How do you work on a committee together when one of you is in Montana, one in New York, and one in Florida? By e-mail, of course. "We meet twice a year at our national headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, and we get together at our national meetings, usually twice a year," says Ernie Nalette í72, "but e-mail has allowed routine involvement of all committee members."
The committee Nalette is discussing is one he has chaired for the past year, his final year of a five-year appointment --- the prestigious Ethics and Judicial Committee (EJC) of the American Physical Therapy Association. The APTA, whose goal is to foster advancements in physical therapy practice, research, and education, was begun in 1921 as the American Womenís Physical Therapeutic Association. Today the national professional organization represents more than 75,000 members. including numerous physical therapy alumni of Ithaca College.
With so many practitioners and so many venues in which they practice --- hospitals, schools, clinics, private practices --- as well as so many recent and continuing changes in the management of health care, thereís an ongoing need for diligent evaluation and modification of the associationís ethics code. The EJC is one of APTAís most revered and coveted committees, with responsibility for interpreting the organizationís ethical principles and standards.
The committee has five rotating members, and right now three of the five are IC alumni: Nalette, whose term expires this June; Gail Fortin Wheatley í76, whose five-year term runs until 2003; and Paul D. Hughes í69, who started his term last July.
How does one prepare for such an important role?
Hughes, based in Florida, has been a physical therapist for 31 years; for most of that time he has been very active in his professional associations on the local, state, and national levels. He served 13 years in APTAís House of Delegates, 4 years on its Finance Committee, 12 years on the Florida APTA Chapter Board of Directors, 4 years as the Florida associationís president, and 6 years as a governorís appointee to the state licensing board. And he was the Florida chapterís very first ethics committee chair --- "way back," he says, "before most chapters had an ethics committee."
Naletteís 28 years in physical therapy also prepared him well for committee work. As a longtime clinician, he says, he "faced many ethical issues, discussed them with colleagues, and began to develop a philosophical perspective on practice." He became involved in local and state [Vermont] ethics committees, was an APTA chapter president and chief delegate in the House of Delegates, and served on various committees. "My most practical preparation for the EJC," he says, "came from my 12 years as adviser for physical therapy practice to the secretary of state." Besides all this, since 1999 Nalette has headed up Ithaca Collegeís PT program for graduate students in Rochester.
Wheatley has APTA experience on committees and task forces in her home state of Montana. She has served as treasurer and chapter president, as a delegate, and as an officer in the health policy section. And most important of all, she says, "I treat patients all day, every day. They are the human face of physical therapy. So often we are caught up in techniques, skills, paperwork, and reimbursement and legal issues. I am daily reminded of personal needs . . . and of our enormous responsibility to do the right thing for our patients. That goes way beyond our hands-on skills and encompasses our treatment of and respect for them as fellow human beings."