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Set a Course: 3 Keys for Getting the Most from Continuing Education

Whether it’s required for your license renewal or a pursuit of professional development, continuing education comes at a cost. How and where you invest that money matters.

And that’s the first thing to keep in mind when deciding on your next "course" of action, says Harvey Aikman, PT, DPT, Dip. MDT, FAAOMPT, a private practice consultant with West Texas Therapy in Midland, Texas. Aikman is often puzzled by how physical therapists, who spend years immersed in organized structure and academic rigor to get a degree, weaken their focus when it comes to continuing ed.


“Develop a plan for lifelong learning rather than doing it as a spur of the moment thing,” says Aikman, who chairs the Texas Board of Physical Therapy Examiners. “When we monitor people’s education, we see that about 75 percent of the education people do, they do in the last few months of the renewal period when course options are limited.”

The PT without a long-term plan ends up in a best-available scenario where the choices aren’t as good, whether limited by physical location or getting stuck with an online course. The lack of a long-view also lends itself to distraction.

Trendy treatments like kinesio tape or cupping may be interesting or well-marketed by the company behind the courses, but proof of its validity and longevity should be the top criteria for continuing ed and the best use of one's resources, Aikman says.

“I would suggest that most physical therapists and their patients would benefit from a goal to reach a terminal degree, certification or true mastery of a single system,” says Aikman, who has spent the majority of his 33-year career practicing the McKenzie Method® of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy® (MDT).


It’s important to do your homework before landing in a class. You have to do your part and look at the research.

“Not research paid for by a company, but independent research,” Aikman says.

He was drawn to MDT because of thousands of studies and decades of evidence – not to mention his personal experience with results.

The MDT system begins with a thorough mechanical evaluation to establish a “cause-and-effect” relationship between historical pain behavior as well as the response to repeated test movements, positions and activities.

A systematic progression of applied mechanical forces utilizes pain responses and mechanical responses to classify the disorder. Clinicians then develop a specific plan of care based on those examination results that empowers patients to treat themselves when possible.


Set a goal and make a plan. Go with what you’re good at or take an area with room for improvement and find a proven system that fits. Then focus, whether it's MDT or another certification.

He cautions that physical therapists who take a hybrid approach to continuing education may be misguided. Individual courses of random treatments typically lack organized structure of when or to whom to apply them. Complete study is the key for an approach, he says.

“Start at the beginning and finish it,” Aikman says. “Do the full series. If you only get a little bit of skill in every area, there’s no mastery and it would be difficult to be good at any of them.”

Aikman’s plan to invest time and money to learn a diagnostic system like MDT just made sense to him.

"When you have mastered such an approach that provides a sound foundation to direct an organized treatment process, it also helps to guide further continuing education choices that will augment your clinical knowledge and refine treatment techniques for better overall treatment and patient care," he says.

It is never too late in your career to set a “course” to improve your skills.

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