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The Next Big Idea!

Gwyer, Jan PT, PhD, FAPTA; Hack, Laurita M. PT, DPT, PhD, MBA, FAPTA

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Journal of Physical Therapy Education: Volume 29 - Issue 3 - p 4
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Cecilia Graham, in the 2015 Cerasoli lecture, shared her passion for a new curricular model, the concept-based curriculum. Big ideas are the focus of this type of curriculum development and the instructional goal is to develop a deep understanding of these ideas in the learner by exploring linkages between the concepts and active learning.1

A big idea is certainly embodied in the vision statement for the physical therapy profession: “Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.”2

This vision statement has been rapidly integrated into the organizational life of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). For example, APTA's Board of Directors has set its 3 major goals of transforming society, the profession, and the association. Many of the components are building plans and developing activities in a similar fashion.

In addition to the vision statement, 8 guiding principles have been adopted to demonstrate how the profession will appear when this vision is enacted. One of those principles is “identity”:

The physical therapy profession will define and promote the movement system as the foundation for optimizing movement to improve the health of society. Recognition and validation of the movement system is essential to understand the structure, function, and potential of the human body. The physical therapist will be responsible for evaluating and managing an individual's movement system across the lifespan to promote optimal development; diagnose impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions; and provide interventions targeted at preventing or ameliorating activity limitations and participation restrictions. The movement system is the core of physical therapist practice, education, and research.2

This principle has generated a great deal of conversation. For example, the APTA Board has adopted this definition of the movement system: “The human movement system comprises the anatomic structures and physiologic functions that interact to move the body or its component parts.”3

At the same time, the Board adopted the following statement on the specific role of the physical therapist relative to the human movement system.3


Human movement is a complex behavior within a specific context.

Physical therapists provide a unique perspective on purposeful, precise, and efficient movement across the lifespan based upon the synthesis of their distinctive knowledge of the movement system and expertise in mobility and locomotion.

Physical therapists examine and evaluate the movement system (including diagnosis and prognosis) to provide a customized and integrated plan of care to achieve the individual's goal-directed outcomes.

Physical therapists maximize an individual's ability to engage with and respond to their environment using movement-related interventions to optimize functional capacity and performance.

Read that again. We have defined a new system of the human body and stated that physical therapists bring a unique perspective to evaluation of this system and to movement-related interventions.

Nordstrom used this concept to develop an Ignite Talk at the 2014 Geneva R. Johnson Innovations in Physical Therapy Education Forum. He postulated that this topic could become the universal accepted framework for physical therapist education curriculum.4 Graham also speaks to this, saying:

We envision movement system experts who are leaders, innovators, collaborators, and entrepreneurs who can synthesize rapidly changing information, integrate advances in technology into practice, and have the flexibility to thrive in an evolving health care environment.5

This is indeed a big idea, one that can serve as the focus of our curricula, our research, and our practice.

Do you understand the implications of defining a new body system on all that we do? How will you change what you teach, how you teach it, or how you organize your teaching? Are you prepared for this big idea?


1. Graham, C. Coming Into Focus: The need for a Conceptual Lens. 18th Pauline Cerasoli Lecture. J Phys Ther Educ.
2. American Physical Therapy Association, Vision Statement for the Physical Therapy Profession and Guiding Principles to Achieve the Vision. Accessed June 2, 2015.
3. American Physical Therapy Association Board of Directors, Minutes of the November 21, 2014, page 4.
4. Tschoepe B, Davis C, ACAPT First Annual Geneva R. Johnson Innovations in Physical Therapy Education Forum: Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT): So What? Now What? Educating DPTs as Leaders to Meet Future Societal Needs, J Phys Ther Educ. 2015;29(2):84-87.
5. Graham, C. Coming Into Focus: The Need for a Conceptual Lens. 18th Pauline Cerasoli Lecture. J Phys Ther Educ.
Copyright2015 (C) Academy of Physical Therapy Education, APTA