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Good Practice: Using Your Professional Title Appropriately

What’s in a name? Over the years there has been considerable confusion within the physiotherapy profession about the difference between professional title and academic credentials. This article will address that question and the rules regarding use of title in clinical practice.

What is the difference between a professional title and an academic credential?

There is a significant difference between the two! While your academic credential creates the possibility for you to become registered to practice, it is not a practice permit. Although no one can take away your duly earned academic credentials, to earn and retain the right to call yourself a physiotherapist or physical therapist, you must be a regulated member of the College. In addition to your academic credentials, you must meet other requirements to be granted a practice permit in Alberta such as:

  • Successfully completing a written knowledge-based examination approved by Council
  • Successfully completing a clinical competency examination approved by Council.
  • Demonstrating English language proficiency
  • Being of good character and reputation
  • Holding personal professional liability insurance in the amount of $5 million
  • Completing mandatory education in place to protect patients from sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, and meeting currency of practice and continuing competence requirements
  • Completion of the jurisprudence module demonstrating an understanding of the Standards of Practice and Code of Ethical Conduct

You can access our webpage to find out all the registration requirements for new applicants and for physiotherapists already registered with the College.

Members on the provisional register have an additional requirement to practice under supervision and to indicate their status through use of the title physiotherapist intern.

Why is that the case?

Under the Health Professions Act, the titles physiotherapist and physical therapist are protected. According to the Act:

  • A regulated member of the College of Physical Therapists of Alberta may use any of the following titles and abbreviations: physiotherapist, physical therapist, physiotherapist intern, physical therapist intern, or PT. (Health Professions Act, Schedule 20 (2))
  • No person or group of persons shall represent or imply that they are a regulated member or that the group consists of regulated members unless they are a regulated member or the group consists of regulated members. (Health Professions Act, Part 7, Section 128(1))

Section 12 of the Physical Therapists Profession Regulation further specifies that

12 (1) Regulated members registered on the general register or courtesy register may use the following titles and initials:

(a) physical therapist;

(b) physiotherapist;

(c) P.T.

12 (2) Regulated members registered on the provisional register may use the titles physical therapist intern and physiotherapist intern.

Taken together the legislation clearly requires that only physiotherapists who are on the General Register of the College of Physical Therapists of Alberta may use the titles physiotherapist or physical therapist.

What is the big deal?

Your professional title is the proof that you have met the requirements to practice in Alberta.

One of the College of Physiotherapists of Alberta’s roles is to establish which individuals have met the registration requirements. Both academic standards for entry to practice and practice permit requirements have changed over time. Patients may not be aware of these changes, nor will they necessarily understand what credentials such as BScPT, MScPT or DPT mean, but they do understand what a physiotherapist is. Your professional title is their protection and assurance that what they are buying is quality care from a regulated professional.

PT is always the first designation listed

Jane P. Jones PT, MScPT
Clinical Specialist in Women’s Health
XYZ Physiotherapy Clinic
Edmonton, AB
(780) 444-1111

Credentials that are unfamiliar and unrecognizable to the public do not increase confidence in the profession. If you have multiple credentials, such as academic credentials, clinical specialist designations or other credentials, you can include them on your business card and in other promotional materials, but they need to be represented in a manner that is meaningful for the patient, and physiotherapist must always be the first designation listed.

By using your professional title you help to educate patients, the public and others about what the title means and why it is important:

  • Only registered physiotherapists have the education, training, experience, and authority to practice as a physiotherapist and perform a physiotherapy assessment, make a diagnosis and manage a patient’s health using physiotherapy techniques and modalities.
  • Patients can and should expect safe, quality, competent physiotherapy care from a registered physiotherapist.
  • Your title also indicates that you are registered with a College that has practice and ethical standards that you must comply with. This is what protects the public interest.

This slang term has made its way into media and general use, including the everyday speech of some physiotherapists. Although in Alberta the term is considered an abbreviation, it doesn’t represent or convey respect, credibility, professionalism or the earned trust that the terms physiotherapist or physical therapist do. As such, physiotherapists are strongly discouraged from using this slang to describe themselves or their practice.

So, what’s in a name?

While “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, when it comes to professional title we must disagree with Mr. Shakespeare. In the end, what we call ourselves is indeed very important!

Page updated: 25/04/2022