4 Things I Wish I’d Known as a New PT Grad
New PT Grad Tip #1: Advocate for Yourself
You’ve got to advocate for yourself in the workplace. As new grads, so many PTs feel that they are on the lowest rung of the professional ladder, and they don’t deserve to ask for more. I certainly fell victim to this mindset, and looking back, I see how it led me into situations where I was asked to do more and more for less.
Don’t forget that you probably have more marketable skills than you realize:
- Can you treat patients in another language?
- Do you have business experience that you can use to help improve your company’s marketing and bottom line?
- Are you a certified yoga teacher or strength coach who can offer group wellness classes as a continuum of care for discharged patients?
You can leverage this type of expertise to help you feel more confident asking prospective employers for more than the bare minimum.
Remember that “asking for more” isn’t necessarily just referencing a wage increase.
Many potential employers, particularly in small private practices, have limited ability to significantly raise salaries. But! They may be able to improve compensation in other ways, such as allowing more schedule flexibility or setting up profit-sharing for additional income you bring in (think: Teaching a weekly Pilates class in the clinic, performing cash-pay home or worksite visits to help patients with ergonomics, etc.).
You’ll never know if you don’t ask!
New PT Grad Tip #2: Admit You Don’t Know
It’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
This was one of the hardest things for me to learn in the early days of my career.
After all, when we walk into clinic for the first time with that shiny new DPT after our names, we all want to look as confident as the title “Doctor” implies we ought to be.
Unfortunately, despite all the studying and fact-cramming we do as DPT students, none of us know everything when we graduate.
And, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Ask any experienced clinician worth their salt, and they’ll tell you that they still don’t know the right answer to every clinical situation, no matter many years of experience they have.
To this day, I distinctly remember one of my clinical instructors telling me that the ability to respond to a patient’s questions with “I don’t know” is a marker of a seasoned, thoughtful clinician. The key to confidently admitting to a patient that you don’t know the answer is how you qualify that statement.
Here are a few of my favorite follow-ups:
- “I don’t know, but I’m going to do some research and find out.”
- “I don’t know for sure, but let’s find the answer together.”
- “I don’t know, but I have a co-worker/colleague/other provider I trust who can help us.”
New PT Grad Tip #3: Change is OK
As the popularity of residency and fellowship programs rises, and as more and more PTs dive into niche areas of practice (1), there seems to be a growing sense among new grads that one has to know exactly the specialty they want to pursue even before they cross the stage at graduation.
If this sounds like you, I have some news: It’s okay to change your mind, to branch out and try a variety of settings.
While many PTs settle into one specialty area, there’s no law saying you have to stay in that specialty forever.
I’m a great example! I rolled right into an orthopedic residency after graduation and went on to earn my OCS. When I finished my residency, I started working at another outpatient orthopedic clinic, but I made my dual interest in pelvic health clear from the beginning. Thankfully, my clinic supported me in the development of a pelvic health caseload.
About a year ago, I began feeling that I was in a professional rut. So, I made the decision to transition to telehealth PT with a new company.
Though I’m still using my orthopedic brain in this setting, there are a whole lot of new processes to learn and differences to embrace in my new setting. In some ways, I’m starting fresh!
New PT Grad Tip #4: Branch Beyond Clinical Care
Earning your doctorate in physical therapy doesn’t mean that treating patients is the only thing you can do in your professional life. In fact, for many of us, grinding out months of back-to-back patient care days with no disruption or variety is a recipe for burnout. (2) The last thing most of us want is to find ourselves exhausted and jaded just a year or two into clinical practice, questioning why we spent all that time and money getting our degrees in the first place.
As it turns out, the old adage “variety is the spice of life” has more than a little truth to it. The options for adding some diversity to your professional duties are more numerous than you might imagine, even as a new grad.
Here are just a few ideas to get the wheels turning:
- Rather than taking one full-time job, consider two part-time gigs in different clinical settings. This will diversify your resume, let you experiment to learn which settings you enjoy most, and help you build a wide knowledge base.
- Gain some business experience (or leverage a business background you already have): Some knowledge of marketing, finance, or other basic business skills can go a long way in the world of healthcare, since most DPT programs include only the bare minimum of business or practice management content. (3) Plus, taking off your therapist hat and putting on the business one is a great chance to challenge your brain in a different way.
- If you enjoy teaching, partner with other providers and/or wellness professionals in your area to offer community classes on topics that interest you. From fall prevention to workplace ergonomics to common causes of low back pain in recreational athletes – the possibilities are endless!
While the first years in any career are filled with successes and challenges, the process of learning and exploring in that time can be fun and rewarding. With any luck, these ideas will help you enjoy the ride!