Golden Hands Award Winner – Erl Pettman – 2010

(L to R) Erl Pettman, Beverley Padfield and Rob Werstine

Erl came to Canada from the UK in 1974 and in 1977 became an instructor in the newly developed post-graduate manual therapy program. This program was full of letters at the time and was known as the EV system (for extremity/vertebral), a system put together by David, John and Cliff. He challenged the Part A and B examinations (more letters) in 1978 on the same day and passed them both. A mere 3 years after completing his exams, he became an examiner of this same system and two years after that a member of the board of chief examiners for the Orthopaedic Division of CPA. Meanwhile, it was during this time (late 70’s early 80’s) that Erl felt that the EV system, although good, was somewhat lacking in continuity and connectivity. Through his intense self-study in embryology, he knew that while understanding the body’s parts was important, understanding where they evolved from, how they continued to linked together and impacted each other was crucial for function. His beliefs led him to develop the now famous Quadrant courses, the first integrated and functional approach to the neuromusculoskeletal system.

I’d like to read two quotes about the Quadrant courses from two of the physiotherapists who nominated Erl for the Golden Hands award. The first is from Lorraine Hendry who first met Erl when she was Education co-ordinator for the National Capital Unit of the Ortho Division in the early 1980’s. He had come to convert them to the Quadrant approach.

“He left a few physiotherapists scratching their heads trying to understand his approach and the direction to be considered in the evaluation and treatment of our patients. His perspective peaked my interest and a long journey of following him as he taught in Canada just to learn as much as I could. In his teaching, he was always able to use his clinical expertise and stories to provoke thought, interest and consideration of approaching problems as a quadrant.”

From the nomination letter of Elaine Maheu

“Montreal was one of the first places where Erl started to teach his quadrant system. Erl has always been an original thinker and this was evident in the way he viewed the assessment of neuromusculoskeletal problems in a quadrant system. Erl’s first lower quadrant course in Montreal was memorable for him. The days were endless finishing around 7 – 8 pm going for a quick bite and drinks and then back in the classroom for mock exams until 11pm (a lot of the course participants were preparing for their exams at the time). At the end of the course, Erl said “If ever someone told me that I had only six days to live, I would decide to come and teach a quadrant course in Montreal as those were the six longest days of my life!”

In 1981, he developed the first long-term manual therapy course for Western Canada around his quadrant concepts and although I was the senior lecturer and delivered the material to the students, it was definitely Erl’s concepts that I was teaching. This course created some of our current leaders in manual therapy in this country.

Erl was probably the first critical thinking physiotherapist most of us had ever met, he was using clinical reasoning skills long before the term was coined. When most therapists were looking for protocols for treatment (to flex or extend the painful low back) Erl was still asking questions, in fact, he never stops asking questions.

He asks you so many questions on his courses, that your brain spins and sometimes you don’t even know anymore what is a question and what isn’t. Now that’s a critical thinker, someone who questions his own questions.On a more serious note, not only do the physiotherapists of this country hold Erl in high regard, he is also recognized internationally by Olaf Evjenth (as was David Lamb) as being one of the best manipulators he had ever met – a very rare compliment not often bestowed by Olaf. All I ever got from the man was – You speak nonsense woman!

In the mid-90’s, Erl began an extensive travel and teaching schedule to introduce the Canadian Manual Therapy Program, which had been totally reorganized into various levels according to the quadrant approach by now, to American Physical Therapists and together with Cliff, Dave, Jim Meadows and Ann Porter-Hoke founded the North American Institute of Orthopaedic Manual Therapy, NAIOMT. This is our sister association in the US and is one of only a few systems in the US which can bestow its graduates a Fellowship in the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Therapy (AAOMT).

Erl’s contributions to the ongoing education of physiotherapists in North America didn’t stop with the formation of NAIOMT. He was instrumental in the development of the Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy at Andrews University in Michigan where he is currently an associate professor. Not bad for someone from the Sherwood forest heh?

And there is still so much more to tell you about his illustrious career. He has presented original papers at 14 of our Orthopaedic Symposiums, has defended our profession and association in court when our scope of practice was being challenged and in 2006 completed his long awaited book on Manipulative Thrust Techniques which now holds a record of his clinical techniques. The book shall remain timeless for many reasons, one being – you can’t find the year it was published anywhere in it, good idea Erl – it will never age!

I would like to finish by recognizing that behind every good man is a better woman and for Erl, that woman is Maggie Pettman, someone he fondly refers to as the ‘wind beneath my wings’. Maggie has held the fort at home raising their 3 children almost single handedly, while managing and practicing physiotherapy in both of their clinics in Abbotsford while Erl travelled extensively to move our profession forward. Thank you Maggie.

In closing, let me once again quote Lorraine:

Erl has been a mentor for countless physiotherapists. He has changed the direction of many lives towards a better understanding for those physiotherapists treating patients, and for those patients with the problems no one could solve or were brave enough to attempt.

And from Elaine…Erl has been a mentor to me and to many others and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for all he has done for manual physiotherapists in both Canada and the US and for our patients.

And from John Oldham, a founding father who also nominated Erl for this award…

When David Lamb, Cliff Fowler and I formed the Orthopedic Division in 1973 one of our early aims was to foster physiotherapists who could become leaders of the profession. Erl Pettman is the embodiment of that aim.

And from Cliff Fowler:

Sometimes if one is lucky he or she will come in contact with a teacher and clinician who can change one’s life ambitions. This is due to their superb, brilliant and awe inspiring enthusiasm and dedication to detail. Erl is such a physiotherapist, his years of teaching around the world has helped to put Canada on the map for manual therapy and I think David would agree he definitely needs another pair of golden hands.

And from myself, I wouldn’t be the person or the therapist I am today without being a recipient of the guidance, friendship and inspiration of Erl Pettman.

Erl, please come forward to receive your Golden Hands award as a token of our appreciation for your ongoing dedication and commitment to moving our profession forward, to ensuring its survival and for taking up the challenge that David lay before us. I’m sure David would say – it’s about time.

-Diane Lee