Volunteer Leadership in the American Physical Therapy Association: A Phenomenological Study of Early Career Physical Therapists

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Physical Therapy


Objective: Professional associations rely on the work of volunteer leaders to serve their members. Little is known about the experiences of individuals who choose to seek and participate in these volunteer roles in the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand the lived experience of early career professionals engaged in volunteer leadership in APTA. Methods: The study used a phenomenological design to explore the experience of volunteer leadership by novice physical therapists. Physical therapists holding a volunteer leadership position in APTA and in the first 7 years of clinical practice were recruited using purposeful sampling. One-on-one semistructured interviews were conducted. Following transcription, interviews were analyzed and coded using the constant comparison method. Results: Thirteen physical therapists participated. Eleven themes emerged: (1) internal factors that facilitated volunteerism - Passion, Internal drive, Always involved, Protect and advance the profession; (2) external forces that facilitated and sustained volunteer leadership - Professional role models, Meeting the leaders, Someone asked, Support of others; and (3) behaviors that sustained their involvement - Learning while doing, Future plans, and Encouraging others' involvement. Conclusions: Novice physical therapists who volunteer for leadership roles within APTA have a passion for protecting and advancing the profession that leads to their decision to volunteer. Other members including faculty and experienced leaders in the association facilitate their initial volunteerism and help to sustain their engagement. Support from employers, including time off and flexible schedules, and making plans for future involvement were crucial to their continued volunteer activity. Impact Statement: Changing demographics and a limited understanding of volunteer leadership could leave APTA with a limited pool of leaders into the future. Understanding the reasons early career professionals volunteer in APTA can help develop more effective strategies to recruit and retain these leaders.



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