What’s in a name?

CSP head of research and development, Ruth ten Hove, says the title extended scope practitioner is unwieldly and should be replaced by one that’s easier to understand.

A recent letter in Frontline outlined the challenges facing extended scope practitioners (ESPs) when they have to explain their job title and role to friends and family members. 
It’s hard to understand what an ESP is. And with the move of physiotherapy into primary care gathering pace, even more new ‘titles’ are emerging. 
While the CSP cannot dictate what job titles should be, take a moment to consider the issues here: a title that reflects the job, protects the public and avoids any confusion is surely in everyone’s best interests. 
Physios all over the UK are demonstrating their value in primary care teams – seeing patients at an earlier stage, enabling prompt and effective treatment which is better value, for example. Other benefits include high levels of patient satisfaction, fewer referrals to community-based and secondary care services and more people who can self-manage. 
Using a title in primary care such as ‘practice physiotherapist’ or ‘advanced practice physiotherapist’ recognises and promotes the role and value that physiotherapists contribute to modern primary care teams. It means patients are fully informed about who they see. 
And it gives a strong message that by shifting services into primary care, the physiotherapy profession is actively responding to the needs of the whole population, advancing a preventive and early intervention approach.
Recent polling of British adults suggests that most patients (80 per cent) would like more access to physiotherapists in primary care and that more than half would be confident to self-refer to us. 
We need to build greater confidence in the public about our knowledge, scope and skills. Over time, evidence suggests this cultural change will happen. 
Feedback to some physiotherapists considering these roles suggests they adopt different names, such as musculoskeletal (MSK) specialist, MSK practitioner or MSK therapist – ‘as it will give patients confidence, if they are not seeing the GP’. Don’t feel pressured into accepting a different ‘brand’ or name. It would be wrong for patients to believe they are seeing a quasi-doctor or physician’s assistant.
Such new titles also take more time to explain to patients (in the same way the ESP posts did). Why adopt a new title, when physiotherapy and physiotherapist are already strong brands? After all, they have protected status under the Health and Care Professions Council, which helps to safeguard patients.
Be confident in using physiotherapy in your job titles, embed them in primary care and promote their sustainability.
So if you are thinking about a new role in primary care, don’t get side-tracked into all the challenges associated with a new name. Stick with the recognised, protected and valued title: practice physiotherapist or advanced practice physiotherapist.
  • Ruth ten Hove is the CSP’s head of research and development. 

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Ruth ten Hove is the CSP’s head of research and development

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