When you encounter Pam Duffy, P.T., Ph.D., M.Ed., OCS, RP, FAPTA, assistant professor in global health and public health, she will greet you with a warm smile and a handshake. That openness and implied invitation to connect, combined with her physical therapy background, professional leadership and love of policymaking, made her a natural to be among 13 individuals honored by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA ) as 2014 Catherine Worthingham Fellows. The designation is the highest honor of APTA membership.
According to the APTA , Catherine Worthingham, P.T., Ph.D., FAPTA , was an effective, respectful, honest change agent who motivated others to make an impact within the physical therapy profession. She was a visionary and leader in advocacy, education, practice and research. Duffy, who was recognized at the APTA awards ceremony on June 12 in Charlotte, NC, was nominated for the prestigious award, on behalf of the Iowa Physical Therapy Association (IPTA ), by John Barr, P.T., Ph.D., FAPTA , professor of physical therapy at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, IA .
“Since the early 1980s, Dr. Duffy has demonstrated exemplary leadership at state and then national levels, advancing the profession of physical therapy through her outstanding and sustained work in the primary domain of advocacy, with important translation to the domains of practice, research and education,” he stated in his nomination to APTA .
Duffy says she “likes policy and working for the profession.” While IPTA president-elect, she “energized the legislative committee,” Barr stated; as IPTA president, she helped develop and implement community outreach events during the 1986- 1987 legislative sessions.
To promote understanding of physical therapy, as IPTA president Pam Duffy helped set up fitness stations around the Iowa Captiol and Des Moines’ Merle Hay Mall.
Those activities resulted in recognition by state legislators and the public of the value and role of physical therapy. In 1988, the Iowa Physical Therapy Practice Act allowed patients direct access to evaluation and treatment by physical therapists. That made Iowa the 15th state to achieve direct access; according to the APTA , today 45 states and the District of Columbia have some form of direct access as part of their state practice act.
“Patients were not aware of all that physical therapists can do,” Duffy says. “A lot of ground has been covered since then, although direct access and reimbursement for services continue to be issues.”
In her second term as IPTA president, she drafted legislative language to create licensure for physical therapist assistants in Iowa. “Importantly, Dr. Duffy ensured that PTA s could only be legally supervised by PT s, thereby assuring the provision of high-quality physical therapy services in Iowa,” Barr stated.
Duffy considers those legislative strides to be highlights of her career. “As I reflect back, I’m really proud of the work I did as IPTA president here and as Iowa delegate to our [APTA ] House of Delegates,” she says. “Iowa
has a reputation for bringing really important policy issues to the association; we work well as a team. For us, it’s really about what’s best for the profession and our patients.”
That focus drove her work as physical medicine director at Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Iowa, which, with its subsidiaries, provides health coverage to more than two million people in Iowa and South Dakota. She worked with payer representatives, physical therapists and policymakers on the topics of covered services and reimbursement.
“We developed the definition of medical necessity for physical therapy,” she says. “Our goal was to ensure patients receive high-quality physical therapy.”
Duffy became involved in DMU as a member of an advisory panel for creating its physical therapy program. She also was invited to lecture to students on advocacy and policy. When she was a candidate for vice speaker of the APTA House of Delegates in 1995, John Barr and Juanita Robel, P.T., DMU associate professor, invited her to preside over a student conclave. Duffy has convened mock House of Delegates meetings for about 20 years, training students to be advocates and policymakers for the profession. She says she “loves to see the students grow and how they change their thinking”; among her favorite courses to teach is the Overview of the U.S. Health Care System.
“The course helps students have a much deeper understanding of the big picture and how they do their work,” she says of the course, taken by both public health and health care administration program students.
“Because it’s a course shared by both programs, the students learn from each other. That’s the way the health care world needs to go.”