provide individualized care for patients from the community who meet the income threshold or have exhausted their insurance benefits, from physical therapy students in the graduate program at Saint Francis University under guidance from professors of physical therapy.

George Fox University Community Physical Therapy Clinic

The George Fox University Community Physical Therapy Clinic provides pro-bono services as part of their mission “to meet the health and wellness needs of our community. Our services are offered free of charge to those who qualify.”

Western Carolina University – Mountain Area Pro Bono Physical Therapy Clinic

The mission of the Mountain Area Pro Bono Physical Therapy Clinic is “to provide effective, pro bono physical therapy services to the under-served and under-insured population of western North Carolina.” As with other university based clinics, WCU’s clinic aims to educate physical therapy students while providing much-needed services to the community.

Temple University – North Broad Physical Therapy Center

Temple University DPT students and licensed physical therapists from the community provide services out of their campus health sciences center in North Philadelphia, PA. The clinic originated in Fall 2015 and opened in January 2016. This clinic operates with a board completely full of DPT students, who arrange all the services to the underserved in the community.

Briar Cliff Clinic – Briar Cliff University

Briar Cliff Clinic is a pro bono clinic in Siouxland run by the university’s DPT students. The students operate under the guidance of the faculty of Briar Cliff University, but the clinic is completely independent and patients are treated by the students. The clinic provides care for a range of conditions and ages.

Rutgers Community Participatory PT Clinic – Rutgers University

Rutgers University provides a free physical therapy and wellness clinic to serve the Newark, NJ community. The clinic, which opened in 2011, is supervised by a licensed physical therapist and students from the Rutgers University physical therapy program. The student volunteers treat a variety of conditions, and run programs including group sessions for chronic stroke patients.

These are just a few of the student run clinics across the USA. The APTA podcast series has also run an episode focused on helping students engage in pro bono services.

Participating in Community Health Research

Research is at the root of all evidence based healthcare. This is paramount in physical therapy practice. Physical therapists can have a prodigious impact on eliminating health disparities at the community level.

In their article for Physical Therapy, Xia et al. recognize the pressing issue of racial or ethnic health disparities and recommend community-based participatory research (CBPR) as a possible solution to these disparities. Following the Kellogg Health Scholars and Israel et al., Xia et al. define community-based participatory research as a “collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings.” CBPR is used on a limited basis within the practice of physical therapy, note Xia et al., yet it has the capability to combine “knowledge with action and [achieve] social change to improve health outcomes and eliminate health disparities.”

The CBPR method is promising, as seen in a case study by Healey et al. The primary investigators used mutual site visits, meetings, and group discussions including community health advocates and physical therapist students that forged the collaboration. Key topics were nutrition, physical activity, and emotional well-being. Shared interests and goals led the community-physical therapist coalition to launch a project to develop an ongoing partnership to improve the health of Austin residents and to engage students in CBPR to expand their learning and development as future healthcare professionals.

We need more physical therapists to participate in community health research and create opportunities for other PTs to volunteer within their community to provide preventative services to the underserved and disenfranchised

Non-Profit Organizations (NPO)

If you do not have access to a student-led clinic or research opportunities, there also exist non-profit health centers at which physical therapists can provide their services. I have had the privilege of involving myself briefly in this area of pro bono services.

In the past 10 years there has been a prodigious increase in the number of NPOs and the amount of financial pouring into society. The nonprofit sector is the third-largest workforce in the United States, behind retail and manufacturing, representing 10 percent of the total workforce in 2010. Along with the number of organizations comes an increase in the number of volunteers and volunteer hours. More and more people are seeking ways to contribute to society through volunteering with nonprofit organizations.

I contacted Kara Shull, who is the founder of Movement2be, through Instagram, and I was lucky enough to sit down with her recently to talk about her own experience in creating this NYC-based organization. She told me that she had always been involved in some form of community outreach even before become a PT. She wanted to convey the philosophy that movement is medicine to children who may not have access to such information.

Kara went on to say, “I founded Movement2be to spread knowledge about the body and encourage others that if we take care of it, we can be who we are made to be and be able to do the things we would like to do.” She reminded me the importance of this across the country because it can encompass much more than just going and exercising with kids. She says they are planting seeds to help with self esteem, teamwork, socialization and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.

The program is led by a movement specialist 2-3x/week that uses one hour of fun and games that incorporate exercises based off of 5 pillars. These include strength, mobility, balance, coordination, and endurance. Kara is looking for amazing people interested in going above and beyond for the community in NYC so if you are interested do not hesitate to contact her or her staff.

The APTA has outlined other outlets for PTs to consider in the fight against inactivity and improving health and fitness in different populations.

The Foundation is an independent 501(c) (3) charitable organization governed by a Board of Trustees and dedicated to funding physical therapist researchers through grants, scholarships and fellowships. The Foundation has awarded more than $17 million to launch and fund the research careers of more than 500 physical therapists around the country in scientific, clinical, and health services research. There are also many opportunities for physical therapists to get involved in both the efforts of the Foundation and in research as well.

The Challenge Center is a 501(c)(3) organization located in La Mesa, CA. They provide a variety of physical therapy, fitness, and wellness services “to rehabilitate, increase independence, and improve the quality of life for individuals with severe physical disabilities, their families, and caregivers.” The most fortunate aspect of the Challenge Center is that it accept individuals who have exhausted their insurance coverage limit and had absolutely no means to continue to improve in function otherwise. They provide a scholarship fund up to $15,000 to those with disabilities in this scenario.

If you have not heard of the Special Olympics, well, then you have been living under a rock. It is a tremendous organization that transforms the lives of individuals with disabilities every day.

I was fortunate enough to offer my services to this organization through a program called “Healthy Athletes FUNfitness.” FUNfitness provides a hands-on opportunity for participants to learn how physical therapists can help them with fitness.

The screening event in which I participated was developed in collaboration with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) for Special Olympics (SOI) Healthy Athletes®. The Physical Therapists and student Physical Therapists assess the flexibility of the hamstring, calf, shoulder rotator, and hip flexor muscles; functional strength of the abdominal and upper and lower extremity muscles; balance (single leg stance and functional reach); and aerobic fitness (Step test or Wheel test).

Multi-Locale Outpatient Physical Therapy

There are many multi-state outpatient physical therapy corporations that service numerous communities across the US. These burgeoning corporate entities have more resources at hand and are able to provide philanthropic, community, and professional services with fervor. One example of this, Drayer Physical Therapy Institute, emphasizes the company’s commitment not only to patient care but to the communities in which their employees reside. At DPTI, the company has an expectation that their employees will participate in community service, and provide paid charity days during which DPTI employees can volunteer in their local communities.

Per this example, if you are a new grad PT and have entered into contract with a corporate outpatient clinic then you may have the opportunity or opportunities to provide pro bono services without taking a vacation, continuing education, or a personal day to do so.

International Service Organizations/Opportunities

International volunteering: it’s a thing many of us consider doing, but an experience only a minority undertake. Fortunately, the number of volunteers is on the rise, and so too are the numbers of organizations and causes that need help. While I personally have not participated in a trip myself, I have found that among those who have, there are five common themes in how these individuals discuss the ways this experience enriched their lives and may entice others to commit.

  • Community Enrichment
  • Be the Difference Maker
  • Become a World Traveler
  • Gain a Whole New Perspective
  • Learn New Skills

These trips are not for the faint of heart and those committed should not come into it thinking this will be a vacation for the duration of the trip. Many of you will see real strife, infrastructure faults, poverty, disease, and extensive humanitarian injustice. New grad PTs and others should learn to empower their clients not only domestically but also internationally.

Many of these programs are focused on providing medical care, and even more have the goal of providing medical training as well. Each program is unique, and if you’re interested, make sure to familiarize yourself with the expectations and requirements—not to mention the risks—before you begin a volunteer or pro bono opportunity. Doing so will also help you make sure that the opportunity aligns with your goals and skills, personally and professionally.

The Physical Therapy Global Access Project, or PT GAP, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that was by a group of student physical therapists in 2015. The organization focuses on providing pro bono physical therapy in the US as well as abroad. In doing so, PT GAP is committed to providing high quality physical therapy to those who cannot otherwise access rehabilitative services. Past projects include service trips to Ecuador and Peru.

STAND: The Haiti Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose goal is to put into place permanent orthopedic facilities to provide care to Haitian communities. STAND has developed a curriculum with which it equips local health workers in order to create a functioning Haitian team who are able to provide services year-round.

The Haiti Rehabilitation Foundation Incorporated is an emerging program at the Episcopal University of Haiti (UNEPH) offering occupational therapy and physical therapy degrees. The Faculté des Sciences Réhabilitation d’ Léogâne (FSRL) at the UNEPH campus in Léogâne was formed to professionalize native Haitian practitioners who can then provide rehabilitation services to those in Haiti who need them.

Faith In Practice is an ecumenical Christian mission group that organizes short-term medical mission trips in order to provide healthcare to Guatemala. Since Faith in Practice is committed to integrating the care provided by their mission trips, there are many programs in which physical therapists can participate. One such is the wheelchair clinic, a program through which Guatemalans with disabilities are provided with specially designed wheelchairs donated by the Free Wheelchair Mission. These wheelchairs can be customized to fit the patient following an evaluation by a physical therapist.

Healing Hands for Haiti Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that provides physical rehabilitation to Haitians with physical disabilities in cooperation with local and governmental organizations. The foundation’s volunteers provide training, physical and occupational therapy, and medical services. The training consists of hands-on workshops for local prosthetic and orthotic techs, with the goal of empowering locals to provide care to their communities.

Using funds collected from sponsorships and fundraising, Hearts in Motion organizes short mission trips in which volunteers work with existing programs to provide care and service to those in need. HIM has been operational since 1990, and their current programs are largely focused on nutrition and pre-natal care, as deficiencies in those areas are demonstrably connected to health issues later in life. The Gualan Center began as a free clinic, but has expanded into an orphanage, a nutrition center, and also acts as a community center, providing education and physical training in order to improve the quality of life for the local community.

Hillside Health Care International is a faith-based non-profit that focuses on providing healthcare and community health programs to the people of the Toledo district in Southern Belize. HHCI’s programs include free clinics, home health visits, and mobile clinics as well as educational programs for local community members. Students from accredited US Doctor of Physical Therapy programs and equivalent international programs may sign up for a variety of rotations (based on need and availability) for clinical education.

Friends of the Redeemer United (FOR U) is a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Brooke Riley PT, DPT in 2007 to provide health services in rural Jamaica. The FOR U team treats patients at a local health clinic run by the Catholic Diocese, and perform home visits as needed throughout the parish of St. Elizabeth. In Jamaica, those who have sustained CVAs are in great need of physical therapy services. FOR U provides a stroke camp for Jamaicans with CVA-related symptoms. The stroke camp is a five-day intensive physical therapy treatment involving pre-testing, intensive neurologic rehabilitation, and post-testing. The camp was recently expanded to provide home visits as well as intensive treatment.

The ultimate goal of Health Volunteers Overseas is to create a self-sufficient healthcare workforce in resource-scarce countries. To achieve this goal, HVO’s projects are focused on providing medical educational opportunities to local populations. Volunteers for HVO projects are trained and licensed healthcare professionals (including physical therapists!) who are willing and able to provide ongoing clinical training, continuing education, and mentoring of students.

Viva Nicaragua! works with local organizations to match student volunteers with positions that meet their skills and interests. The group is focused on ethical volunteerism, and works with communities and institutions to focus on educational opportunities and social justice. Alongside individual internships, Viva Nicaragua! collaborates with academic group programs; past trips have included physical therapy student trips.

Christian Physical Therapists International is a subsection of the Christian Medical and Dental Association. This group organizes short term mission trips for physical therapists who wish to share their services to the underserved and disenfranchised in accordance with the group’s faith-based mission.

Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is an NGO originally founded in 1958 as a peacetime hospital ship. The SS Hope (as it was called) provided humanitarian aid and medical training around the world until the ship was retired in 1974. Project HOPE continues the efforts, sending medical volunteers to train and provide medical services in developing countries. Recently, Project HOPE opened a free and comprehensive rehabilitation center in Port-au-Prince in 2011. The Chanje Lavi (“Changing Lives”) Center is dedicated to providing long-term care to those in need of physical and occupational therapy.

One of Comunidad Connect’s major goals is to help prevent chronic diseases in rural Nicaragua. The group’s services are guided to train local volunteers and provide health education to local communities in order to reduce infant mortality and the prevalence of upper respiratory illnesses.

Rebecca Alexander, a student out of SUNY Upstate Medical, recently returned from her service trip to Jinotega, Nicaragua through her school and Comunidad Connect. “Our goal for this trip was to learn more about clinical evaluation for an underserved population in a different part of the world,” she told me. “In addition to implementing interventions, we provided a great degree of patient education on the importance of exercise and physical activity, avoiding learned non-use, and falls prevention.”

Comunidad Connect then linked Rebecca with individuals to perform home interviews about a specific health issue. Rebecca commended the organization, saying, “The schedule was organized, the provided interpreters were intuitive and knowledgeable.” She highly recommends this organization and found herself enlightened on how socioeconomic status can play a huge role on health status as well.

These are only a few of the international volunteer and pro bono opportunities out there. The APTA has collected a list of organizations to which PTs can offer their skills and services.

Pro bono services do not have to be provided by just one person in one clinic. They can be provided on a larger scale in which many individuals from many countries are involved. October 15th, 2017—the third Global PT Day-of-Service after its origin in 2015—brought together thousands of volunteer PTs from 55 countries to serve others.

No matter where or how, we have the ability to positively impact change. The Global PT Day-of-Service, the brainchild of Efosa Guobadia brought to fruition with the help of Josh D’Angelo and many others, has shown that a profession can mobilize on a large scale in order to support local communities and populations worldwide.

Karen Litzy, part of the social media team, has been involved since 2015. “I was motivated by the passion exuded by Josh and Efosa,” she says. “I felt their sincerity in their message and that they were driven by their ability to help others that are less fortunate and make a difference in the world. They were not doing this to be “famous” or “influential.” That authenticity is hard to come by and I just knew I wanted to help in any way I could.”

There are a number of different ways to get involved in this movement; by doing so, you will help further mobilize others and change the culture of giving. First, you need to pledge to participate. Future participants can follow this organization on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites to be informed on when the next DOS will be. This map will help you find out opportunities through your local ambassador.

The second way to help is to become an ambassador. Ambassadors are PTDOS grassroots organizers who can act on their own within their community, or they can do so on behalf of their company/university. They organize events and sites and recruit volunteers and other participants.

Lastly, one can become a sponsor or individual donor to provide the monetary support needed to get these services and message out into the PT community.

Opportunities with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)

The importance of the APTA in our profession should not be downplayed. I am sure many of us have heard this multiple times while they are in school. There are many reasons why it becomes such a repetitive issue in school and afterwards. The APTA has a prodigious impact on how physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and students of physical therapy can provide better services for their clients and other individuals that may be underinsured and underrepresented in the government.

With the most recent changes made during this new administration, practitioners need to understand how to best advocate for their patients and clients. This concept is especially relevant now with the changes to the Medicare therapy cap and the future disassembly of the Affordable Care Act. As I write, Congress has just returned from recess, and the medicare cap is set at a hard $2,010. This is particularly horrifying as I myself have a parent who will need services beyond the cap in order to enable him to function normally with a chronic disease.

Physical therapists and student physical therapists need to understand that this transitions much of the senior population into the category of underinsured. The purpose of the APTA in this case is to advocate on behalf of the profession, but more so for those we serve.

There are many opportunities for physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students of physical therapy to get involved with the advocacy efforts that impact and affect the profession and the patients it serves. Here are some opportunities for those who are interested.

Physical therapy advocacy opportunities

The PTeam is a grassroots network that has a huge impact on APTA’s presence in Washington, DC. The network receives alerts regarding changes to public policy and other aspects of the profession and are responsible for contacting their congressman/woman on these particular issues.

Key Contacts are members of the APTA who act as the primary contact with their senator or representative in Congress. Their job is to keep the member of Congress informed of issues that are specific to physical therapy practice and to the people it serves. If you are personally connected to a legislator or are interested in developing these relationship, contact advocacy@apta.org.

Federal Affairs Liaisons (FAL) provide grassroots information to the APTA’s Government Affairs Department, and help disseminate information for their component. The FAL is selected by the APTA chapter and section president, and serves for a period of one year.

The APTA Public Policy and Advocacy Committee advises the board of directors on the societal importance of physical therapy care, and provides counsel on public policy updates that may affect public access to physical therapy, including public health issues, billing overhauls, research funding and quality, and education. The PPAC also assists the board in advancing the profession with regards to legislation and regulation.

Student advocacy involvement:

The Student Advocacy Challenge was created in order to raise the bar when it comes to engagement in advocacy at the student level. Participating in the Challenge will help students to learn more about the legislative process and to become more aware of the issues facing physical therapy in the legislature.

The PT-PAC Student Stars Club is the only fundraising group for the physical therapy profession. Its function is to help support congressional candidates fight for access to the services that physical therapists provide and for their clients well being. The student stars club is there to help designate those students who have contributed over $20 to the fund.

Additionally, there are a number of different ways that students can get involved in advocacy at both the state and the federal levels.

In Summary

As I stated at the beginning, research is limited in regards to how pro bono physical therapy services change the climate and fabric of our society. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there are too many organizations and movements available for student, new grad and experienced PTs not to get involved due to scarcity of opportunities.

Opportunities range from free clinics, NPOs, movement workshops, health fairs, marketing/fundraising events, monetary/equipment gifts, and community based population health research. Self-assessment of your skill sets can help you decide which arena of pro bono services to engage.

The key word is engagement.

Please engage in your community. Please engage in your profession. It helps empower and integrate people from different backgrounds. Groups that feel ignored can gain greater control over their lives and their community. When people from different areas of the community work together, they often find that they have much in common.

If the new generation of student PTs and new grads observe their elders engaging in pro bono services, they are more likely to do the same. I cannot stress enough the importance of physical therapy for those who are disabled/disenfranchised and without the funds to help themselves. PTs can literally save these people’s lives.

And no matter what pro bono service you ultimately choose, what is truly the key is having your heart in it. Because while many experiences come and go like fleeting fads, giving of yourself is something you’ll carry with you forever.

About Dustin Passigli

Dustin Passigli
Dustin Passigli is a recent graduate (May 2015) of Long Island University-Brooklyn. Dustin is currently working at Profitness Physical Therapy, an orthopedic manual therapy clinic, in downtown Brooklyn as well performing duties as an adjunct lab instructor for Anatomy courses in the physical therapy department at LIU-Brooklyn.

One comment

  1. Clinton Boone

    Great article Dustin! As healthcare professionals, I believe we are obligated to contribute to the greater good of our community. I like how you also addressed the topic of underbilling and showed me some organizations I can get involved with. Keep up the good work!

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