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Old School or New School - What Clinic Owners Want in PTs

by Evan Ameluxen-Coleman, PT, DPT

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with two clinic owners, the father-son combination of Steve and Erick Harada.  Steve Harada founded Harada Physical Therapy in Oak Harbor, Washington in 2003. Steve is a licensed physical therapist and acupuncturist and has been practicing physical therapy since before many of us have been alive (he received his certificate in PT!).

His son, Erick, received his DPT at University of Miami in 2009. He now runs the practice and has since expanded and opened an office in Coupeville, Washington, just down the road, in 2014.

Given the different generation mindset and experiences these two have had, I was curious to see their differences in their approaches to interviewing potential PT candidates and what they look for.

Steve, what do "old school" clinic owners look for during interviews?

  1. Attitude. The PT has to be upbeat, positive, and have a strong presence, without having an annoying voice. It sounds harsh, but if you can’t stand someone’s voice, or can’t understand them, you probably won’t take them seriously as a PT, and it makes developing relationships very difficult.
  2. Body language. Being able to communicate is extremely important. If what your body is suggesting doesn’t line up with the words that come out of your mouth, communication can be impaired, at the least. Body language can be the difference between a patient buying in and a patient not believing a word you say.
  3. Dress. Obviously, dressing as a professional is important, and it's especially vital among the older generation that you will be treating. Yes, many of these older patients come from a time where being well-dressed conveyed professionalism. But generational differences aside, sloppiness always conveys incompetence. Dressing well can be important to simply avoid a sense of unprofessionalism whenever possible.
  4. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses. This is a pretty common interview question for all professions. It is, however, pretty good at weeding out PTs who have either little self-awareness or who haven’t prepared well for their interview. You can infer a lot from someone who hasn’t prepared for an interview. You can infer a lot more from someone who has no self-awareness.
  5. Energy. To be an effective PT, you need to have the energy to inspire your patients and complete your documentation in a timely manner. Just because you have to deal with the occasional emotional vampire doesn’t mean you should become one.
  6. Communication skills. Again, body language, voice, and presence is important. But so are the small things, like grammar, speaking clearly, and even computer skills. As an older PT, I don’t really have computer skills, but I want my employees to have them so I can call on them if needed.
  7. A good answer for the interview question, “Why should I hire you?” I want to know what sets you apart from the other PTs I’ve interviewed. There are a lot of PTs out there with the same license but how you use it is what matters. Which leads me to the final point.
  8. A good answer for the question, "How do you treat?" What skills do you have? Do you always treat one way? I believe that you need a variety of skills to pull from, as well as willingness to be flexible in your treatment. If there is a treatment that gets a bad rap but works, it’s still worth doing if the patient believes in it. Trying to convince them otherwise can lead to poor outcomes.

Erick, what do “new school” clinic owners look for in potential candidates?

  1. Interpersonal skills. So, over the course of the interview, you look at how the person interacts with you. Are they confident, somewhat interesting, and eager to give a friendly smile? So you kind of form an opinion of whether you like them as a person before you decide you like them as a PT. You also address communication skills. For example, can the interviewee hold eye contact and keep a conversation going? You'll also look at what candidates' non-verbal body is positioning says. Are they mirroring? Are they crossing their arms and pointing their knees away from you? Just interacting with someone during an interview can tell you plenty about how they will treat their patients. It can also tell you a lot about how they form (or don’t form) relationships with patients.
  2. Empathy. Is this PT someone who is not just looking to turn and burn a patient for the cash? Do they truly listen to the patient in front of them and adjust accordingly? Or do they treat everyone in the same cookie-cutter fashion? Are they willing and able to form a strong relationship with their patient(s)? My dad wanted to model his clinic after the TV show Cheers, so everyone should be greeted by name and relationships should form quickly. It’s how you get people to come back when they have pain. I look to continue this culture.
  3. Open-minded and eager to learn. To be honest, someone stuck in their ways will probably not be hired. I am looking for someone who is willing to learn new skills, be flexible, and be able to adjust when the schedule changes.
  4. Ambition and drive. A good PT may want to be a leader or worker; regardless of whether a candidate leads or works, you'll want them to aspire to be the best at what they do. Ambition tells me that a PT won't be complacent (just clocking in and out), and will roll with the punches with a good attitude.
  5. Treatment style. I look for someone who doesn't have a specific treatment style. So, someone who is able to use a lot of techniques or approaches that can get the patient better. The patient load we have requires being able to modify treatments based on what the patient needs. They should have a plethora of skill sets to pull from in order to get the best results.
  6. Community involvement or connection with community. We are a small company that has been here a long time. Getting involved in the community is important and I am looking for someone that wants to give back, either through volunteering or sponsorships. Just showing up outside of normal PT hours is huge. Several of our PTs and PTAs provide sideline care at high school sports events, go to nursing homes to do fall prevention classes, or volunteer at local races for marketing purposes.

To summarize, both "old school" and "new school" PT clinic owners look for open-minded practitioners who have strong soft skills and are willing to put in extra work when necessary. Having some respect for the nuances between this generation and previous generations can also be beneficial when working with “old school” patients and PTs.

In reality, there are more similarities than differences between old school and new school physical therapists. Yes, evidence-based practice has evolved and continues to influence our knowledge of practice, but the qualities of good therapists has not. Forming relationships and demonstrating presence and patient-centered care continue to be some of the most important qualities a PT can possess.


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