Past Robert G. Dicus Award recipient Ernie Burch, PT, FAPTA


As a Private Practice Section (PPS) Awards Committee member writing about past recipients of the APTA PPS Robert G. Dicus Award, I had the privilege of interviewing Ernie Burch, PT, FAPTA. Despite all of his significant accomplishments within the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and being an icon in physical therapy private practice, Burch remains a modest and gracious gentleman who is an absolute pleasure.

After serving in Korea as a U.S. Army infantry officer from 1951 to 1954, Burch graduated from physical therapy school in 1956 from the University of Pennsylvania. He had planned on attending dental school, though one of his friends and, 1955 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Bill Rhodes, talked him into instead pursuing physical therapy as a career. The physical therapy profession has certainly benefited from his decision.

After graduating from school, Burch worked at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, progressing from staff physical therapist to chief physical therapist before leaving in 1967 to join his long-time friend, Bill Rhodes, in private practice. They established Burch, Rhodes & Loomis in Baltimore.

Their practice was innovative and successful from the start. As far as Burch believes, they were the first private practice in the country to accept students for clinical affiliations. He has always been passionate about mentoring and trying to grow the next generation of private practitioners. After decades of success in private practice, he sold shares of the practice to his employed therapists at a discounted price to foster their engagement in private practice physical therapy. Mentoring and teaching was important to Burch, as he also served as a guest lecturer and clinical educator at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the Department of Physical Therapy from 1967 to 1994.

Though Burch was quite successful in private practice and in his mentoring of upcoming physical therapists, he truly shined in the depth and breadth of service to the APTA. He has had a great impact on our profession as we know it today. His introduction to involvement in the professional association started with him serving as the secretary for the Maryland Chapter of APTA in 1959, where he recalls fondly his good fortune to be mentored by then Maryland Chapter president Florence Kendall. Burch’s professional activities and the awards he has received over the years are pages long. Here are a few highlights of his most significant activities and awards:

  • Maryland Chapter – President 1963-1965
  • APTA – Vice President 1985-1988
  • APTA Private Practice section – President 1988-1992
  • APTA Henry and Florence Kendall Award for Outstanding Achievement 1978
  • APTA Lucy Blair Memorial Service Award 1979
  • APTA Catherine Worthingham Fellow Award 1992
  • APTA PPS Robert G. Dicus Award 1994

Burch states that he has so many wonderful memories of serving in the physical therapy profession and has had the privilege to learn from some incredibly talented and inspiring colleagues. He says it is hard to pick what he is most proud of. While serving as APTA PPS president, he took PPS from debt to financial stability and achieved a healthy reserve by the end of his term.

During his 40-plus years of service to the physical therapy profession he impacted many key areas: lobbying for direct access by PTs, referral for profit issues, and many other areas affecting our profession. On the topic of reimbursement and referral for profit Burch was quoted as saying, “All of our reimbursement battles are about so much more than monetary compensation. We are fighting for the rights of our patients.”

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