Less than a decade ago, professional associations, like many of their business and trade sector counterparts, were generally regarded as insular organizations relevant only to the special interest groups they served. They exerted little influence or power outside their own membership domain; nor did they have to in those halcyon days when a stable economy and predictable social environment were the norm and change crept into our lives at a comfortable pace. How times have changed!
Many of the foundations of our security, confidence and comfort have eroded in recent years as the forces of change swept across the globe. Overwhelming debt in the public sector, high unemployment levels, cynicism regarding the political process and the fraying of our social service network undermine our faith in the future. Restructuring and redeployment of resources have become the order of the day as governments, business and professions struggle to meet the enormous challenges created by continuous and radical change.
Throughout this period of social and economic upheaval, professional associations — particularly those in the health care sector — have had to wrestle with the challenge of not only coping with massive change, but taking the next step and actively helping to shape it. For the Canadian Physiotherapy Association this has meant adopting a proactive approach to issues affecting the profession and expanding its focus of operations to encompass the development and strengthening of external relationships.
Governments, in their pursuit of increased efficiency and cost savings in the health care delivery system, are now forging strategic partnerships with health professional groups.
Effective lobbying at the national and provincial levels, along with increased media recognition, will open the doors for the associations to play a prominent role in professional and government-initiated strategies geared to defining and developing new health policies. When the federal government seeks expert advice from a specific interest group, it approaches the national association representing that group. It wants to deal with a non-fragmented community represented by a strong, unified voice and possessing a broad vision of the health field and an understanding of issues affecting the entire delivery system.
Al Litvak, professor of International Business at York University in Toronto, is quoted in Association Magazine as warning that “associations will be challenged to go beyond traditional boundaries to acquire a more national or global scope.” The Canadian Physiotherapy Association recognizes the importance of expanding its horizons beyond its immediate zone of interest to encompass the broad spectrum of health care. This is why, among other initiatives, the Association joined the Health Action Lobby (HEAL), a coalition of national organizations dedicated to ensuring a viable health care system for the future.
Partnership is a give-and-take relationship. The partnership between government and an association offers rewards to both. Government needs expert advisers and facilitators, while an association needs the support of strong government ties in order to shape the future of its profession effectively.
(Brenda Myers is Executive Director of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association.)