The benefits of early-career leadership that this article explores apply well beyond the physical therapy profession. Involvement, commitment, connection, and self-reflection have universal value. This article was published in the fall 2017 issue of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Perspectives magazine.
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Leadership isn’t just for the self-confident and those who already are established in their careers. Leadership opportunities take many forms, and early-career physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) can take advantage of all of them.
Being a leader in one’s profession isn’t limited to accepting committee assignments or taking on elected roles. “You’re a leader to your patients,” notes Matt Gratton, PTA, a member of APTA’s Early Career Team Task Force who works at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “You’re a leader within your organization just by being there on time, being passionate with your patients, and having a positive attitude.”
Aaron Embry, PT, DPT, MSCR, debunks the notion that leadership requires special abilities or resume points. Although he is president of the South Carolina Physical Therapy Association and a research associate at the Center for Rehabilitation Research at the Medical University of South Carolina, he insists that there is nothing inherently special in any of that. “What is most important,” he says, “is that I show up, pay attention, and hustle—that I work hard. If you do all of the basic, common-sense things—be inquisitive, care, and be there for patients, clients, and colleagues—you’ll be amazed at how much will happen to develop you into someone who can lead people.”
Leadership involves consistently taking on challenges, Embry says. “Do I face challenges with integrity, honesty, and bravery,” he asks himself, “and acknowledge that I might succeed, but also that I might fail? What do I learn from my missteps to ensure that they’re not true failures?” He finds, he says, that dealing with each new challenge helps him better tackle the next one.