It’s time to make Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) the official credential of our profession, front and center following our name. Not only do I believe it should be the first credential listed, but I also believe it should become our official license title. While I understand that ‘PT’ was the first credential used for our profession, there are several problems that I have with it:
1. Listing PT and DPT is simply redundant. Under most circumstances, if you have a DPT, you are likely licensed as well. This is supposed to be implied when listing your degree behind your name. Additionally, listing both can give the impression that we’re creating an alphabet soup behind our name. This holds especially true for those who have multiple certifications in addition to their basic credentials. Employers already have access to this information through our resume and state license documentation. If we HAVE to list both, or if there are those who believe the title should not be abandoned, then it should be DPT, PT. I know very few other professions who use our nomenclature (and for good reason).
2. Some people have mentioned that we need to have standardization, as it will cause more confusion to the public. I would argue that PT often gets misinterpreted already, as many people think PT stands for personal trainer (even though their credential is CPT). Even now, the PT credential doesn’t seem to be well known among the public; consequently, it does not appear as though we’d lose momentum within the marketing process if we switched our title. In the public circle, does ‘PT’ really have a substantial following compared to the DPT? I would argue differently.
3. Some PTs without their doctorate have raised concerns about the DPT being the standard credential, as they do not have that degree. This issue is not unlike what many other professions have had to deal with. Pharmacists and nurses both started with associate/bachelor-level degrees and changed over time with increased training. As a matter of fact, credentialing centers for nurses and pharmacists actually suggest listing the master’s or doctorate degree (ex PharmD, MSN/DNP) first. Why? The idea is that the degree can never be taken away from you: licenses and certifications can expire or be taken away. Modern clinicians in these other professions do not continue to list the older credentials first. RN and R.Ph follow after the degree (that is if it is written at all). Their reasons for doing this seem obvious: they believe progressing the profession supersedes parity and standardization with previous graduates who hold an older title. Pharmacists. Nurses. They all do it. All of these professionals put their highest degree earned first behind their name. Why are we different? A PT without a DPT does not make him/her any less of a clinician. Having a different credential simply highlights how professions change over time. Times have changed, and now that the DPT is the entry level degree, there will be an overwhelming majority who hold the DPT vs BSPT/MSPT.
I believe changing the official license title would be beneficial for all parties involved. Would it take more work? Undoubtedly. Though, if we want the public and other healthcare professionals to recognize our doctoral training, then it needs to be front and center behind our name. If we want to continue to push for direct access in every state, then it needs to be marketed that way. I am not calling for physical therapists to tell their patients to address them as doctors. I have never asked a patient to call me doctor. Nonetheless, we are still DOCTORs of Physical Therapy. MD, DO, DDS, PharmD, DVM, OD. Many people know what these acronyms stand for. Let’s do our part and make sure that the public and our counterparts know who a DPT is.