Jan 29, 2015
Bridging the Gap

By Dr. James Onate

Contributor James Onate, PhD, ATC, Assistant Professor and Director of the Sports Medicine Research Laboratory at Old Dominion University, discusses the need to improve the understanding of applying clinical practice into research and the importance of applying those studies in clinical practice.

“Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do …” A quote from John Lennon’s classic “Imagine” is a great segue into a discussion of Academicians vs. Clinicians: Bridging the Gap. Why? Because the entire song is about breaking down barriers to achieve a unified peace and promote the betterment of all.

How does that apply to academicians and clinicians? How many times have you heard the saying about academicians: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach? On the flip side, there are those who believe clinicians are merely cookbook followers who are unable to develop new ideas. Both stereotypes are insulting. And neither is accurate.

The past three decades have seen a tremendous increase in the public image of the human performance clinician (e.g., certified strength and conditioning specialist, certified athletic trainer, orthopedist, physical therapist, etc.) in both clinical and academic settings. The educational process of the clinician has become firmly established within academia with numerous competencies and proficiencies.

There has also been a growing critical mass of human performance scholars contributing to the advancement of the professions, which is clearly seen in the increasingly sophisticated work published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Journal of Athletic Training, American Journal of Sports Medicine, and Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, in addition to other well-respected scientific publications. In addition, the skills of the clinician as a vital component to the performance optimization and injury prevention health care team has been demonstrated by the growing requests for assistance in taking care of the physically active.

One problem that has become evident is the lack of understanding by both academicians and clinicians about the synergistic role that each should play in helping professionals grow and become leaders in the health care of the physically active. This article is an attempt to bridge the gap between academicians and clinicians and encourage both sides to work together to enhance the future welfare of the physically active.

Now that we recognize a gap exists and that it may continue to grow, should anything be done about it? First off, we must see how this growing gap affects the most important group: the populations we seek to help.

“Imagine” a place where academics (research and education) share clinical knowledge to help individuals rehabilitate from injury and optimize elite performance levels. Often, individuals from each side look oddly at the other side, yet the fact remains that all clinicians received a firm foundation in academics while most academicians began (and some even continue) their clinical careers in hands-on care.

The fact is that neither group can evolve without the other. I tell my students that to become good clinicians they need to think like academicians, and to become good academicians they need to think like clinicians. Why? Because the goal of the academician is either to teach future clinicians or to provide scientifically validated information to help current/future clinicians perform their jobs.

Academicians should always think about the clinical importance of the information they are trying to convey. Staying up-to-date with current scientific information is important, but equally important is having an appreciation for the clinical side of operations and understanding how information gets incorporated into the “real world.” On the other side of the coin, clinicians must show an inquisitive mind and stay abreast of all the latest scientific information to sharpen their clinical skills.

How can we bridge the gap between the two? We can start by fostering mutual respect and open lines of communication. For instance, the other day I was introduced by a clinician to a group of individuals as “that PhD” they hired in the program. It made me realize that he thought of me as an academic, as opposed to a clinician or certified athletic trainer.

I believe bridging the gap starts with individuals and their perceptions of their counterparts. Academicians need to realize that clinicians’ main focus is not their research project, while clinicians needs to realize that academicians have external demands that may not be readily seen from the outside. Demands may preclude them from seeing patients or training individuals. We all need to appreciate the boundaries of our expertise and open the doors to educate and learn from others.

We need to encourage clinicians to visit classrooms and research labs to see what is done on the “academic” side, while also leaving clinical doors open for academics to seek information on their topics of expertise. All individuals, regardless of their current situation, should act as both outstanding clinicians and outstanding academicians if we truly wish to continue improving the health care and performance of the physically active.

Remember the final lyrics of Lennon’s “Imagine”:

“You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will live as one”

James Onate, PhD, ATC, is Assistant Professor and Director of the Sports Medicine Research Laboratory at Old Dominion University.

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