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The Best Physical Therapy Career Advice You Will Ever Receive

by Meredith Victor Castin


'Tis the season for new PTs to hit the job market...which means it's also the season for an overwhelming abundance of physical therapy career advice!

It’s an exciting time for everyone, and new grad PTs have physical therapy job matches.

You know what they say about opinions...

You’re going to hear all sorts of advice about what you should seek in new grad physical therapy jobs.

Well! That's certainly some conflicting advice, and it's likely only the tip of the "physical therapy career advice iceberg."

What do the physical therapy influencers say?

Physical therapy influencers are vocal and they are passionate about spreading awareness of our profession. They’re inspirational and vital to the ability of our profession to adapt to the changing landscape of healthcare.

After all, some people easily fall into step with this mindset, and "embracing the hustle" is the right fit for these folks and their unique physical therapy career goals.

Other PTs find that traditional practice suits them and their lifestyles just fine.

But with all the options and all the people telling you to do one thing or another, it can be absolutely overwhelming and it can paralyze new PTs with anxiety.

Which physical therapy career advice should you heed?

I had the opportunity to sit down with an Austin, TX-based career counselor, Melissa Totah. She shared several pearls of wisdom with me, and I'm excited to pass along this info to you!

"Unless you take care of yourself and honor what is important to you as a person and a clinician," explains Totah, "it will be very difficult to devote yourself to your patients."

Totah explains that, in many cases, young therapists choose the wrong jobs from the get-go, and they’re burning out because of it.

Here are some ways a career coach recommends kick-starting your career:

1. Complete a values assessment

Totah recommends using a values assessment to hone in on what matters most to you in your life and your career. A values assessment is an organized way to sort through what really matters to you in your life and your physical therapy career.

  • Do you like the consistency of a rigid schedule?
  • Do you feel trapped by working with the same patients over and over?
  • Does the thought of switching jobs every three months horrify you...or does it make you salivate with excitement?
  • Do you work to live or live to work?

All of these questions will relate to your values big picture. Some values you might find include:

  • Family
  • Personal connections
  • Recognition
  • Salary
  • Serving the community

2. Consider your big picture

It’s usually not just you searching for a job.

Maybe it is, but your big picture might also involve a significant other, pet, child (or children), aging parents, or a history of mental or physical illness.

You’re more than a static picture of a physical therapist, and what works for your classmate might not work for you.

3. Take a few personality tests

Totah encourages that you return to the basics. Take a few personality tests, which will highlight aspects of your personality.

For example, if you crave recognition, maybe you shouldn't be in an acute care role only working weekends, even though you might make higher pay. Or if you crave variety, you might not be happy in an occupational medicine clinic, working with similar diagnoses day in, day out.

I’m a big fan of the Enneagram and the Myers-Briggs, myself.

This made me completely re-evaluate whether a full-time job as a treating therapist would ever be a good move for me. In fact, I credit these tests with helping me make peace with the fact that I was born to be a registry/per diem physical therapist.

Without that realization, and the recognition that I need flexibility to pursue my own projects, NewGradPhysicalTherapy would not be the site that it is today, because I never would have honored my personality type’s desire to work on projects like NGPT.

Once you are armed with plenty of information from this phase, you can start to research companies, hospitals, and clinics whose mission statements reflect your own values.

Does your dream hospital value therapist retention and professional advancement?

4. Stay excited about your physical therapy career

The above considered, I will give you one piece of advice that I do think is important as a new grad: If you want to stay excited about your career as a PT, try to pick a job where you won’t be surrounded by burned-out physical therapists.

Sure, larger clinics might have one or two negative therapists, but the overall vibe should be positive and excited about the profession.

Negativity tends to spread, and you’re too young in your career to only focus on the negatives.

5. Find a mentor

Even if you opt to become a traveling physical therapist or work in registry physical therapy, where you will be around different groups of people every few days, weeks, or months (and thus cannot predict whether they’ll be upbeat or negative), you’ll want to connect with a mentor who works with you consistently during your first year or two of school.

For this reason, you don't need to stop at a single mentor.

The more unique your career path, the more difficult it will be to find someone who encompasses your treatment philosophies, life philosophies, motivations, etc. Don't be afraid to find a clinical mentor and a professional mentor.

Looking within the growing number of passionate “physical therapy influencers” is a great place to start; forming the right relationship is key to staying excited about the field.

Your mentor’s own path might not mirror what your own will be, but he or she will still be an excellent resource to help you keep from becoming one of the burned-out PT masses.

I feel compelled to make a note about physical therapy burnout, though.

Ultimately, what will cause you to thrive as a physical therapist … or what will cause you to crash and burn will depend on you.

Some people crave a busy schedule, while others like to have more control over their days. Some folks want high pay to offset student loans, some want flexibility, some want a certain patient load.

What you want to do is gain insight as to what YOU want as a job seeker.

Before you get started, do a values assessment. Research as much as possible about how various physical therapy settings reflect your values. Understand how your personality works and whether a traditional boss-employee model will work for you or not.

So you ask me what to look for in a physical therapy job as a new grad? Look for a job that reflects what matters to you!

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