Between Stimulus & Response is the ability to Choose

October is 'mowing-meditation-month' on the farm, where I get to drive round and round cutting hay. I now find myself 12 months on, considering the same situation.

Approximately 12 months ago I was told that due to a 'limited amount of space' in InMotion, that APP Education (and other providers) would be unable to advertise courses to the broader membership. Strange. I had been a member for 25 years, providing PD for the past 15 years and supporting the APA through advertising and venue hire. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, a win/win in business terms. What had changed?

Money or Members First?

After asking the executive and in conversation with members, it became clear that the APA executive had decided upon a new direction. They would create 'career pathways', that "will span a physiotherapist's entire career lifecycle from an undergraduate to expert". As a direct result of this decision, any provider of education that 'competed' with this 'career pathway' concept would no longer be able to advertise in any APA medium or use APA facilities. On direct questioning it was denied that this change was for financial gain, yet in an email to me on November 5, 2015 the general manager of PD, James Fitzpatrick wrote, "In my role, I am responsible to the CEO to provide a revenue stream of $3.9M in 2015 from professional development. The expectations of the CEO for the professional development division is that we will grow revenue to $5M over the coming years".

Poor Considerations

While the general idea of creating career pathways seems to have merit, several factors were poorly considered and managed;

  • Australian physiotherapists have admirably developed their clinical, research and leadership skills for decades on the world stage, without the involvement of the APA. Why the significant departure from a proven model?
  • If there was a need for such a radical change in policy, surely it required detailed consultation with academia, clinicians, and educators to examine possible options and the associated pros and cons of each option before any rushed implementation?
  • With 25000 members, did the APA executive believe it could suddenly populate the breadth and quality of content required by its members to fill these newly created career pathways?
  • Wouldn't it be logical that critical elements like career pathway content, assessment and accreditation, be determined BEFORE such a process commenced? Otherwise it looks like policy on the run, with a resulting mishmash of implementation.

Supporting the APA

Twelve months ago, while disagreeing strongly with the APA executives' lack of transparency, membership consultation and poor handling of this extremely important departure from normal policy, I continued my membership to an organization that I have financially supported for nearly 30 years, as well as serving on state and national committees in two different disciplines. Why? I was hoping to see a fair and logical approach unfold. Having served on many APA committees, I would like to say that I very much appreciate the professional guidance physios on these committees are providing. My beef is with those that dreamed up this scheme and put it out to committees to implement. Many committee members that I have spoken with are very dissatisfied with the top down push, while others have resigned in silent protest.

Changing the Goal Posts

During the past 10 months, AAP Education did not advertise in InMotion, as I had been told that firstly there was 'no space available', then later because 'your courses complete with APA courses'. This was confusing. AAP Education offers dry needling course at Introductory, Advanced & Master levels. The APA only offers an Introductory course. Why not allow the advertising of Advanced/Master level courses so that members can extend their skill? The APA would also not allow advertising of Mulligan courses in Perth, on the basis the APA was conducting one in another state. Do they believe all practitioners wishing to learn Mulligans, should travel to another city and it wasn't even the same Mulligan's course.

It all came to a head in August, when I was NOW told that no courses conducted by AAP Education, would be allowed to advertise in InMotion because they were not 'APA Accredited'. Stranger still, other 'non accredited' providers were advertising their courses that did 'directly complete' with the APA's Spine 1, 2, & 3 or Sports 1, 2, & 3 courses.

Whistle Blowing

I understand I have been a rock in the road for the APA executive, by challenging this situation and bringing this issue to member's attention. I certainly don't begrudge other education providers for being able to advertise. Good on them for creating & providing such high quality, in demand education. I do mind, that the APA executive is using less than fair or transparent guidelines when deciding who does and who does not have the ability to offer professional development to the broader APA membership. Attempts to develop awareness by posting on the APA Facebook site as a member, had post immediately removed and offer to write a 'letter to the editor' was declined. Essentially, a gag order imposed by my own organization.

I believe physiotherapists benefit from encouragement and support along their journey of professional development. However, unlike the current proposal, I believe physiotherapists can make the choices best suited to their professional goals. For members to make an informed choice, they need to be provided with all the relevant options. At the moment, the APA executive is operating from a scarcity mentality, where they seek to control the vast majority of professional development. To me, this does not demonstrate fairness, maturity or social responsibility from such an important organization representing me as a professional.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

The ACCC states;

"A business with a substantial degree of power in a market is not allowed to use this power for the purpose of eliminating or substantially damaging a competitor or to prevent a business from entering into a market. This behavior is referred to as 'misuse of market power'.

and defines a 'misuse of power test' as;

"The possession of market power of itself is not unlawful. To determine whether there has been a misuse of market power, the courts will consider three questions:

  • Does the company have substantial market power?
  • Is it taking advantage of that power?
  • Is it using the power for an 'illegal purpose'?"

and clarifies 'illegal purpose' as;

I will let you draw your own intuitive conclusion as to what is morally right and wrong in our situation based upon this information.

Education for one and all

I believe in the abundance mentality, where there is plenty of room for current and future providers of required education and that the market will decide what is appropriate in content and quality. It is important to remember that education is also a creative career pathway option for physiotherapists, and should be available to all, now and into the future.

Perhaps, the so-called 'APA career pathway concept' has merit. However as members, we are no better informed than we were 12 months ago and there is no structured career pathway in place yet for each special interest group (logically it will take years to formulate curriculum, accreditation, and implementation). So why limit access to PD now and until it is in place? In fact why limit PD at all? I attended two different courses last weekend and attendees were staggered, that their membership organization was acting in such a paternalistic manner, actively limiting for the first time in its history, its members' awareness of what PD was available and indirectly, their ability to make informed choices on what PD they would attend.

What to do?

After the experience of the past 12 months, I see the issue with greater clarity now; either condone or condemn the current behavior. I still believe in the importance of a professional organization representing the membership, but I can't stand by and passively observe this current situation of the organization dictating to its members.

Bottom line for me.

  • The APA is an organization of members
  • Members want PD and they don't mind who provides it, so long as it is relevant and high quality
  • The APA executive arm is deliberately excluding members from awareness of PD options, to suit their own design and financial gain
  • The APA executive should be encouraging and supporting members to create & consume professional development that inspires them to be better professionals

No action is action in itself. So this year I will be sending my $1500 to an organization that cares, is supportive of the community and will be there if and when I need it, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service ticks all those boxes for me.