Some people get lucky and have it - that perfect clinical rotation where they are working in your dream setting, with their dream patient population. Whether it's with athletes, PT school.
When I realized what I wanted to do and could just FEEL how right the setting was for me, I had to ask myself a tough question: should I take a cushy job - that safe "generalist" job with high pay and perks galore - out of PT school, knowing that I wouldn't want to be there long-term, and would be working toward another goal?
Many new graduates are under the impression they need to take any general outpatient orthopedics or acute care job just to gain experience and become more well-rounded. In fact, many physical therapy professors strongly encourage students to pursue these "generalist" PT jobs to help them figure out their next career steps.
Should we carve a niche right out of PT school?
As new graduates, should we carve out a true niche initially? Maybe not. But should we strive to find a job with the patient population that we want to work with in the future? Absolutely. I feel this way because the patients who simply thrill and inspire you will do the same for your feelings toward your profession.
For me, I love the biomechanics of the baseball athlete and the injuries associated with it (unfortunately, the athletes may disagree with me on the last point), and know this is the type of athlete with whom I want to work.
I took it upon myself to reach out to physical therapists around the league and ask them for their advice and how they got into the sport.
To my surprise, every single therapist or athletic trainer I contacted replied and gave me great advice. They all said nothing beats experience, but it is important to reach out to local teams and volunteer your time.
You may or may not need to take that generalist job out of school, but if you do, consider it a stepping stone and a learning experience.
It may not be directly in person, but following content they produce or signing up for any of their talks will help you make those contacts.
It’s your dream, and only you can make it happen. Remember, when it comes to taking a job, there is never a right or wrong, because you can learn something wherever you end up.
If you have a few options, run a pros and cons list of each job. Consider the following points for your pros/cons list:
- Patient population
- How it will affect your passion for PT
- Quality of life
That last point is often ignored. Can you live frugally for a few more years, in order to take a job with a less-than-ideal salary? Are you willing to move to a city you don’t like? There may be sacrifices when taking a job in sports, and only you can decide if it is worth it.
Frankly, this decision is something I struggled with for weeks and weeks after I graduated from PT school.
- Do I take a job in a less than ideal location, less salary, but better mentorship and baseball opportunities?
- Or do I take the cushier job in a state that I fell in love with (shout out to Minnesota!), where I would be known as the lead throwing therapist?
I ultimately chose the first job, but it was hard to walk away from that cushy job in Minnesota.
One of the biggest take aways I hope you get from this article is, what makes YOU happy? What makes you excited to go to work everyday? That will make your decision become a lot more clear, and it certainly has made mine.
For some people, a cushy job with high pay in a great area will check all their boxes. But for others, like me, it's worth holding out for a job that is just a tiny bit closer to the dream.
I think it’s tough for new grad PTs to make these choices; we put so much pressure on ourselves that we think it is game over if that first job isn’t the “perfect” job. But there's no such thing as perfect. There's only a job that gets you closer to where you want to be. And you might not know where that is, so a generalist job might be best for you. But for me, I needed to take a chance at what I KNOW I want to do with my life.
There are always going to be plusses and minuses of every place you go, but it’s important for you to make the most of wherever you are.
What if it doesn’t work out?
That's ok. Pack up and move to your next opportunity. Now you have a year or two under your belt, and are more marketable as a therapist. Remember, it is never too late to pursue your dream. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do right now at this very moment – be patient, you will.