“Hi, my name is Sarah and I’ll be your physical therapist today” is the phrase I am still not used to saying yet. I have been practicing as a PT in the inpatient rehab setting at Charleston Area Medical Center’s Medical Rehabilitation Unit for just over 2 months now. Although I feel like my academic education and clinical rotations prepared me well, I quickly realized I still have so much to learn. In the paragraphs below, I will share with you what translated easily into clinic practice and what proved more challenging in hopes of providing valuable advice for students and fellow new graduates.
After graduation, my knowledge base was strong but my clinical application still needed quite a bit of work! Things like performing an evaluation and developing simple treatment sessions were easy; however, things such as working specialized equipment or machines, deciding on and ordering equipment for patients, performing dressing changes of residual limbs, dealing with insurance issues, or developing pool therapy sessions were more challenging for me as a new graduate. As an inpatient rehab PT, my neuro and musculoskeletal classes helped prepare me the most and I still refer back to books or old notes. My advice to students on this is to keep your notes and buy the main books, especially those in your planned field. I also recommend students not just memorize for tests, but truly understand concepts to better apply them in the clinic. However, when you cannot find an answer in the book, you must rely on the people around you. For example, during my first week I had to ask our PT tech “How much air do you put in a Roho cushion?” and a fellow PT, “How do you work a free step harness?” In PT school, they don’t make you practice pool transfers when you and the patient are in a bathing suit and sopping wet. No matter how much education we have been given, we are not prepared for everything the job will throw at us, which leads me into my second point in the importance of finding a great workplace.
My advice for students or new graduates pertaining to career would be to research your prospective workplace, request clear expectations, and most importantly, surround yourself with great mentors. If possible, try to visit and shadow a few days before accepting a position. Make sure the company’s goals and ethics line up with yours. If possible, try to land one of your clinical rotations at your workplace(s) of interest. Next, before accepting any job, ask the company questions such as what their productivity standards are and what will be expected of you as a new graduate. Most importantly, surround yourself with amazing mentors because there is a lot you still won’t know. During the past 2 months, I have had to ask for help and advice numerous times from co-workers. Surround yourself with coworkers who love physical therapy and people because they will be more than willing to help you learn. In addition, working with individuals who genuinely care about the patients and have a positive outlook on life will also help to motivate you to be the best PT possible. Lastly, never stop learning and always be open new ideas in the clinic.
All in all, trust your knowledge and those around you to carry you through until you are an “experienced PT.” I have had numerous patients ask me, “How long have you worked here?” I always want to avoid answering this question because I am afraid my lack of experience will change their confidence in me; however, every time my patients are shocked yet amazed and impressed that I’ve only been a PT for a few weeks. They say things like “I thought you had been here years, how did you learn all this?” And my response is always “7 long years of school plus all these wonderful people you see around us.” If you work hard in PT school, truly learn the concepts, and place yourself in the right environment, you will most definitely be a successful and effective PT!