Gurus: A necessity for our profession

Currently, there are many continuing education courses and programs out there that are advertising to fill holes and improve the overall profession of Physical Therapy. These courses provide different ideas and opinions that can be valuable to a practitioner to help them continue to advance in their profession. But what if the courses are conflicting? Who do you believe? What is best for your practice? Typically, most courses that are produced now have plenty of research to back their claims, so how do you know what information is the most effective and which set is not the most advantageous?

A person approached me and indicated that we are in a better situation than we ever have been when it comes to education and research. They indicated we have more research than ever and that the old system of “gurus” or being a specific trained therapist is no longer of value and that we are better off.

I would challenge that we need more “gurus”. The current climate in the medical world not just our profession is showing greater affinity towards researchers that have produced significant amounts of research. A general trend that I have observed in the past years is to be a presenter in a national conference right now requires you to have published in a reputable journal and more so within the year. There is nothing logically wrong with getting speakers that are versed in research and are producing some of the most current research but there is a weakness in the basis of research. To be successful in research, the topic has to be narrowed so much that it commonly does not represent reality. It is more of a small piece of the larger picture. So now, our conferences are filled with a bunch of pieces that require you as the therapist to put the pieces together.

Very few people, including the researchers, have the success of piecing together the research to make it applicable to the population. This is where I see a Guru is an answer. The Guru is a person that is able to take all of these pieces and start to weave them together to develop concepts and ideas that help make sense of the individual findings of many research findings. Typically, the researcher does not fit this role. They are usually experts on the specific topics that they have researched but do not possess the ability to relate their ideas with other ideas. The guru is a puzzle expert. They can take significant amounts of information and assimilate a hypothesis that makes the research directly applicable to the patient.

In the past, Robin Mckenzie had a concept on how to manage pain that is related to the spine. He took the current knowledge and his experiences to develop a theory that has carried on over the years. Jeffery Maitland also had his own ideas of how to treat the spine using similar information as Robin but the programs are distinctly different. They both were successful and were significantly beneficial to our professions but they in some ways contradicted each other. Stanley Paris also developed his own method which was also very effective. Grimsby took another approach that was also very different but also very successful. The primary weakness of these programs does not lie within the Guru, it is the recipient. If the recipient takes the information and does not grow and develop their own concepts the progress stops there. This is seen frequently in programs where a student is taught a treatment system and 10 years they are still using the same treatment and theories. The weakness is there is no innovation in the process at that point.

Within NAIOMT, Erl Pettman, Cliff Fowler, Ann Hoke, the senior faculty all had their own concepts and methods. In their own rights are also considered to be “Gurus”. They all worked to improve the profession by coming up with creative ideas, methods, and programs that utilized the current knowledge that was present at the time of development. A great program was developed and continues to develop as time goes on.

Where are current Guru’s? Who would you consider to be an expert in the field, not just one topic? I have a difficult time coming up with names of the newer generation that have filled the footsteps of the previous pioneers of the field. It is not because they do not exist, we just do not recognize the value that these people bring us. I have met many therapists that are brilliant in their own ways and have come up with amazing ideas and methods but are unheard of because of the current status of requirements of presenters in the national conferences.

I look forward to a day that we can have and continue to have a conference that is no longer just about research but taking the research and develop ideas, concepts, and potentially profession changing advancements in our profession. Professional growth happens with innovation. Remove innovation and all we become stagnant.

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