Case of the Month

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Overstepping Boundaries

Mar 19, 2024

The Case

The College received a mandatory report from a clinic owner, who is also a registered physiotherapist, about the behaviour of another PT who worked at the clinic. According to the clinic owner, the PT acted inappropriately with a PT student who completed a placement at the clinic.

The PT student told the clinic owner that the physiotherapist sent inappropriate text messages and photos to the student’s personal number, made several uncomfortable comments to the student during and after work hours, and hugged the student.

Following the student’s complaint, the university told the clinic owner that they would no longer place PT students at the clinic due to concerns with the physiotherapist’s behaviour. The physiotherapist signed a letter from the clinic acknowledging the decision and agreed to stop contacting all PT students. However, the PT didn’t follow the signed agreement and contacted one PT student to apologize for their actions.

According to the physiotherapist’s employee files, this was not the first time the PT crossed professional boundaries. The physiotherapist previously communicated with patients through text messages and personal social media accounts without their consent, and also asked patients for donations to run a contest. According to the clinic's policy on communication with patients, the PT was not permitted to contact patients using these forms of communication or for reasons not related to their treatment. 

The physiotherapist disputed all claims that they acted inappropriately with students or patients. However, the PT later sent an email to the clinic apologizing for their actions. Ultimately, the physiotherapist was fired because they repeatedly violated the clinic’s policy on professional boundaries.

The Standards

According to the Boundaries and Sexual Abuse Standard, physiotherapists must maintain professional boundaries with their patients at all times. The physiotherapist crossed a professional boundary when they failed to prioritize the wellbeing of the patients in their care by communicating with them through social media accounts and text messages. The PT crossed another professional boundary when they made inappropriate comments and created an unsafe work environment for the PT student.

Although the PT student wasn’t a patient of the physiotherapist, the PT held a position of authority and influence over the student. This power dynamic can create an environment where the student feels pressured to pursue a relationship outside of work to advance their career or avoid negative consequences. This can also undermine the student's ability to work at the clinic.

The Code of Ethics states that a physiotherapist must act with integrity and conduct themselves in a way that prioritizes the wellbeing of patients and others. The physiotherapist repeatedly engaged in unprofessional behaviour, overstepped professional boundaries, and went against the clinic’s policies. The PT also demonstrated a lack of integrity when they used their personal social media accounts and phone to communicate with patients outside of work hours.

The Outcome

The Committee determined that the concerns were significant enough to require the physiotherapist to complete a Specified Continuing Education or Remediation Program (SCERP) focused on professional boundaries and ethics. All costs associated with the SCERP will be paid by the physiotherapist, and a summary of the SCERP will be posted on the Public Register.

Boundaries and Sexual Abuse Standard 

Code of Ethics

Professional Boundaries in Physiotherapy (Video)

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