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Ethical Conduct

Earning the public's trust

Why should we care about ethics? When you become a physical therapist (PT) or physical therapist assistant (PTA), you will start to assume a more autonomous role in healthcare. Ethical judgments are going to play an increasingly important role in the gamut of clinical decision making. Unethical behavior usually results in a loss of trust among the public.

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Recalling exam questions is unethical

Soliciting recalled questions from individuals who have previously taken the national physical therapy exam (NPTE) is unethical for several reasons:

  • You are breaking the public's trust

    You are expected to pass the test based on your own merit without assistance. The members of the public who will entrust you with their well-being expect that you are a trustworthy and competent individual.

  • You are committing an illegal act

    The purpose of the NPTE is to protect the public by ensuring that candidates for licensure have achieved entry-level competence. By asking previous test takers to share questions with you, you are committing an illegal act and are undermining the very purpose of the examination.

  • You are encouraging illegal acts

    By soliciting questions from previous test takers, you are encouraging such persons to commit illegal acts.

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Gain a better understanding of ethics as it applies to physical therapy

Review the following resources:

  • Model practice act

    The Federation’s "Model Practice Act for Physical Therapy Fourth Editionrecommends that physical therapy practice acts require physical therapists to adhere to the recognized standards of ethics of the physical therapy profession as established by rule.

  • Code of ethics

    You can view the APTA "Code of Ethics and Guide for Professional Conduct" by going to the APTA website, www.apta.org, and clicking on the following links: About APTA/Policies and Bylaws/ APTA Core Documents and Bylaws. Both documents are listed under “Core Documents.”

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Ethics articles

Read a wide range of articles written by authorities on the subject of ethics and physical therapy. Below are short synopses for each article with links you can click on to read the full article.

  • Ethics Remediation

    People break rules for four reasons - human error, stuff happens, negligence and recklessness. The worst offender is somebody who intentionally violates a rule or social/ethical standards within the licensing act. Ethics remediation is a complex subject and developing an effective and fair program to deal with ethics violations may seem – and probably is – difficult. All sorts of issues arise.

  • Basic Concepts of a Just Culture

    Just culture is the process, the concept, of attempting to manage human fallibility through system design and behavioral choices that we have within our organization.

  • A Failure to Protect the Public

    Jessica Santillan was a 17-year old girl from Mexico whose family reportedly paid a smuggler to bring her to the United States for a life-saving heart and lung transplant. The young woman died after organs with the wrong blood type were implanted by doctors at Duke University Medical Center. I kept wondering how something like that could happen at a prestigious hospital with some of the most highly skilled physicians in the country. It was also a hospital that trains doctors.

  • Crime Doesn't Pay

    A license to engage in the practice of a regulated profession is a privilege available only to those who have met specific statutory standards. In North Carolina, the practice of physical therapy has been regulated since 1951. The Physical Therapy Practice Act specifies the qualifications that applicants for licensure must possess, and the Board spends a considerable amount of time reviewing applications for compliance with those requirements.

  • Developing a Code of Ethics in Ohio

    A license to engage in the practice of a regulated profession is a privilege available only to those who have met specific statutory standards. In North Carolina, the practice of physical therapy has been regulated since 1951. The Physical Therapy Practice Act specifies the qualifications that applicants for licensure must possess, and the Board spends a considerable amount of time reviewing applications for compliance with those requirements.

  • Ethics as an Obligation

    A license to engage in the practice of a regulated profession is a privilege available only to those who have met specific statutory standards. In North Carolina, the practice of physical therapy has been regulated since 1951. The Physical Therapy Practice Act specifies the qualifications that applicants for licensure must possess, and the Board spends a considerable amount of time reviewing applications for compliance with those requirements.

  • Ethical Decision Making to Avoid Disciplinary Action

    This article discusses the issues involved in ethical decision making for healthcare providers and gives a model that can be used by healthcare providers in making tough decisions.

  • Examples of Remediation: When It Works and When it Doesn't Work

    Ethics remediation is a huge challenge. We know something was done wrong, but the ethical dimensions of the professional character reflected by that violation can be very subtle, very pervasive. It’s very hard to identify for a regulatory board. It would be relatively simple to discuss the statutes that individuals have violated. What we need to examine, though, are the underpinning of ethical judgment within any of these cases.

  • Ten Easy Ways to Lose Your License

    This article discusses a presentation that the Massachusetts Board of Allied Health Professionals gives to licensees about the ten top reasons PTs and PTAs have been disciplined in that state.