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All of us belong simultaneously to multiple communities. The most basic community is the one we are introduced to at birth, our family. It is the responsibility of the family unit to introduce a child to appropriate behavior and how to differentiate right from wrong. There are many other communities that a child will interact with on his or her way to adulthood—school, sports teams, band and chorus, religious groups, scouting—just to name a few. Entering a professional field is different, as the customary norms that apply to human interactions take on a higher level of obligation because of the very complex but most important patient–therapist relationship. All physical therapists are bound by the laws in the jurisdiction in which they practice and the Code of Ethics for the physical therapist. While both are binding the law is the minimum standard that must be adhered to, the Code of Ethics is more aspirational, but not optional, providing guidance on all aspects of the patient–therapist relationship. It is incumbent on students and licensed PTs and PTAs to know their state practice act, as well as the Code of Ethics. The public expects that we will demonstrate through our behavior the virtues of the profession as well as the Code of Ethics that incorporates the virtues of accountability, altruism, compassion, excellence, integrity, professional duty, and social responsibility. Professional responsibility occurs in the individual, organization, and societal realms. The public may not understand excellence in the delivery of physical therapy, but they do recognize a breech of professional responsibility on the part of their physical therapy practitioner.

The cases presented here look at the importance of professional responsibility from several different perspectives.

Cases in this section:

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A Passive Protocol Autonomous clinical decision making
Artificial Competence Assessing competence and limitations
Alphabet Soup Protect patients by accurate reporting of skills


Autonomous clinical decision making

It is the professional duty of physical therapists (PTs) to evaluate patients and clients and devise plans for their optimal plan of care by fully employing their knowledge, training, and skills. In some instances, however, their ability to do so may be blocked by those in positions of authority. Consider the following scenario.

Jill is a physical therapist who has practiced in the home care setting for the past 5 years. She loves the independence, variety, and challenges, so, when she decides to relocate upstate to live closer to her family, she applies exclusively to home healthcare agencies.

Her new employer is about the same size as her previous one, and Jill quickly feels accepted by her colleagues and clients. When it is time for her first-month probation meeting, however, she senses that Bob, the physical therapy supervisor, isn’t completely pleased with her work. When he says she’s “by and large” doing ...

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