Dale Pitura on board involvement within athletic organizations

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At this point in the semester I identify much more with the chameleon than the presenter. 6957614 via Pixabay

The new chair and president of the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators shares just how he got here

The Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (CAPR) has recently announced that Dale Pitura, a previous head therapist for Cougars athletes at the University of Regina, will be the chair of their board and president of their organization. We sat down for an interview with Pitura earlier this month to learn more about how he got involved in board governance in the first place, on the situation he’ll be walking into as the chair and president at CAPR, and how board engagement at this level compares to the board involvement opportunities available to most students.

Before this board, what set you up for getting to a president role on something like this? What do you think will be strengths to you in this role?

I’ve been involved in a number of boards over my years, a number of different associations starting way back when I was actually involved in the Husky athletic association back in university, so that was many years ago. And then just throughout my physiotherapy career, have always been associated with different boards. I’ve done a lot of sports, I’ve been involved in a lot of sports therapy, and so have been involved with different boards in the sporting world. Primarily in Saskatchewan, such as the Saskatchewan Games Council recently I was on, previously I was on the Saskatchewan Sports Science Council. We’ve got the Athletic Therapy Association in Saskatchewan that I was involved with for a while as well as nationally, so it’s just been many different volunteer boards over the years.

Those boards that have some element of governance to them. How would you say that would compare to the experience students could be getting on boards at this point?

There’s typically two different types of boards that a person would be involved with. One is more of an operational board, so typically they’re smaller organizations and the board of directors do a lot of the leg work, the operational work each day. I would anticipate that many of the organizations in a university setting, you’ll have your different clubs and associations that function like that at the university, and many of those boards would be operational type boards. As an organization grows, and I think many organizations nowadays that can afford some level of staffing, then to more of a strategic board or a governance board if you want to put it that way. […] A strategic board is the board of directors are more involved simply in setting the direction of the organization, creating the strategic plan and the outcomes that they want, and then having the staff – typically a CEO or executive director – implement that.

There would be different skill development or at least different skills you’d need in the strategic versus the operational boards, so if there are university students who are wanting to go a similar route and get involved in that, how could they start honing those skills at the stage they’re at now?

Oftentimes it’s a matter of your thought process, right? You need to be someone who wants to get involved, right? You need to be somebody who has ideas, and would love to share those ideas and share those skill sets, but when you’re trying to hone your skills to maybe move to more of a strategic planning board, you have to change your mindset a little bit. You have to change your mindset from “I’ll do this” to “This is an idea of what we could do,” “This is the direction I think the organization should go.”

Then, you also have to be, I don’t know what word I might use, patient? Forgiving? Whatever term you want to use to say “Okay, we’re giving that direction to the staff, and they’re the ones that have to implement it. We can’t be down there telling them what to do. We can’t be there questioning their every move, we’re the ones that just give them direction and it’s the staff, the executive director and the CEO and their staff, that have the ideas and the implementation.” […] I think we all know that we notice doers in the world, they like to get their hands dirty and they like to get right in there, and there’s others that are ideas people and they back up a little bit, and throw out a thousand ideas. Maybe only one or two of them are good, but they have a thousand of them. So, you’ve got to have both in my mind to be on the board, but you have to know where you’re at and what type of board you’re dealing with to understand if you have to step back and just throw out the ideas, or if you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and play in the dirt a little bit.

So, when it comes to the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators, what’s the situation that you’re stepping into?

The Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators is a pan-Canadian organization made up of the different physiotherapy regulators across the country. Physiotherapy in each of the different provinces and territories is self-regulated. So, like doctors or lawyers or nurses, if one of the members gets in trouble the membership itself disciplines those members and looks after any complaints that would come to the organization. Also, the regulators across the provinces and territories are responsible for evaluating new therapists that are coming into the profession. Example would be, I’ll give you another profession, lawyers have to write the bar exam to become a full-fledged lawyer, accountants write certain exams to become different levels of accountants.

That evaluation or examination of the therapists coming into the profession, the physiotherapists, that was one of the main reasons that the alliance started way back 30 years ago. […] The other thing that the alliance does is they look at the credentials from internationally trained physiotherapists to see if the credentials from an outside country match the minimal standards that the education programs within Canada would provide. That’s kind of the first step, if those education requirements match then that internationally trained therapist can go on to write their exams.

How did you come into this role specifically at CAPR?

Probably virtually on every board, I’ve ended up in the president role on every board I’ve been at. In that role, as the chair of the board or the president, many people think that you’re all powerful and you’re at the top of the heap and you get to run the show, but that’s not what it is. As a matter of fact, you don’t get a vote, right? When you’re the chair you don’t get to vote unless there’s a certain special circumstance, so your job really is to ensure that all the board members get a say in whatever decision you’re trying to make, that you get to set the agenda along with the CEO or ED [executive director] to make sure that you’re working on the priorities that need to be worked on.

You’re obviously the spokesperson for the organization if anybody needs to ask questions or whatever, so you need to have an understanding of the organization and where they’re at and what they’re trying to do, but you know the big thing is to kind of facilitate conversation, make sure that everybody gets a say so that you come to a strong consensus of the decisions you’re trying to make.

Right, yeah, the transparency with boundaries maintained throughout the whole thing. It’s a fine line at times.

Exactly yeah, it is a fine line, and you know you talk about transparency because that’s a huge topic in the world these days. Everybody thinks everything should be transparent and out and about, but sometimes to make decisions you have to have difficult discussions, right? […] Some decisions require hard discussions that have to go through different iterations and then people come to a consensus and make a decision. But if you just take one portion of that discussion you can make it look not good. Or, you can make it look good, or like “They don’t know what they’re talking about, and I do because…” I mean, lots of political ads pull out one little snippet and run a campaign on it, so that’s why transparency is tough. You have to be transparent, you have to let people know how you came to that decision, but sometimes the details of that decision, how do you portray those?

You can’t give context without risking people then taking that out of context; it all ties in.

And you need, I mean, the people around your board table, you need them to be open and honest, and willing to, I don’t know if I’d use the word risk, but willing to portray their ideas and be in a respectful environment. And also be able to understand that if their idea isn’t the one that everybody decides on, that’s okay. It’s still an idea and we need all ideas out, and as the chair that’s what you have to try to facilitate, that almost risk-free environment for your board members to take risks in sending out their information, in giving out their ideas.

Yeah, it’s good when you can have the ability to not even see it as a mistake when it’s just a silly idea, it’s just part of the process of getting the good ones out there.

Yep and you know, some people say there’s no silly questions, there are no silly ideas, right? Oftentimes every idea builds, one on the other, even if it seems way out in left field. “Oh, but part of that comes back to this,” and suddenly you’ve built a decision around those comments.

You were head therapist at the U of R for a time, so I wonder if you could talk just a little bit about what you actually did when you were at the U of R.

Yeah, so I think I was at the U of R from I want to say almost seven or eight years, I think it was from 1999-2007 or somewhere in that range. I started at the university just as a part time contract physiotherapist, coming in and treating the Cougar athletes. […] In the Kinesiology building right now where the equipment room is, that used to be a storage room back behind there that was very small, and that’s actually where we started as our clinic. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say that, where we actually started was up on the second floor of the Kinesiology building in the old wing, they used to have the Fitness and Lifestyle Centre there initially, and it was across the hallway from the old Dr. Paul Schwann Centre. I don’t know what it is now, I think it’s offices or something or maybe it’s one of the gyms.

Anyway, there was just a small office there that fit one bed in there, and that’s where we started, and then we moved into the huge storage room. And then it was in 2003 or 2005 when the Canada Games came to Regina, that’s when they built the new Kinesiology facility, what you see now. At that point we partnered with the university and developed the Allied Health Centre at the time. […] We created kind of a multidisciplinary facility in there with specialists and doctors. So, I was involved with all of that with many other people, but all through that time continuing to be the therapist with the Cougars. So it was a lot of fun, it was nice to see the growth there, it’s always a pleasure to work with the athletes.

Always a little “What now, what’s next?” sort of excitement with the athletes? How does that apply to the board dynamics you work with currently?

The ideas that come from the huge organizations versus the ideas that come from the small, they all blend together and turn out to be a large organization that’s been around for 30 years, helping to service the different regulators in each of the different provinces. You’re all in university and you have to write millions of exams, right, that’s how lots of people evaluate you, lots of courses and professors that evaluate you, and you think “Oh that’s all it is, you just write up an exam and that’s the way it is.” But the evaluation of looking at evaluation and entry into healthcare professions, it’s huge.

Right now the alliance has an expert panel from across the world actually, people from Australia, the United States, Canada that are looking at our current evaluation and how do we best do it. Is looking at your skills, how you perform a skill, the actual best way to understand if you’re going to be a good therapist, a confident therapist going forward? So, it is quite fun if I put it that way, when you get involved at that level and have that many ideas coming to the forefront, trying to sort out what the best ideas to go forth with are going to be.

Would you say those evaluative measures you’re trying to come up with, is that going to be one of your priorities going forward?

Right now probably our three biggest priorities, two priorities for sure, is just reviewing our governance, right? We talk kind of broad strokes about operational governance, operational boards or strategic boards, so then it’s what’s the makeup of those boards? How do you get the right people in there to make sure that you’re progressing all the time? So we’re going through a governance review right now, so that will be a large priority for us over the next couple years, and then the other thing is this evaluation services where we’re looking at this expert panel and looking at trying to decide and determine how best to evaluate therapists as we go forward.

COVID was kind of a blessing in disguise a little bit for us in that we couldn’t do what we normally do, right? We couldn’t do what we normally do because we normally would evaluate people in face-to-face situations for their clinical evaluations. Well, we couldn’t do that with COVID, right, so we attempted some other options virtually which we found out at the size and scope of what we wanted to do, the number of therapists that we wanted to evaluate, just couldn’t find the virtual platforms to allow us to do that. […] We realized that, you know, we’d have a lot more work to do trying to do this virtually with the size and scope that we had, but it also showed us some issues that were ways that we couldn’t do things. So, like I said, a little blessing in disguise to give us that turbo boost that we moved into more evaluation and expert panel to figure out exactly what we wanted to offer, how we wanted to offer that. And then come right back to the alliance, pan-Canadian, pan-international, pan-world, whatever terms you want to use, to figure this out. And that’s the great thing about many boards and many organizations, especially this organization, it’s an alliance. It’s a group of people getting together, allies, to figure out solutions to problems, and it’s fun to be involved with for sure.

Do you think that having “alliance” instead of something like “group” or “org” does actually impact the mindset a little differently?

I think so, yeah, without a doubt, and especially when you go back in the history of this particular organization. It was a group of people, a group of allies who came together to solve problems that they had; everybody had that same problem. So, when you have a word like that in your title, in your organizational title, it always brings you back to that. It brings you back to the fact that we are allies, all just trying to solve problems that we all have, find solutions to issues we have across the country, right? […] That’s similar to athletics even if it’s recreational athletics, a weekend floor hockey team or volleyball team. It’s the team, it’s the group, it’s all those people are together, after the same solution, whether that’s winning the volleyball game or creating the best evaluation services that you can.

Were there any details or tidbits I haven’t asked about that you’d like to leave before we go, or are you feeling content?

I think the only thing I would say, you did ask some questions about students and getting involved. Get involved, right? Be bold with your ideas, right? Understand that if you get into certain places, don’t worry if all your ideas don’t get accepted. You might end up on a board where there’s been people there for 40 years and they say “Oh that’ll never work!” Don’t matter, keep throwing them out there because we need ideas. You can’t rule the world from 60 years ago because today’s world isn’t 60 years ago. But, in the same breath, you can’t forget about what happened 60 years ago because that’s going to inform what you do going forward.

Don’t be worried about it, get involved, and whether you’re the doer in the dirt or the ideas person, get involved and enjoy it because we’re all social. We love to be social as humans, and it’s a way to get involved and have some social interaction, and explore your ideas without a doubt.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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