Coming to America: Rethinking the Professional Identity of Foreign-trained Physical Therapists in the USA

By Susan Klappa and Scott Peter Klappa.

Published by The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Foreign-trained physical therapists (FTPTs) play a role in helping to meet the demand of rehabilitation services in the United States of America (USA). Not everyone is successful in becoming licensed to practice in the USA. One’s personal identity as well as health and wellness are closely linked to professional identity. The dilemma is how to balance personal autonomy, right to economic prosperity, right to personal professional development, and expectations of the public for safety obtaining adequate health care services. Methodology: A qualitative approach to examine issues faced by FTPTs who were seeking licensure to practice physical therapy in the USA. Descriptive phenomenological methods were used to analyze interviews of FTPTs (n=12). Motivations, issues, and barriers to this phenomenon were explored. Grounded Theory allowed us to examine the relationships among the themes that have emerged to create a model to explain the phenomenon. Results: Language proficiency, educational levels, and clinical experience were barriers for some participants. Other barriers such as a clinician’s accent or physical appearance may also demonstrate more subtle forms of discrimination against these clinicians. Resilience and hardiness were key components to redefining the professional identity of these FTPTs. Resilience and hardiness were key factors that contributed to the reconciliation of participants’ professional identity, whether or not the FTPTs were successful in gaining licensure. Conclusions & Implications: Results from this study help inform communities and organizations on how to best recruit, retain, and support physical therapy professionals to meet the increasing diversity in the patient populations we serve, and how to best meet today’s growing demand for a culturally appropriate and diverse workforce.

Keywords: Phenomenology, Physical Therapist, Professional Identity

The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp.29-46. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 731.746KB).

Dr. Susan Klappa

Associate Professor, University of Saint Mary, Leavenworth, Kansas, USA

Sue Klappa is an associate professor at the University of Saint Mary Stefani Doctor of Physical Therapy Program in Leavenworth, KS, USA. Dr. Klappa earned her Ph.D. in Education, Curriculum, and Instruction: Family, Youth, and Community from the University of Minnesota and her Master of Physical Therapy degree at the College of St. Catherine in Minneapolis, MN. Dr. Klappa teaches in the areas of adult neuro rehabilitation, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, prosthetics, differential diagnosis, and community health and wellness. She has a passion for the role of physical therapy in the international community and has traveled to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Venezuela, Mexico, and Haiti as a physical therapist. She has also been involved in disaster relief work in Haiti. Her research interests include studying interprofessional collaboration, community engagement, and the influence of international immersion experiences in preparing PT clinicians for community engagement. She is also interested in education in the community and how service learning influences civic engagement of physical therapists and community empowerment. She has written a book entitled Experiences of Physical Therapists Not-Knowing during International Service Work: The Essence of Not-Knowing.

Scott Peter Klappa

Graduate Student, Clinical Psychology, Rosalind Franklin University, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Scott P. Klappa earned his B.A. in Psychology at St. Mary's University of Minnesota where his research interests included studying what creates a successful first year experience for college students. He is now a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago where his research focus is on the study of personality and the effects of ego depletion on risk-taking behavior.