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Member Spotlight on Clarence Chan, PT, DPT

Tuesday, October 1, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Mariann Kayser
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Clarence Chan, PT, DPT

PTA Program Director

LaGuardia Community College

City University of New York


October 2019


Clarence Chan has been a member of NYPTA for 32 years since he was a student in college. He states that as a new immigrant from Hong Kong he only discovered the profession of physical therapy by chance. Because of his curiosity and a strong desire to know what physical therapy really was, he became determined to pursue a path that his academic advisors tried to persuade him against. Taking us through an amusing short story of his life, Clarence tells us how finding his path to PT was nothing more than a combination of little knowledge of his new home in America, luck (apparently lots of it), and ignorance (only the blissful kind though). 


Now that Clarence is a PTA Program Director, he can be a part of the solution to help direct more students into physical therapy and be a strong advocate for the profession. This is a major element that was missing many years ago when Clarence asked the question "What is physical therapy?" We are grateful to Clarence for having the courage to set his own path that led him to find PT and are hopeful many others will follow in his footsteps. He is an inspiration to remind all of us when faced with a fork in the road, take the path less traveled and see where it leads you.   


Take a few minutes and get to know this month's member spotlight with us!  Enjoy the Q&A with Clarence below.


How long have you been a member of the NYPTA? What is your best experience thus far?


I’ve been a member of the NYPTA since 1987. I started as a student member. The best experience with the Association is being able to learn and work with leaders of the profession from across the state and to have the opportunity to help shape the future of the profession.


Tell us a little about your background and how your path led you to where you are in your career today. What’s a favorite moment of your career to date?


Ignorance can really be bliss! As a new immigrant from Hong Kong, I discovered the profession physical therapy in New York by chance. Having zero knowledge of the health care field and little knowledge of the American way of life, I randomly picked pre-podiatry as my major in college. I thought I was smart! Soon I realized I wanted to do more than just managing foot problems. At the time, the college had articulation with SUNY Downstate for a number of health related professions, except physical therapy. Not knowing what it was and out of curiosity, I went and asked the health career advisor and the department chair about this field and why the exception. They both told me: “Don’t even think about it; podiatry is a much better career and it’s impossible to get into the Downstate PT program.” But they did not tell me what physical therapy is. So what else can I do to find out more about it? I went and applied to Downstate PT... and only Downstate. I was definitely ignorant but I guess I was lucky too.


Since graduating from Downstate, my curiosity about PT took me on a path of professional discovery by the way of working in hospital, pediatric, geriatric, private practice, and home health settings for almost twenty years. Likewise, I “ventured” into the world of academic in September of 2001 under the same spirit and ignorance perhaps. I thought I was smart enough to join the faculty team at the LaGuardia PTA program just because I was offered an adjunct teaching position. Indeed, for years I did a lot more learning than I did teaching before I became a full time professor at the college. I am now serving as the director of the program, but the learning continues. From ignorance and unable to knowing and learning was the spirit that guided me through my career in physical therapy. Similarly, I will say the many best moments of my career were having the privilege to witness patients and students alike overcome their challenges through the discovery of physical therapy and the realization of their ability to learn and to improve.


What are some of the key opportunities and challenges facing the physical therapy profession?


We often speak of our health care system as being in crisis. Physical therapy is an integral part of this complex system. The Chinese phase for crisis is “危機”. But separately, these two words can be interpreted as “risk/challenge” and “opportunity”. For a better part of the past century, physical therapy in America was under the aegis of a hierarchical medical system where we were more or less shielded, in terms of liability and responsibility, from the risk of being an autonomous medical profession. However, it also limited us from the opportunity to establish physical therapy as a legitimate entry point to health care. Vision 2020 established by APTA at the new millennium served as the blueprint for the profession to evolve from serving as an ancillary member of the health care team to becoming the practitioners of choice to improve the quality of life for our society. The current APTA Vision Statement adopted in 2013 is now pointing to a set of principles, [Identity, Quality, Collaboration, Value, Innovation, Consumer-centricity, Access/Equity, and Advocacy] that is intended to guide the profession forward and outward into the future. Although these principles speak to the importance of our professional development, each of them also represents both challenges and opportunities for the profession. To achieve this vision of the future, we must demonstrate real value to members of the society by providing innovative and quality care. In order to help make physical therapy more accessible, we must collaborate with members of the health care team and advocate for the members of the community. Ultimately, I think the biggest challenge, as well as opportunity, is to establish our identity as a distinct and valuable member of the health care team. Identity is like honor. In order to be recognized, it must be earned. None of these will be easy. Physical therapy is still very much in the midst of危機”.


What advice would you give NYPTA members who are new to the profession?


Be a moral agent, commit to life-long learning, keep an open mind, provide compassionate care, and honor and support your profession.


What is a favorite tip you have that you could share with others in our industry?


Be a volunteer to support your community and be a member of the Association to serve locally and nationally. It’s a great way to learn about the profession, and the people that shape it.


What are you passionate about?


I am a PTA educator and I am passionate about PTAs and their role in the profession. 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of Physical Therapist Assistants joining this profession. The first class of 11 PTAs graduated from St. Mary’s Junior College, Minneapolis in 1969. For five decades, PTAs had worked alongside PTs to serve our communities. However, they did not share as big of an impact on shaping the profession in terms of association governance and development of the profession, locally and nationally. I wish to see more PTAs involved with the Association and contribute to the future of this profession. PTAs can make a difference. A case in point, I am most delighted to see the passing of the Motion RC 32-19 at the APTA House of Delegates this year where PT and PTA colleagues voted to adopt a new Core Values for the Physical Therapy Profession. It effectively replaced two separate APTA core value documents, one for PTs and one for PTAs. Such decision signified a continual evolution of physical therapy as a unified profession. It also demonstrated the value in PT/PTA collaborations, as noted by the combined effort in bringing this motion forward by the PTA Caucus and the chapter delegations from the state of Oregon and Washington. I am proud of our PT and PTA colleagues for moving the profession forward in a positive direction. I urge you all to do the same.     


What else would you like your fellow NYPTA Members to know about you?

  • Wings and Wheels - It’s not a rock band. I love the mechanical wonders of airplanes and automobiles.
  • Martial Arts - I watch them, learn them, and teach them.
  • Fish - I have a Koi pond in the back yard and aquariums large and small all over the house, salt water and fresh water.

What is your favorite app or social media outlet?




What is your guilty pleasure?


Watching movies and videos.




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