Starting out on your new career is exciting and sometimes overwhelming. During my career so far, I have had the pleasure of working in three different settings, and have learned a lot through experience along the way. Here are my top 5 tips for new graduates:
- Give it time. It’s OK to not know exactly what area of physical therapy you want to practice in and you may end up practicing in a few different settings before you find your niche, whether it is orthopedics, acute care, geriatrics, or pediatrics! Give it time. Do not be tempted by salary; your happiness is more important. Every job has its own work culture, so you should spend some time shadowing a potential employer to really get to know them and see how you will fit in. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do while job-searching.
- Educate, educate, educate. This means being proactive in explaining what you are assessing, why you are assigning X, Y, and Z exercises, presenting the latest evidence-based research, etc. Don’t rely on your patients to speak up if they do not understand. Additionally, patients have increasing financial responsibility when coming to PT. Their deductibles, co-pays, and out-of-pocket expenses are higher every year with the rising cost of healthcare. If your patients don’t understand why they are doing what they’re doing, they will not see the benefit outweighing the costs, and they won’t come back.
- Keep learning. You might be relieved to be done with the workload of school, and feel fresh with the knowledge you gathered through late nights of studying and during clinical field work experience… BUT, you are always a student! Keep up with new learning opportunities, read current journal articles, connect with experts of your field on social media, read their blogs, and look for new ways to be “thinking outside the box.” The desire to learn beyond school is vital to stay on top of your game and avoid falling into a rut.
- Find a mentor. As a student PT, you are filled with knowledge that is more up-to-date and in-depth than many currently practicing clinicians, but the transition to working independently without the clinical instructor safety net can still be difficult. Work alongside other experienced therapists who will support you as you get to know yourself as a clinician, and can show you what life as a professional in a good clinical setting is like. Whether they are there for you to ask questions, bounce ideas off of, assist in problem solving a tough case, or give you feedback on your performance, mentors are invaluable! Also, when you have a mentor, if you run into employment, management, or ethical red flags on assignment, you have help to recognize them and react appropriately.
- Have fun. Don’t spread yourself too thin trying to “do it all.” Forbes ranked physical therapists as having 1 of "The Ten Happiest Jobs," according to articles published in 2011 and 2013, but you still need to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Make time for hobbies, passions, and relationships outside of work, and have FUN along the way.