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Physical therapists (PTs) are an integral part of the healthcare team. While all PTs recognize that they are ultimately responsible for their actions, PTs never practice in isolation. Professional relationships between therapists and PT assistants and other healthcare providers and healthcare administrators are crucial to the safe and effective delivery of healthcare. Working as part of a team requires mutual respect and trust, two virtues that are common to all healthcare providers. As part of professional training, students are often required to work in a group to become accustomed to participating in effective group process. These groups are in an intraprofessional setting, PTs and PTAs, as well as have opportunities to engage in interprofessional education (IPE) and ultimately interprofessional practice (IPP). Professional relationships require good communication and a willingness to listen, absorb, and consider other viewpoints.

Professionals interact with one another on many different levels. This provides opportunities to serve as mentors, or act as a supervisor or a supervisee, or sometimes both simultaneously. Team work requires a basic understanding of what our colleagues contribute to patient care so we can complement one another. Team communication is complicated, and it requires that every professional be willing to enter into a relationship of mutual respect for the benefit of the patient. The cases in this section look at professional relationships from very different perspectives; they share in common challenges to the very virtues that are part of professional practice.

Cases in this section:

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Joint Moves Respect for interprofessional practice
An Acute Cold Shoulder Destructive professional relationship
Homesick Professional power gradient abuse


Respect for interprofessional practice

In most cases, our relationship as physical therapists to our colleagues in other healthcare disciplines is excellent. Sometimes, however, situations arise that place us in the uncomfortable position of balancing, on the one hand, our fiduciary obligation and concern for our patient, and, on the other hand, our professional respect for healthcare colleagues who also are serving that patient. Consider the following scenario.

Jim has been a solo private practitioner for more than 20 years. While he practices in a small town, it is located within a large metropolitan area, so his patients and clients have many choices for physical therapy. Jim takes pride in the fact that he has many longtime patrons from larger towns and cities in the area. He has established strong relationships with many area physicians, to whom he refers patients and who, likewise, refer their patients to him.

Mitch is a 62-year-old construction worker and avid “weekend warrior” who has come to Jim for various physical issues over the years related to his strenuous job and hard-driving recreational pursuits. Mitch’s hip has been wearing down for some time, and Jim has counseled the eventual need for replacement surgery. After resisting the idea for months, during a physical therapy session after ...

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