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Leadership in physiotherapy: experiences of leaders of physiotherapy professional organisations
  1. Emer McGowan1,
  2. Emma Stokes2
  1. 1 Department of Physiotherapy, University of Dublin Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
  2. 2 Department of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science, QU Health, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar
  1. Correspondence to Dr Emer McGowan, Physiotherapy, University of Dublin Trinity College, Dublin 8, Ireland; emcgowan{at}


Background The changing demands of healthcare and ongoing advances in practice and technology require corresponding change and development of the physiotherapy profession. Physiotherapy professional organisations perform many important functions in ensuring the ongoing growth and success of the profession. The leaders of these organisations therefore have key roles in progressing the physiotherapy profession in their country. To date, however, there has been very little written about these physiotherapy leaders and their work for the profession.

Purpose To explore the professional leadership journeys of international physiotherapy leaders and their experiences of leading physiotherapy professional organisations.

Methods Semistructured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 16 physiotherapy leaders from a range of physiotherapy professional organisations from around the world. The interviews were analysed using inductive thematic analysis.

Results Three main themes were found in the analysis of the data: ‘Leadership roles, behaviours and challenges’, ‘Perceptions of the profession of physiotherapy’ and ‘Leadership development’.

Conclusions The physiotherapy leaders describe interesting and varied roles that can also be challenging and demanding. They recognise the many challenges facing the physiotherapy profession internationally and the need for physiotherapists to more effectively advocate for the profession and demonstrate leadership. Leadership development opportunities and mentoring may be potential strategies to enable the development of future leaders of the physiotherapy profession.

  • clinical leadership
  • professionalism
  • professional societies

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  • Twitter @EmerMcGowan, @ekstokes

  • Contributors ES was involved in planning the study, conducting the qualitative analysis of the interviews, provided feedback on the write-up of the study, and the writing of the revisions of the paper. EMG was involved in all stages of the research and takes responsibility for the overall content as guarantor.

  • Funding ISCP travel grant and Trinity Association and Trust travel fund to attend the WCPT Congress 2015 in Singapore.

  • Competing interests ES is the President of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval was granted by the Trinity College Dublin Faculty of Health Sciences Ethics Committee (ref: 141102).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available on request due to privacy or other restriction.