The Use of Title Standard of Practice contains expectations around the use of a physiotherapist’s protected title and indicates how physiotherapists should represent their registration status, credentials, and designations that they earn after they become a physiotherapist. There seems to be confusion from physiotherapists in regard to distinguishing between academic credentials and professional title. All in all, this article will cover five common questions physiotherapists have regarding the use of their title, credentials, or designations.
What is a protected title?
You have worked hard to get here, to have earned the right to be called a physiotherapist. The term “physiotherapist” is a protected title in legislation. Under the Health Professions Act (HPA) and the Physical Therapists Profession Regulation there are several titles associated with physiotherapists that are protected in Alberta, which means they can only be used by those registered with the College of Physiotherapists of Alberta. Below is a list of the protected titles physiotherapists can use.
- Physiotherapist, Physical Therapist, PT
- If you are on the provisional register, you can add the term “Intern” onto those titles which also are protected under the HPA. (Physiotherapist Intern, Physical Therapist Intern, PT Intern)
These protected titles are important as they assure the public that they are interacting with someone who is authorized to provide physiotherapy services in Alberta. The College has the “Verify a PT” link on the home page of the website so that a member of the public can quickly and easily verify if the person they are being treated by is a registered physiotherapist and if they have any restrictions on their license. These titles create a foundation of practice and are always the first designation that comes after a physiotherapist’s name. You can read more about this in a previous Good Practice article.
What about misuse of another’s title?
Just as individuals cannot use the title physiotherapist unless they are registered with the College, a physiotherapist must not use the protected titles of other regulated professions under the Health Professions Act unless they are duly authorized to do so. Physiotherapists who perform spinal manipulation don’t identify themselves to patients as chiropractors. Similarly, physiotherapists who perform dry needling don’t identify themselves as acupuncturists. These professions also have protected titles under the HPA.
However, there have been instances of confusion or misrepresentation with physiotherapists describing the services they provide as acupuncture. Even though you may be authorized to use needles in practice and may have gone through additional training in Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture, you cannot call yourself an acupuncturist or issue receipts for acupuncture services unless you have gone through the credentialing process and have been successfully registered with the College of Acupuncturists of Alberta.
Another scenario that has arisen in the past is the patient submitting a physiotherapy appointment as an acupuncture appointment to their extended health benefits provider. This can be due to a failure on the physiotherapists behalf to communicate the difference to the patient, not knowing that they cannot access this funding, or the patient may have run out of physiotherapy coverage and tried to submit their receipt under acupuncture. Regardless, it is up to the physiotherapist to ensure they have clearly communicated to the patient the services they are providing.
Although a physiotherapist may be authorized to use needles in practice and may use a more traditional acupuncture approach to needling, the treatment they provide is always grounded within the broader context of providing a physiotherapy service.
Doctor as a Title vs. PhD as an Academic Credential
Section 128(7) of the Health Professions Act states that “No person shall use the title doctor or the abbreviation Dr. alone or in combination with other words in connection with providing a health service unless the person is authorized to use the title or abbreviation by this Act or another enactment.”
To date, Council has maintained that physiotherapists are not allowed to use the title “Doctor” or the abbreviation “Dr.” in clinical practice. Even though the legislation and Council’s position are quite clear on the matter, this continues to be an issue as physiotherapists continue to identify themselves as doctors in their clinical practice.
If you have earned a DPT as an entry to practice credential or finished a PhD academically you can list the academic credential after your protected title, but neither credential allows you to call yourself a doctor when delivering or promoting physiotherapy services to your clients or to the public. You must also recognize that the way you present your titles, credentials and designations on your website, social media platform, or business card also counts. You should be presenting yourself always as a PT, physiotherapist, or physical therapist first because that is what your profession is and that is the protected title you have worked hard to earn.
Section 128(8) does have an exception. There are those that are able to use the title of doctor in connection with teaching, research, or administration. If you hold a PhD and work at the University of Alberta or are presenting topics of an academic nature you can use the word Doctor as an academic title. This would be the same as other academic titles, such as having a PhD is astrophysics and working for NASA or a PhD in music and you instruct at Grant McEwan’s music program. Regardless of the academic credentials you hold, once you set foot back into patient care or interacting with the public you are once again a physiotherapist first and foremost, followed by your academic credentials, and may not refer to yourself as doctor.
Along the way to becoming a physiotherapist or even after you have been practicing you may have earned other academic titles. You would have an entry to practice degree which recently is most often an MScPT, but there are many current physiotherapists that hold a BScPT. If you obtained other academic titles such as a BKin or BSc prior to becoming a physiotherapist or if you have obtained post-graduate academic credentials such as a Master of Business Administration, or a Master of Health Management these titles would also go after your PT designation.
Regardless, all academic titles should follow after your professional designation of PT or PT Intern.
When can I use the term “specialist” in practice?
Similar to council’s decision on the use of the term Doctor or Dr., the term specialist may only be used if specific conditions have been met. Being a “specialist” or “specializing” in an area of practice is a title that must be earned through specific pathways laid out by Council. If you wish to pursue a specialization in an area of practice, you must do so in one of two ways that have been approved by Council. You can choose to obtain a specialist designation through the Canadian Physiotherapy Association or the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. For more information you can go here. Both entail written and oral submissions to demonstrate you have met the threshold to earn the designation of “specialist”. If you have not completed these steps you must not use the designation of “specialist” or any derivatives in relation to your physiotherapy practice.
But how do I use my other designations and credentials?
The College recognizes that physiotherapists are always striving to improve their technical and non-technical skills and grow as clinicians. Many physiotherapists finish school and continue to pursue education, courses, and to climb the professional ladder. Earning credentials and designations involves extra work and you should be proud of your accomplishments. The next step is how do you use credentials and designations professionally?
First and foremost, as explained above, you are still a physiotherapist so that should be your title.
“Hi, I am Sean, and I am the physiotherapist you will be seeing today. Does that work for you?”
Your designations or credentials may come up or you may bring them up.
“You were referred to me by your doctor because I have acquired extra training in vestibular conditions and treat many people in the community with vertigo.”
“Yes, those extra letters underneath my name do mean something. They are extra credentials I have earned by taking extra course work to perform spinal manipulation and dry needling and am authorized by the College to do so.”
There are many situations in which your title, credentials or designations may come up in your clinical practice. It is the work and experience that went into those achievements that means something to the person in front of you. You are no longer restricted by a 2x3 business card to squeeze it all in there, you have a whole webpage and social media platform to take the time to tell people what you have been able to accomplish and what that means to that person’s care.Sean FitzGerald, PT, Practice Advisor