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Leading to Leave

Sullivan, Katherine PT, PhD

Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy: December 2010 - Volume 34 - Issue 4 - p 216
doi: 10.1097/NPT.0b013e3181fd4dba
SECTION NEWS & NOTES: President's Perspective

President, Neurology Section.

Correspondence to: Katherine J. Sullivan, E-mail:

This is a transitional year for the Neurology section; both in a literal and figurative sense. Our spring Section elections yielded a few new faces to the Board of Directors that includes the reelection of Theresa Kimberly-Jacobsen to the Director of Research and the election of a new treasurer, Linda Csiza, and President-elect, Deb Larsen. Special thanks to those who ran but were not elected, and to our nominating committee.

The postelection period always brings to my mind the upcoming transitions that naturally occur when a Board member rotates out of their position to be filled by a new person. The dynamics of Board membership is characterized by the stability of those who have been in office with the new perspectives, ideas, and energy of the new members coming on. This year is particularly bittersweet for me since transitioning the President-elect to assume the president position of the Neurology Section means that I am now leading to leave.

As I have been orienting our president-elect to our dynamic and exciting Section, it is only natural to reflect on where we have been to where we are going. I took office officially in June 2005. My first act as President was to thank the Neurology Section members while Barb McConnelly, President of the Section on Pediatrics, thanked the Pediatric Section members for the volunteer service that had resulted in the IIISTEP conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Once again, our profession was challenged to update our practice with the science of our time. Terms like the ICF model, neuroplasticity, cortical reorganization due to experience-dependent skill acquisition were new terms that are now well recognized in the lexicon of physical therapy.

There are many other accomplishments that our Section has made during these past 5 years. The accomplishments of this Section are not because of any one person who holds a position on a Board but emerges from a collective group of committed people who pass on the vision and mission of the Neurology Section from one generation to the next, one election at a time. This year brings up different priorities for me as I hope to smoothly transition our leadership team to maintain our momentum and strength as our Board continues to push our Section forward to meet the next set of challenges and opportunities.

Transitional leadership is a new experience for all of us on the Board. There is a tendency to want to pass on “institutional memory” of how we have done things in the past. There is the pull of wanting to stay because there is much to learn, and the past 5 years have been funny, exciting, frustrating, and exhilarating; but it is time to pass it on.

The Myelin Melter and Business meeting on February 11, 2011 at Combined Sections Meeting in New Orleans will be my last as Section President. I feel like I have spent that past 5 years learning how to do the job. It will take the next 5 to process how it has changed me. I wanted to serve as president because of my commitment and passion for the mission of our Section that includes our potential to impact students, the profession, and the association by continuing to remind them of individuals with disabilities; many of them under- or uninsured. I appreciate the challenges physical therapists and physical therapist assistants confront because of their choice to specialize in neurology and the treatment of persons with movement dysfunction due to nervous system disease or injury.

However, I leave with a broader perspective; one that has been shaped by discussions in the House of Delegates, between my fellow component presidents and Association Board of Directors or staff who mentored me at critical periods. I have been shaped by those who have agreed with me and those who obviously do not. There is a serious need for change both within our profession and within the healthcare delivery system. If the profession of physical therapy is to be recognized as a profession, and not as a brand, then we must agree on one message that defines physical therapy and why physical therapy provided by a physical therapist is specialized, unique, and valuable to health care services delivery today. The value of a physical therapist is not that our interventions reduce pain, increase strength, or improve joint mobility. The value of what a physical therapist does is that we can reduce pain, increase strength, and improve joint mobility and return a person to the highest level of movement, activity, and function that they are capable to achieve. We return them to their lives; back to work, school, home, and family.

Physical therapy needs a clear message of physical therapy. Perhaps, the commonality between all physical therapists would be clear if we did not use orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, or geriatrics as adjectives to describe ourselves as physical therapists. Rather, we should all say, “I am a physical therapist. I provide care to a person when movement dysfunction restricts physical activity and interferes with their ability to participate fully in their daily life, at any point along their lifespan.” Then add, “I specialize in treatment of diseases and injuries of the nervous system.”

© 2010 Neurology Section, APTA