When you’re just beginning your physical therapy career, there are tons of paths you can take, and it can feel a bit overwhelming. Some people will advise you to become a generalist, while others encourage you to find a niche as soon as possible. Others will tell you to do whatever it takes to pay off your loans ASAP.
It’s OK! Take a step back, breathe, and smile. You’re entering a career with endless opportunities to improve others’ lives and find personal fulfillment. There’s no one prescription for success, but there are certainly steps you can take to ensure you build a successful, enjoyable career as a PT.
Here are five steps to take to find success in the ways that matter to you.
1. Take Time for Introspection
Pretty much everyone has an opinion about what a new grad physical therapist should do, but the only one that really matters is your own. Take some time to consider who you are, and make your career decisions based on what you will find most fulfilling in your career. Questions like the following can help guide your process:
- What do you want out of your career?
- Are you seeking achievement? Work-life balance? Financial independence? Leadership opportunities?
- What makes you feel passionate and capable? Is it a particular setting? Patient population?
- Do you enjoy the marketing aspects of practice? Are you an educator at heart?
- What are some absolute deal breakers?
- Do you refuse to see more than 16 patients per day?
- Are you fundamentally opposed to using ultrasound or working on Saturdays?
These are just a few of the many questions to ask yourself at the beginning, and it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers this moment. Introspection should be an ongoing process, where you continually check in with yourself and your loved ones; this ensures that you’re always making decisions that are true to who you are at your core.
Finding the right leadership opportunities can be challenging when you’re a new grad, but MedBridge has created a 5-part leadership series. It’s an ideal way to kick-start your confidence and polish up your resume as you work toward your professional goals.
2. Commit to Lifelong Learning
Physical therapy is a career where lifelong learning is essential. Even if you eventually leave clinical practice to pursue a career in advocacy, education, or another non-clinical role, you’ll want to continually take coursework to stay up-to-date with the latest evidence-based treatments and scope of practice developments.
As you likely know, in person con-ed classes are a wonderful way to meet other clinicians, network, hone your skills, build your confidence, and reignite your passion for your treatments.
Online con-ed courses are ideal for new grad PTs, too. By enrolling for a subscription with MedBridge, you’ll have access to unlimited online courses. Not only will these count toward your annual CEU requirements, they will also help you explore settings and niches without a huge financial or time investment.
For example, if you’re interested in pelvic health, but you can’t afford the time or money to travel for a three day seminar, you can check out Bladder Control Basics. Not only does this help you determine whether to pursue that niche further, it will also look great on your resume! And if you’d like to take it to the next level, you can obtain a full certificate in Adult Bladder Control and Urinary Incontinence. For a new grad seeking to find a niche or specialty as soon as possible, MedBridge offers the perfect blend of sampling various types of practice, without breaking the bank in the process.
A good mentor goes a long way in any profession, and for physical therapists, there are several considerations: clinical mentorship and career mentorship. You can be the most skilled clinician in the world, but if you don’t know how to negotiate vacation time, you might wind up burned out. Be sure to find trusted mentors who will help guide you to become a successful clinician, and a savvy professional.
Most PTs who stay in the clinic aspire to clinical excellence. One of the ways to stand out as a master clinician is to pursue a certification that reflects your area of expertise. The specialization exams for the ABPTS are notoriously challenging, but MedBridge offers comprehensive certification prep programs for the following PT specialties:
The certification prep programs include curated course tracks, self-assessment tools that illuminate your strengths and weaknesses, and test prep questions, and each track has its own MedBridge Facebook group, so you can collaborate with others who are working toward the same certification goals.
Attend conferences and network like crazy
Networking is incredibly important for new PTs. Networking shouldn’t make you think of awkward mixers in sterile convention centers. You can meet other clinicians and industry leaders in many ways, including in person and online; the important thing to keep in mind is that you should target other PTs who share your passions and visions. Not only will this sustain your enthusiasm for your profession, it will open all sorts of doors for you in the future.
In addition to attending CSM with your business cards in hand, you can join a number of online communities, including:
- Doctor of Physical Therapy Students Facebook Group
- Physical Therapy Practice, Education, and Networking Facebook Group
- LinkedIn Physical Therapists
Don’t forget to stop by the MedBridge booth when you’re at conferences. We love meeting the new generation of PTs!
4. Say “Yes” (and Know When to Say “No”)
If you’re networking properly, you’ll quickly find that opportunities arise quite frequently. It might be something as simple as being quoted in an article, or it could be more involved, such as giving a presentation on core stability to a yoga studio.
In general, saying “yes” is always a good idea. Even if the opportunity challenges you or pushes you outside of your comfort zone, when you’re a new PT, it’s important to get your name out there and start building your own personal brand.
That said, as you start to build your own brand, you might need to start saying “no” to opportunities that will deplete you of energy. For example, if you are an up-and-coming pediatric PT in your town, but you detest writing, you might not want to accept an ongoing blogging assignment for your clinic. Instead, you might suggest that you create a vlog or give a presentation to a local school. Similarly, if your passion is pediatric neuro rehab, and you’re invited to give a talk about geriatric orthopedic conditions, you might want to pass the baton to a trusted colleague who would see the opportunity as career-making, rather than stress-inducing!
5. Build Your Brand
It sounds corny, but there’s nobody else out there who is exactly like you, and that’s a good thing. You might choose to remain a generalist, or you might become highly specialized, and you could end up opening a cash-based or telehealth practice. You may even wind up going into education–or pursuing one of the many other alternative career paths for physical therapists.
Whatever you do, own it. Now is the time to start developing your personal brand and allowing your patients and your employers (even if that employer is you!) to appreciate what you bring to the table.
Here are a few ways to start establishing an online brand:
- Sign up for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Keep your pages professional, and ensure that you are authentic and consistent with your voice. Connect with others and help elevate the profession while you promote your own brand. (While you’re at it, follow MedBridge on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for updates on new courses, new additions to our home exercise builder, and new articles.)
- If you enjoy writing, start a blog. If you don’t enjoy writing, get on camera and film short videos for your social media accounts.
- Say yes to opportunities that inspire you and excite you. Collaborate with others who are doing similar things.
- Have a quality headshot taken. It will serve you well throughout your career.
Regardless of where you go with your physical therapy career, there are plenty of options to keep you excited and inspired along the way. If you commit to lifelong learning, following your heart, and collaborating with others who share your passions, you will find immense enjoyment in this incredibly fulfilling career.