for exercise physiologists
5 No 9 September 2002
A New Academic Paradigm for Exercise
Tommy Boone, PhD,
MPH, MA, FASEP, EPC
Professor and Chair
Director, Exercise Physiology Laboratories
The College of St. Scholastica
Duluth, MN 55811
“The purpose of teaching
is not, or should not be, simply to benefit from students. Nor is
it merely an opportunity to sell ideas to make money. The promise
of an education is to benefit the student’s through an uncommonly meaningful
educational intervention that is creative and ethical in its application
THROUGHOUT the career of many college
teachers, there are times when a less than favorable relationship between
teachers and students exist. Teachers are charged with the responsibility
of presenting the content and ideas by whatever means that work best for
them. While many teachers “lecture” to get the message across, others
may use various combinations of mini-lectures, student group work, power
point slides, library assignments, and so forth. The belief is that
the “teacher’s method” is appropriate and unquestioned and, therefore,
must be okay. Naturally students are not expected (or encouraged)
to argue with the method, which may conflict with individual styles of
Today, despite some degree of confidence
with the educational system, the feeling that the system may need improvement
is a welcome event. Why? Because it is becoming increasingly
evident that the students’ education should be career driven. A college
degree that does not set the stage for the student to find work is a product
without value or, at least, this is the view of some educators. And
among the plethora of academic majors, there is Exercise Science!
Is it a meaningless major. Often times, it is interpreted as Exercise
Physiology. Most of the time, however, after studying the curriculum,
it is obvious that it is a Physical Education major. Unfortunately,
the four years it takes to complete Exercise Science in addition to the
tuition and other costs often create little opportunity to compete successfully
with other academic majors. Little wonder, then, students feel like
sheep to be fleeced. This is especially true when they put 2 + 2
together and come up with less than 4, that is, some can be heard saying,
"You mean that I’m not an exercise physiologist”. Talk about teaching
students to mistrust the system.
Unfortunately, this problem continues
to elude many college teachers. Yet the no-nonsense, common-sense
approach to the 21st century view of “students as customers” is critical
to sustaining growth in academic programs and, in particular, the professional
development of exercise physiology. Members of other professions
have already recognized this point and, indeed, it is time that exercise
physiologists should take note. A new relationship based on a student-focused
outcomes requires a new paradigm in college today. Because the idea
and the required thinking are both a hard sell, and because some teachers
don’t appear to have a clue that there is a problem, professional development
of exercise physiology continues to be an upstream battle.
Professionalism is a painstaking
work in progress. It requires a commitment that is both bold and
magical, yet necessary. The new paradigm is based on the belief that
without customers (students) satisfied by linking the academic degree to
a professional career, there is no academic major. This is a new
academic paradigm for exercise physiology teachers. It is philosophically
based on the idea that any academic program should be designed to benefit
the students. It is a win-win situation whereby the relationship
between teachers and students is one of trust and collaboration to ensure
that students get exactly what they need (a job).
“If one advances confidently
in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he
has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry D. Thoreau (1817-1862)
Think about it for a moment. Past
iterations of educational approaches have given the teachers power over
the students. The emerging education ethic empowers students by placing
emphasis on their needs and the way in which the needs should be met.
Imagine a teacher/student relationship in which there is immediate trust
and belief in the outcome. Imagine the teacher and the student working
as a team; both taking responsibility for excellence in the emerging profession.
This is the great challenge of exercise physiologists who have been one-sided
in their work as college teachers.
Before reading further, why not take
a few minutes and answer the following questions.
Is there a difference between the job
opportunities in exercise physiology and physical therapy? If so,
what is the difference?
Is there a discrepancy in a nursing
education and employment opportunities? By comparison, is there a
discrepancy in an exercise physiology education and employment?
To offer an effective exercise physiology
educational program, what changes should be put into place? What
is stopping the college teachers?
Answers to these questions should help
in understanding the need for the new academic paradigm. A paradigm
that does not preclude doing research and publishing, but one that that
is more congruent and consistent with facilitating the employment needs
of students. This new thinking is built on the foundation of several
Do you believe that it is possible for
college teachers to change their thinking, if not their behavior?
How would their teaching be different? What benefits would students
expect to get?
1. Academic departments can’t
exist if there are no students.
Today’s departments are
college products (i.e., something that is purchased) written for students
who will buy into a specific academic major. The simple truth is
that most faculty members are seldom involved in the writing or editing
of the information about the departments and few have direct influence
over the number and/or types of course offerings. The problem is
that a Department of Exercise Science or a Department of Exercise
Physiology can’t increase the number of students majoring in the departments
without students. It is the student who is in charge of whether departments
grow or eventually close. If the student determines that the faculty
is not dealing with obvious problems in the public sector, then it doesn’t
matter that the student is interested in the courses or the major itself.
The apparent lack of concern for the student is a huge problem.
2. Serving students’ needs is more
important than another published paper.
Regardless of how important
it is to do research and to publish in scientific journals, the primary
responsibility of every college teacher is to serve first, research
second. Unless this basic point is understood from the beginning,
the faculty will find themselves out of a job. There is no need for
faculty research if there are no students to define the department size
and/or budget. Putting research first sets the faculty and the department
up for failure. Perhaps, worst yet, it sets up the academic major
to fail as well. Students only major in academic programs of study
where there is hope of getting a job. And, the idea isn’t just any
job but one with a high salary and respect.
3. The students’ welfare is important
to the success of the department.
Just imagine the following
analogy of what it’s like when faculty and department chairs assume they
have the answers for students interested in Exercise Physiology.
4. Career opportunities should be
linked to academic programs of study.
“So, you are interested in Exercise
“Yes, that’s right. I’d like
to know about the job opportunities.”
“You don’t need to think about that
at this point. Everything will work out.
“What do you mean?”
“You need to think about the course
“Well, do your students get jobs
“As I was saying, there are several
courses I’m sure you will like.”
“Well, the courses do interest me.”
“Believe me, I can tell that you
How many times have you observed
a chairperson or a faculty advisor fail to respond to the student’s concerns
and questions? It is more common that most of us want to believe.
Imagine again, “I know what you need, and what you need now is to stop
thinking about a job and just do the course work.” College teachers
do it all the time.
When a student enters college,
interacts with the course work and faculty, graduates from college, and
moves into the public sector, there should be the opportunity to get not
just any job but a good job. Here again, in almost every case, the
purpose of college is to find a good paying job. In many cases, this
is exactly why students major in physical therapy and nursing and, it makes
5. Students major in an academic
area when they think it will fill their needs.
"What is the point of 4 years of work
to get the diploma at a considerable price if there are no jobs in the
What is the point of the faculty teaching
exercise physiology courses without marketing and developing the public’s
understanding of what exercise physiologists do?
Why is it okay that many college exercise
physiologists do not support their own professional organization of exercise
Why it is assumed that teaching one
course per semester is enough and that research is more important than
Why do administrators allow graduate
students, as Teaching Assistants, to teach undergraduate courses?
Where are our values in all this?
Is it enough to offer the major, however
poorly defined without having a direct link to the public sector?
Why has it been okay all these years
to allow such chaos to exist without cleaning up the field?
It is common for anyone
to seek resources outside of their own abilities, and the college environment
is a logical place to look. The faculty is hired within colleges
to build academic programs, to build professional relationships, and to
enable graduates to fulfill their dreams. Students have come to expect
a trusting and comfortable relationship with the faculty. They also
think the faculty is working on their behalf in whatever way it is professionally
necessary. Students feel very uncomfortable when they realize that
the product they purchased (i.e., the academic major) will not help them
find a respectable and financially rewarding job.
Until now, the academic setting has
been faculty-centered and research-focused without taking into account
the full implications of the student’s needs. This has been true
far too long, especially in exercise physiology where faculty have not
taken responsibility for developing academic specific certifications and
licensure. It’s not easy, but somebody has to do it. It is
the faculty’s responsibility. No matter how good the faculty may
be at teaching, doing research, or even service in the community, the faculty
is responsible for making the connection between what is taught and its
application in form of a job in the public sector.
If the faculty is out of touch with
what is present-day reality, then it should be corrected. To teach
on any of the subjects in exercise physiology without an understanding
of the issues and challenges faced by the students is less than professional.
The faculty must make the connection between the product and the decisions
that create a collaborative work opportunity. It’s time to grow beyond
the cultural beliefs of decades ago and start serving each and every student.
By building a better connection between the academic major and professional
careers, the faculty grows in professional service. This is an important
objective for all college teachers. Hence, it is time that the teacher
becomes a servant to the student, to the department, and to the emerging
profession of exercise physiology.
“You may be disappointed
if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” – Beverley Sills
College teachers should, therefore,
work from the assumption that it is their job and responsibility to make
the connection between what they teach and diverse job opportunities.
And, in return, students will relate to the faculty with respect and trust.
They will embrace the understanding that their reason to attend college
was right after all. They will know that what they needed required
a college education, and that they were not in position to call themselves
“Exercise Physiologists” after obtaining a week-end warrior certification.
It is not until students come to this understanding that they begin to
value and respect the faculty. From their course work, they begin
to define themselves as “professionals” and to look for the chance to apply
what they have learned.
Now, it is obvious (or should be)
why the status quo is not okay. The inadequacy of the existing academic
relationship with the public sector needs correcting. Unfortunately,
exercise physiologists have supported, if not, created inadequate solutions
to this problem. Without highlighting the obvious ones, in this instance,
it is enough to conclude that the solution is professionalism, professional
development, and increased job opportunities. And, remember, students
major in exercise physiology (or academic degrees they think are exercise
physiology) because they think it is impossible to fill their own needs
otherwise. It may not be too far off in the future when many of these
students will figure out that they can fill their own needs. The
solution may be in the form of physical therapy, especially with their
increased professional emphasis on preventive health and fitness.
Should this happen, it will not be the first time to occur in the academic
setting (such as when a student majors in nursing to work in cardiac rehabilitation).
What can exercise physiologists do to keep this from happening? The
short answer is: Get involved with the professional development of exercise
“Each time a man stands
up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out injustice,
he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” -- Senator Robert F. Kennedy
Begin the thinking that leads to professionalism
and notice what happens when the needs of students are placed before the
faculty. In order to do so, make the decision to read about the professionalization
of exercise physiology. Work to develop a clear understanding of
the issues, especially the financial and work-related ones on behalf of
the students. Listed below are several steps (in the form of questions)
that should help clarify your thinking in this area.
1. What is the #1 problem associated
with exercise physiology?
Is the problem the faculty’s
problem? Is it the student’s problem? Or, is it both?
How did the problem get that way? What could have prevented it?
What is necessary to correct the problem?
2. What is missing in the student’s
Is there a course that teaches
professionalism? Is the faculty involved in the student’s overall
education, aside from one or two courses? Do the faculty and chair
have an appreciation for the student’s needs, and do they have a plan to
fix the problem?
3. What are the external issues?
Is it possible to fix the
problem without involving the public sector? How does the exercise
physiology faculty relate to the external system and whether the solution
is congruent with the needs of the students. Have the faculty listened
to the students in the public sector, especially those who are in search
4. Is an integration of professionalism
with standard course work anticipated?
Who is working to integrate
professionalism, academic work, and the public issues? How important
Increasingly, more educators agree that
there is no academic major with integrity without a graduate who can find
a job. There are no college jobs without students! It is important,
therefore, to find answers to the questions presented earlier. This
concern also speaks to college teachers. When students cannot find
a job in their academic major when they have been led to believe that they
would, there is a serious question of "academic integrity".
It’s the teacher’s job to serve the student. If it is not possible
to do so, then either the teacher or the academic major or both are at
fault. This isn’t a conclusion reached yesterday. From the
present, you can go back several decades. Remember, if the future
isn’t planned for, there is no reason to believe it will automatically
develop correctly by itself.
“The man who starts out
going nowhere, generally gets there.” – Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)
Where are we going? How do we
plan to get there? Simple questions with hard answers. What
has been missing is a “professional organization of exercise physiologists
for exercise physiologists.” That has been corrected. How did
it happen? The short answer is through a lot of hard work on behalf
of dedicated exercise physiologists throughout the United States.
At this point the future looks bright. But, because students are
still under the thumbnail of the faculty (who may not have come to an understanding
of their responsibility to their students, professionally speaking), serious
decision-making is the order of the day. For example, “How is your
department and faculty service different from other colleges and universities?”
or, if you are in the planning stage to change the views of the faculty
in your institution, “What do you plan to put in place to ensure success?”
What would you consider the solution
to “teaching with integrity”? Is it enough to identify the “just-right”
thinking, or is it more difficult than that? Perhaps, you are thinking
about what criteria to use to evaluate job opportunities or faculty involvement
beyond the status quo? Team building is hard enough. Just imagine,
building a department with a focus on professionalism. It might even
be harder to do, especially when some faculty have there own ideas of professionalism.
These are just some of the questions that need answers. Here is another
one, “Is it important to find the answers?” Yes, it is. Why?
Very simply, once again, without students there are no departments, academic
majors, or faculty positions.
Okay, everybody agrees that students
are important. First of all, the faculty probably knew this all along.
After all, it is rather obvious that students attend classes and classes
make up the primary reason doctorate-prepared individuals are hired by
higher education institutions. But what is missing is the development
of strategies in every facet of why an academic degree exists, especially
professional degree-programs. Imagine you are in a physical therapy
program. Would you be expected to study professionalism and professional
development issues? Yes, of course. Imagine you are in a nursing
program. Would your instructors lecture on board certification(s),
licensure, and ethical issues and concerns? Yes, again. Now,
imagine the exercise physiology major. Are there any courses on professional
development? Are the students taught the Code of Ethics for exercise
physiologists? Are there responsible in-roads to the department and/or
faculty’s support of board certifications and/or licensure? The answer
to the three questions is “NO”.
Why is it that the students have
asked these questions of the faculty and, yet the faculty continue to turn
their heads? Talk about a stubborn acceptance of an old paradigm
that was useful at one time, but not now. In the new thinking of
how to educate exercise physiologists, staying within the old structure
is out while supporting the new paradigm is in. Students are different
today from years ago. Twenty years ago it was reasonable to expect
most exercise physiologists would get the doctorate degree and, therefore,
become college teachers. This is no longer true. There are
far more non-PhD exercise physiologists than there are those with the PhD.
Exercise physiology is no longer about nurturing the person with the PhD
or, at least it shouldn’t be, but more about nurturing the emerging profession.
Today, it is important to develop
relationships within the emerging profession. It is about the development
of a solid foundation from which our students can expect to make a financial
living. If it will help, as a faculty member, ask yourself this question,
“Why are these students in my class?” Do you really believe they
are hoping to graduate to work in a fitness facility for $8.00 an hour?
Do you really think they are in your class to attend law school after graduation?
Maybe the students are interested in being a physician assistant?
Or, maybe they are just killing time to apply to physical therapy or nursing?
Or, is it possible they want to be an exercise physiologist. Just
maybe, they want a professional career in the field as a credible exercise
physiologist. Here again, please consider the following questions
that might place some light on this problem.
What is the problem faced by our students?
Where does the problem come from?
How is the problem being reinforced?
What keeps the problem from being corrected?
What is the solution to the problem?
Why hasn’t the solution been put into
place before now?
At what point will the solution bring
hope and change?
What are the exact changes needed to
focus on student’s needs?
What does fear of change have to do
with the problem?
How can beliefs and values be changed
to support good decisions?
Although answers to these questions
have been slow in coming, significant progress in the professional development
of exercise physiology has been made recently. It is just a matter
of time when all the questions will be answered and, then, look out!
Until then, it is okay for those exercise physiologists who do not want
to embrace the new paradigm. In fact, it is not logical or expected
that everyone can be sold on the ideas in this brief article. All
a person or a group of individuals can do is to find those who support
the idea. The most difficult part is the waiting, but it is clear
“You can’t push anyone up
the ladder unless he is willing to climb himself.” – Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
What should exercise physiologists do
in the meantime? One suggestion is to fine-tune their communication
with others. Just because someone isn’t showing signs of listening
doesn’t mean he/she isn’t thinking about change. This point is an
important one. In the end, though, it will be necessary for all exercise
physiologists interested in the new paradigm of professional development
to take responsibility for the problem and work at alleviating it.
Fixing the problem is important before irreparable damage occurs.
So, what is next? Where do we go from here?
“You must do the thing you
think you cannot do.” -- Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
The best thing exercise physiologists
can do is to think realistically and go about doing what it takes to professionalize
the field. Professionals from other fields of study have done it,
so it can be done again. It is a little matter of courage to ask
questions and find the answers. Call it audacity, daring, or crazy.
It is the strength to step forward and be counted when action is necessary.
Look at the problem from the student’s
Be exact and accurate in defining professional
Put in place the components to ensure
a successful future.
Talk with other exercise physiologists
and collaboratively search for answers.
Look for professional resources to embrace
Determine how exercise physiology can
be integrated into healthcare.
Support accredited academic programs
Search for a consensus on who is an
Integrate exercise physiology with other
healthcare teams of professionals.
Teach the importance and path of professionalism.
“Service is the goal; teaching
is our method; a professionally prepared exercise physiologist is the solution.”
American Society of Exercise Physiologists All Rights