Pro bono services for those in need – why more PT clinics should be involved

Before I became a physical therapist, I used to work full time as a research technician being involved with vaccine research development in a tuberculosis research lab in New York City. One of the phD graduate students there, whom I successfully helped graduate and whom also became my good friend; moved on to work as a project manager for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation upon graduation.

He once told me how the majority of the research for fighting tuberculosis, malaria and yellow fever conducted globally will not be sustainable if it wasn’t for the Gates foundation, as there is “no money in saving poor people who are associated with the diseases, in eyes of the big pharmaceutical companies.” I remember those words well. There may be “no money in saving poor people”, but there is true compassion in it when you do.

After I quit my job as a research assistant and found myself breezing through my PT school admission interviews, I stumbled upon the most difficult question during my interview at Hunter College. “When was the last time you exemplified compassion? What was the act of compassion?” I remember beginning to sweat at this question, and feeling really bothered, because honestly, I really couldn’t remember the last time I was truly compassionate to a stranger. As physical therapists, are we doing enough to make our care accessible to those who simply cannot afford it?

More physical therapists and PT clinics should be involved in providing pro bono services, truly for the love of the profession and in spreading wellness and good quality of life. We are physical therapists, and we all have been truly fortunate to be surrounded by opportunities and good hearted people who helped us become who we are today. Not everyone has that and many people in our own community struggle with getting the most basic medical attention due to unemployment, violence, poverty and neglect. It is within our ethical obligation, as also stated by the American Physical Therapy Association, to provide pro bono service for the public good.  To be selfless and help ease the suffering of another person – that is compassion.

Here are some ways for your PT clinics to be more involved with pro bono service or to help support a non – profit organization that provides pro bono service:

  1. Ask your employees, “When was the last time your exemplified compassion to a true stranger?”
  1. If your clinic sponsors weekend sporting events as marketing, alternate with also organizing a weekend pro bono service trip to local community health centers.
  1. Collect donations for assistive devices, braces and adaptive equipment patients no longer need, so they can be donated to local community organizations.
  1. Ask for current pts to “sponsor” a patient that a therapist will be seeing under pro bono service.  Some of the strongest advocates for having PT available for the public interest may be the current patients themselves, who are experiencing firsthand, how PT can really change your life for the best.
  1. Open a “neediest cases fund”, with profiles of individuals that were helped through pro bono services shared through news letters or company websites monthly.