It is with my deepest honor that I will accept the Marilyn Moffat Leadership Award from the APTA at the end of this month. Dr. Moffat is a luminary and exemplary leader in our industry. Her impact has been immeasurable, and her legacy provides a shining example of what’s possible when you believe in something implicitly. To win this award is incredibly humbling, and in my eyes, one of the highest honors anyone in our industry can achieve. I’d like to extend my gratitude to the APTA—as well as to my family, colleagues, friends, WebPT team, and our members. I believe a critical part of being a good leader is having really great people around you, and I’ve had the good fortune of being surrounded by a whole lot of amazing people who have helped me get to where I am today.
It’s been a really wild ride. For those of you who don’t know my story, my passion for physical therapy began with my own successful rehabilitation after suffering a knee injury while playing basketball for the University of California, Davis. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to have that same impact on the lives of others, so I immediately changed my major to physical therapy. After graduating with a master’s degree in PT from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, I began a successful 15-plus-year career as a practicing physical therapist—eventually becoming a leading sports physical therapist and the director of a large, multi-clinic practice in Arizona. Later, I continued my studies and earned a post-professional doctorate of physical therapy through Evidence In Motion’s Executive Program in Private Practice Management—but that’s jumping ahead a bit.
In 2006, while working as a clinic director, I had operational responsibilities that included overseeing profits and losses—and I was looking for ways to improve my practice’s bottom line. I began poring over the expenses, and after identifying dictation and paper documentation management as two of the company’s biggest line-items, I started my search for a more cost-effective solution—only to find a handful of disappointing options. So, I found myself at a crossroads: settle for the lackluster solutions available, or build a system that truly fit the needs of my clinic. Believing there should be a better, more sophisticated tool to satisfy my business needs, I chose the latter—and launched WebPT in 2008. Transitioning from being a hands-on PT to leading a software company was a major identity shift for me, and it wasn’t until I truly realized that I had the potential to help even more people with my new role that I was comfortable making the jump. From that moment on, I’ve never looked back.
Staking a Claim
When we’re in a position of being recognized for our contributions, it’s interesting to reflect back on how we got here—and where we’re going, as individuals as well as a profession. As physical therapists—rehab therapists, even—we’ve come such a long way. We’ve gone from being ancillary care providers—acting only on physicians’ orders—to primary care coordinators, expertly guiding our patients’ healthcare journeys and building out our networks to ensure they always receive the best possible care. We’ve survived rounds of consolidation—and expansion—as well as increasingly restrictive compliance regulations and diminishing payments. We’ve grown beyond full dependence on physician referral sources and third-party payers to market our services—our value—directly to patient-consumers and, in some cases, build entire business models around charging those patient-consumers directly. We’ve even banded together to make huge strides in pushing forward pro-PT legislation that will make our future as practitioners even brighter.
Embarking on a New Frontier
We’ve reached an entirely new frontier in our industry—and that’s something we all should be celebrating. But that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. At WebPT, we recently completed our annual state of rehab therapy survey, and we found some really interesting trends. For starters, the data showing the distribution of men and women in leadership roles appears to be evening out, which means more women are stepping up to take on bigger professional challenges. In the words of APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, OCS, “As a majority female profession, it stands to reason that women would be similarly represented at all levels of our profession. Unfortunately, as in many professions, women have been under-represented in leadership roles in physical therapy. This survey data is thus extremely encouraging, suggesting that we’re starting to see change.”
Prioritizing Cognitive Diversity
Based on what we know about the value of cognitive diversity—specifically, the huge benefits of having women in executive positions—this is wonderful news for our profession. But, we still have a way to go on the gender parity front. As in many other professions, there is still a gender-based wage gap in rehab therapy. In fact, our data showed the salary bell curve for male therapists is noticeably higher than the one for female therapists, suggesting that overall, male therapists are paid more than female therapists. As far as I’m concerned, gender bias, lack of confidence, and weak negotiation skills remain the main factors contributing to this pay gap. And that’s not something I’m willing to just let be—and neither should you. Instead, we must continue to address this disparity and educate those in leadership positions to eliminate bias and empower more equality in hiring and promotion practices. This isn’t just a female problem; it’s going to require effort from everyone involved to overcome this issue.
When we showed our survey data to Bridgit Finley, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT—Physical Therapy Central’s Founding Partner and CEO—she had this to say: “I am encouraged to see and meet more and more women in leadership positions in private practice…[but while] I feel like it is changing, it is not enough. I want to encourage women to step up and ask for what they want and not self-limit. When fear limits our actions, that is when we need to remember why we do what we do and allow our passion to overcome our fear. When we do that, all things are possible.”
The last line of Bridgit’s quote is everything. Remember why you do what you do, and let that drive you forward to not only ask for—and receive—what you want, but also to create meaningful change in our profession that further establishes the concrete value we deliver (based, of course, on our merit, not our gender).
Let’s take inspiration from those who have come before us—including leaders like Marilyn Moffat, a solid, powerful voice who supports not only our profession, but also the entire women-in-leadership movement. She empowers women by serving as an example of what’s possible—and as a professor who mentors student PTs all over the world. She is leaving a legacy, just like I want to leave a legacy—like we all should want to leave a legacy (i.e., ensure the world is better as a result of us having been a part of it). Through WebPT, I’ve helped disrupt the industry by massively changing the ways PTs document and manage our practices—for the better. And my team and I are far from done—because there’s so much more to do. But we can’t possibly effect the large-scale change we want on our own. So, let’s see just how far we can take this industry—together.
About the Author
Heidi Jannenga PT, DPT, ATC/L is the president and co-founder of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for the physical therapy profession on a national scale. She co-founded WebPT after recognizing the need for a more sophisticated industry-specific EMR platform and has since guided the company through exponential growth, while garnering national recognition. Heidi brings with her more than 15 years of experience as a physical therapist and multi-clinic site director as well as a passion for healthcare innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.
An active member of the sports and private practice sections of the APTA, Heidi advocates for independent rehab therapy businesses, speaks as a subject-matter expert at industry conferences and events, and participates in local and national technology, entrepreneurship, and women-in-leadership seminars. In 2014, Heidi was appointed to the PT-PAC Board of Trustees. She also serves as a mentor to physical therapy students and local entrepreneurs and leverages her platform to promote the importance of diversity, company culture, and overall business acumen for private practice rehab therapy professionals.
Heidi was a collegiate basketball player at the University of California, Davis, and remains a lifelong fan of the Aggies. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and exercise physiology, went on to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy at the Institute of Physical Therapy in St. Augustine, Florida, and obtained her doctorate of physical therapy through Evidence in Motion. When she’s not enjoying time with her daughter Ava, Heidi is perfecting her Spanish, practicing yoga, or hiking one of her favorite Phoenix trails.