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How New Grad PTs Can Gain Experience in Home Health

by Stephanie Miller, PT


I’m very passionate about home health, which is why I’m inspired to encourage students and new grads to gain exposure in this field. Even if you’re not sure what PT setting you’re leaning toward, I believe home health can provide a student or new graduate with experiences that can positively impact many other aspects of your professional career. On the flip side, I also feel home health can benefit from the wealth of fresh ideas and excitement students and new grads can bring.

In my last article about what new grads can learn from home health, I was aiming to pique your interest in this field. In this one, my goal is to provide you with information on how to gain experience in and/or prepare for a job in home health. I’ll cover methods of gaining hands-on exposure, ways to research the field, and how your school can get involved and branch out into home health if it hasn’t already. Finally, I’ll present some skills that I feel are necessary to prepare anyone, especially new grads with limited experience, for working in home health, as well as resources to assist with developing those skills.

How to Gain Experience in Home Health

There are many ways you can get actual experience in home health on your own.

  • Ask local agencies if you can shadow a PT and other members of the interdisciplinary team
  • If you have an SNF rotation where home visits are made to assess readiness for discharge, inquire about going along to observe
  • If you work in or have a rotation in an outpatient setting that also offers home visits, inquire about observing some
  • There are many PRN opportunities offered in-home health. Your primary job could be in another setting and you could work in home health PRN, making only a few visits a month to gain experience more gradually
  • Consider a job working as a home health aide

I worked in homes where the patient’s personal home health aide was a PT student. I thought that was a brilliant way to get hands-on experience working with clients in their environment. You can gain experience in using proper body mechanics and performing various transfers in a non-simulated setting. And there’s a chance you may be able to observe the whole home health care team if the patient requires those services. It would also be a great experience to have on your resume if you’re considering a job in home health.

If you’re interested in home health, but don’t feel ready to jump into a hands-on experience, another option is simply researching it. The Home Health Section website offers a lot of great resources to the public and even more if you become a member, like The Quarterly Report. Student and new grad input on the information presented and relevance of site content is always welcome.

Another option is researching HH job postings. It’s a great way to find out what qualities and skills companies are looking for and can give you direction on which skills to work on refining.

How Your School Can Get Involved

You can also prepare for a career in home health through opportunities at your school. I don’t recall more than 5 home health affiliation opportunities when I was a student. There may have been more, but I knew so little about the field that I didn’t give it a second thought. If your school offers them, I’d strongly recommend one if you’re considering home health. If your school doesn’t have them or has so few that there are limited opportunities for the number of students interested, then I’d suggest advocating for more home health opportunities.

I don’t like to make a request from someone without proposing some potential solutions. So, if you’re considering asking your professors (whether you’re a student or alumni) to provide more home health educational opportunities, some ideas are to ask them to:

  • Invite speakers who can not only provide education on the nuances of home health but also simulate scenarios unique to the home setting
  • Develop affiliation relationships with home health agencies
  • Coordinate shadowing opportunities with local agencies
  • Create a list of home health physical therapy mentors that students or new grads can connect with

Skills to Prepare You for a Job in Home Health

As it’s been over 15 years since I attended PT school, I’m not completely versed in the current curriculum. But what I can say is that there are a few areas that I definitely didn’t recognize the significance of until I started to actually practice on my own. Critical thinking, creativity, communication, leadership, time management, and soft skills were skills I needed to really work on in my early years as a PT. I believe these skills should be routinely incorporated in classroom learning and/or are topics students and new grads should seek out more education on.

Critical thinking was most necessary for me as a new home health PT. Although important in all fields, due to the nature of being one on one with patients and having no team members on-site with you, you must have well-developed analytical skills to be able to navigate various situations unique to this environment.

Thinking outside of the box was also a skill I found to be essential. There’s typically no access to an equipment-filled gym, so you’re often working with limited resources and must learn to be creative with what you have. I found this “creativity challenge” to be highly embraced by seasoned home health therapists, so they (PT, OT, and SLPs) are a great resource to tap into to jump-start your home health bag of tricks!

Leadership is also very important. This includes soft skills, how to influence people, and how to be a good communicator. When patients come into your clinic, they’re on your turf. In-home health, you’re on theirs. A huge part of the job is being able to gain their trust and attention so you’re both able to achieve your goals.

These topics traditionally resonate in the business or psychology realms but are so relevant to physical therapists, and not just those in management roles. Behavioral change is often a major goal of the home health PT and having well-developed skill sets in these areas can prove to be very beneficial in assisting a patient to achieve his/her goals.

Leadership and Soft Skill Resources

Some books that have influenced me along my journey include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Man’s Search for Meaning, and Verbal Judo. I’ve also found Harvard Business Review books and online resources beneficial. I’m always looking for new courses and good reads, so as you start venturing out, I’d love to hear what you find inspiring!

Although the business and psychology worlds put out some great information, we can’t discount the therapy world. There are more and more resources being developed within the PT realm as the need for education in these areas is becoming more recognized, respected, and appreciated in the healthcare industry.

There are many organizations and programs out there, but I wanted to include ones I’m most familiar with and who have educators on their teams that I currently work with or have had positive experiences working with in the past.

I hope this article has provided you with some new ideas on not only how to gain experience in and/or prepare for a job in home health, but also to think more broadly about the tools necessary to be a successful home health PT.

In closing:

If you’re not interested in home health, I hope you:

  • still consider getting some sort of exposure to home health, through research or experience. My personal opinion is that it will help you discover some of your own biases so you can be sure to view your patients from a broader lens.
  • research whatever field you plan to pursue and consider supporting your local/national organizations. They provide a lot of educational resources, keep you up on the current regulations that affect the PT field, provide job listings, and are great sources for networking opportunities.
  • continue to look for opportunities to develop leadership, communication, time management, and soft skills. I feel these skills will be beneficial in any field you decide to go into.

If you are interested in home health, I hope you:

  • discovered some ways of gaining more knowledge/experience in this field
  • gained insight on some non-traditional PT skills that you may pursue further education in
  • look forward to reading my next article on some aspects to consider when interviewing a potential employer to see if they’re a good fit for hiring a new grad

As healthcare continues to evolve and more people choose to age in place, opportunities in home health will likely grow. And as the demand for quality home health clinicians increases, we need to make sure we have the well-trained talent to supply that need. Thank you for your dedication to this profession. I look forward to seeing how the future of home health will benefit from your hard work!

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