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How To Choose The Right Job When You're a New Grad PT

by Kaylee Simmerman, PT, DPT


When I graduated from physical therapy school I was feeling like a hot shot. Come on, I was a DOCTOR of physical therapy and I was looking for a job that would pay me well and treat me like one. How do you know how to choose the right job fresh out of PT school? I was unsure, overwhelmed, and ended up choosing the wrong one and stayed for 2 years.

Following graduation, you start to apply with your fresh new resume which now says DR. at the top, but how do you truly know that THIS is the right job? How do you know you are going to be happy HERE? How do you know your goals will be met?

I was there, felt that feeling, and I was frightened, but excited to actually make REAL money and to change the lives of my patients! I did not ask the right questions before taking my first job. I did not observe for a day at the clinic. I did not get to know the staff.

I had a connection from a professor. If the place was recommended by a professor then it surely was the best fit for anyone, right?! Well.. I was offered the job on the first interview and I took it without observing for a full day.

I took the job in another clinic before even meeting the staff. I took it without asking questions. It seemed...all right. I was just so excited to change lives and such that I was just going for it.

Let me tell you why I wish I observed for a day. If I had observed for a day, I would have seen sooner that my personality was not the right fit for this position and for this exact location. I would have noted that this position was not in line with my goals and would not get me to business ownership status as I was wanting.

I would have noted that in 6 months from the start date I would be experiencing the signs and symptoms of “burnout.” I would have been more accepting of who I am and allowed myself to search more for a position that was right for me. I would have known. But I did not do that.

Let’s make something clear: I learned A LOT during my near 2 years. More than I would initially would have admitted. I learned more about myself and my career goals than I would have without this first placement.

I figured out what exactly my goals were and what I wanted out of my career and my life. I learned that I wanted to learn more. I learned that I was excited about my field and I had a lot of interests.

I learned that I was a great clinician and had very strong communication skills. I learned how much control I was able to tolerate from overhead. I realized I had an entrepreneur mindset and I wanted to market and be a business owner. I learned that I was just not made for where I was. Most importantly, I learned that is okay.

I did not set myself up for success or make sure everyone was on the same page. I did not ask questions. I did not reflect.

These are the questions I WISH I would have asked BEFORE saying yes to the job:

  1. Mentorship. What kind do you offer, why, and what will I get out of it?
  2. Value: How will I be valued? What will you do to assist me in growing and improving myself for our profession?
  3. Environment: What do you do to allow a positive working environment that is comfortable and a good fit for all of your employees?
  4. Learning: Will i learn, what will i learn, do you pay for CEU’s, etc
  5. Systems: What systems do you have in place? How many patients per hour, week, month am I expected to see? Do you offer anything after traditional physical therapy? What does the clinic offer the patient to completely fulfill their goal?
  6. Money: What is the bonus structure? Why? How can I be placed in a position for a raise? Do you base them on quality and satisfaction or solely the numbers?

I did not spend time on figuring out what my goals were. I came out of school and just wanted to work. I assumed, at that time, there was no option other than working for someone else.

I did not know at that time anything I wanted was possible, I just had to do it. I wish I spent more time on mentorship and focused on where I TRULY wanted to be. However, without getting the answers to those questions and without doing the reflections, I learned what I learned. I finally know what my goals are and what I want from my career!

Since I failed to ask the questions, I began to get feelings similar to what is described as, “burnout.” I understood at that point that I chose the wrong job right out of PT school. I came to the conclusion that I was not happy.

I was burning out. I was only almost 2 years into my career and here I was...where no DPT wants to be. Insomnia, sick all the time, difficulty getting out of bed, watching the clock and counting the hours until the end of the day.

I’ve now spent countless amounts of hours on studying and learning what NOT to do when taking that first job so I can help new grads make better choices and pay closer attention to their goals. Because honestly, I did not pay attention to any of the tips I am about to share with you. The unfortunate part is, if I would have stayed it would have broken me. Your first job matters, the choice matters.

So, without further ado, here are the tips I would like to share with you. Take them with a grain of salt because every situation is different and every person is different. I recommend sitting down to read this with a pen and paper. Reflect as you go. It is simply a starting point to get you going on the right track and on to your dreams.

Make sure it is a right fit for BOTH of you. Yes, both. That’s your employer too.

You have to form a relationship with your employer. You need to have several email conversations, phone calls, meetups, whatever it is to really see what kind of person they are. You want to make sure they will fit well with your personality.

Make sure you do not butt heads this early in the game. Make sure you will not find yourself wanting to scream at them for telling you what to do. Find out what their morals/values are when it comes to the practice BEFORE taking the job.

With this being said, BE YOURSELF. There is nothing worse than faking it and then trying to be someone else in a situation that does not suit you in the first place.

Be sure the questions I’ve written out above are answered. Be sure you are going to receive exactly what you need. Make sure you will be able to bring value to this setting and be appreciated for it.

Know YOUR goals.

What are your goals? Have you spent any time writing out what you want your career to be in 6 months? 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

If not, you are doing yourself a disservice. Grab a pen and paper and do it. Write it out. Be honest. Do you want to pay off debt? Do you want your own business?

It’s all possible. Your goals should be what makes you happy. What you can do everyday for the rest of your life, no problem.

I recommend answering these questions during goal writing:

  • Do I want to work for someone?
  • Do I want to follow demands of another company?
  • What patient population gets me up in the morning? Who do I LOVE to work with?

Make sure you are spending time on your mindset when working out the decision.

What does your employer want from you? What do they expect? Are they open and honest? Does it feel like a positive experience?

You hear it all the time, go with your gut. It’s true. You really need to see if you feel positive or negative when experiencing, thinking of, or being in the future workplace.

Find out if this “employer” is making you feel uncomfortable or like you need to be someone you aren’t. How do they run the clinic, money or patient first? This is SO important.

Know what their environment is like.

This is huge. You are going to be spending 40 hours or so at this place and should make sure you get along with how it is ran, how it runs, and even how you get along with others in the clinic/area. If you notice drama or things happening you are not fond of, move on it will only get worse.

That’s why it is so important to spend at least a day before taking the job. How does the staff treat each other? Do they talk about the patients negatively? Or is it comfortable, free, and positive? Do you want music while in the clinic? Do they play music? What systems or processes do they use? Do you agree with them? Is it fun? Is it boring? Is it slow? How many patients at a time?

Make sure all of your questions are answered.

Make sure you ask all of your questions before getting hired. It says a lot when a future employer sits with you and answers your questions. Make sure you ask about the money, progression, improvement, value, etc.

Make sure there is nothing keeping you up at night. It should be available for you to ask all of your questions with good answers. So, don’t leave them unanswered.

You don’t tell yourself, “I can always leave if I need or want to. “

Chances are, if you are saying that walking out of the place it is not right for you. You must be cautious of this because we so often just think we can get out of things. You can, but if you already feel that way, stop wasting your time. Life is short, be sure you make good decisions in order to make your life worth it!

Hopefully this takes out some of the stress and fear of finding that right job. Truth is, you probably won’t the first time around. If you do, you are lucky.

Most of us take what we initially think is “the one”, learn from it and move on. Also, don’t be afraid of making the mistake. Most of the time our mistakes put us on the path of our destiny, which is where I am now.

Your choice does matter and can affect your mindset, progression into your future, and your goals. Utilize these tips and be on top of things when you apply. Be sure you REALLY and TRULY want it. The unfortunate thing is if you allow it, your first job can break you. Find one that makes you into the clinician you want to be!

Let’s learn to be adequate decision makers, ask questions like a doctor should, and be confident that we are making the right job choice by using the resources available to us!

Good luck and happy job hunting!

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