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LOTS Lagniappe | Louisiana Tech News

Q and A with Dr. Sharon Dunn

October 23, 2021

We're really excited about our guest this month. With it being October and National Physical Therapy month, we could think of no better Q&A guest than Dr. Sharon Dunn. 

Dr. Dunn has been such an inspiration to countless individuals in the PT world and healthcare community. I have not met anyone that advocates for our profession more than she does on a State, Regional, and National level as evident by her recent term as APTA President. Her words and thoughts are as good as gold! Please take the time to continue reading to find out some great information about the current state of Physical Therapy and the heath care field as a whole. 

Tell everyone how we know each other and give us a summary of your career so far! 

Sharon Dunn: I first met Chase Patterson in 2013 when he was a candidate for admission to our Doctor of Physical Therapy program at LSUHS.  I was then the Director of the program; and I have no way to understand what was perfect in the selection process of that class – the DPT Class of 2016 - but we were fortunate that his was one of those classes that only come along once in a great while. Chase was a big part of that exceptional culture, a class full of strong character people who cared deeply about each other and the profession they had chosen to pursue.  It is truly rewarding as a teacher/professor to see graduates of our program excelling in their practice, in their lives, and in their communities.  Dr. Patterson is one such graduate.  

Interesting that the profession of PT has evolved so quickly, as I graduated in 1987 when the requirement was a Bachelor’s degree. Now, 34 years later, the requirement is a Doctoral degree.  I completed all of my academic degrees at LSUHS; a Bachelor of Science in PT, a Master of Health Science, and a PhD in Cellular Biology and Anatomy.  Early in my career I practiced in small, local out-patient clinics and that is where my love of Orthopedic PT began.  I continued to enjoy learning and teaching, having taught in the clinic but also as an adjunct instructor for LSU in the early 1990s.  The academic bug bit hard so I made the leap from full-time clinical practice to a full-time academic position in the mid-1990s, teaching much of the musculoskeletal and biomechanics content.  As teaching was fun and inspiring for me, I continued to teach and assume leadership roles in my school and professional organizational communities.  Through the years, that service in clinical practice teaching, and professional engagement has developed and shaped me for my current leadership roles:  Dean of the School of Allied Health Professions and President of the American Physical Therapy Association.  

Why should physical therapists become members of the APTA? 

SD: PTs should become members of the APTA for several reasons, but chief among them is so we have more voices, more talent, and more available expertise to drive our collective vision and mission forward.  In addition, when you are a member, you have access and power.  Access to all of the tools and resources available to enhance your own professional development; power through the shared governance of the organization to direct the future of the profession through adoption of policies, positions, and strategic initiatives.  Otherwise someone else is driving and they may not accurately represent your ideas and direction for the profession. Finally, it is a place to find your network, your tribe - those PTs and PTAs with the same interests, hopes, dreams, and passions.  We are certainly #BetterTogether and there is strength in numbers.

In what ways has the profession grown in the last 10-15 years that you're most proud of? 

SD: I am quite proud of the profession’s growth toward the doctoral-level requirement and options for post-professional specialty and residency education; we have 3 residencies offered at LSUHS in our faculty practice, one each in orthopedics, neurology, and wound management.  However, I am most proud that the public can access a PT without a prescription or referral in all US jurisdictions.  This change in state law in Louisiana was passed in the summer of 2016 after a 30-year effort.  And now Louisiana residents may choose to see a PT anytime and anywhere to manage their aches, pains or functionally challenging movement related issues with precise exercise-based interventions.  Now we can help anyone who desires to get moving and get healthy along that path!

What do you hope to see change or grow in our profession over the next 10 years? 

SD: I hope more PTs get out of the clinical setting more often to in order to see patients where they live, work and play.  I would also like to see more PTs begin small businesses so the revenue earned comes back to the profession by extension of the PT owner. Finally, I would love to see more PTs co-located with primary care physicians, urgent care centers, and practicing as a part of multi-disciplinary, patient-centered teams. Our true value will be realized when more people better understand how we can be helpful to them – both physicians and the citizens of our communities.

There's a lot of talk about the cost of PT school compared to the average PT salary. Do you think that current ratio is fair? If not.. what can change?

SD: The costs of higher education continues to be a problem for many.  An article written by Richard Shields in 2018 in the Journal of Physiotherapy used actuarial science to determine the net present value (NPV) of the DPT degree contrasted to several other occupations in health-related fields.  PT fares well among other professions as long as the overall debt-load of obtaining the degree stays below $150,000.  Debt burden beyond that threatens the NPV.  My advice to any aspiring PT student and their families is to be a good consumer of potential PT programs.  Tuition must be publicly available, so many times you have to dig around on a University’s website, but investigating this before you choose a program is wise.  Also, keep your expenses low while in school; don’t use your loans for anything other than tuition, fees, and modest living expenses.  

If the pandemic taught us anything, we learned that school can be delivered successfully in asynchronous, web-based formats or hybrid approaches.  We can begin to explore technologies that will make PT school more accessible and lest costly by some of these disruptive academic models.  

The other thing APTA is working on relates to payment for our services as PTs.  As is the case for all health professions, the cost of providing services continues to rise, but the payment for those services continues to be reduced or stagnant, at best.  PTs should know their costs per visit ratio and not enter into contracts or agreements that pay less than those costs.  Additionally patients can be our greatest advocates; once they receive care from a PT, they recognize the value and will go toe-to-toe with their insurance company – where they pay those premiums – to have their PT services covered fully in any benefits package.


Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dr. Dunn! This has been and will besome very insightful information to us and our readers. We thank you for your commitment and all you do for our profession. 

PS : Join the APTA here.    

Chase Patterson PT, DPT (10/23/21)