Congratulations, you made it through the hard part— school, licensing, job; check, check, and check. You’re in this field because you understand the importance of preparation and you have a passion for helping others, but now you’re ready to excel in clinical practice. It’s important to seek wise counsel when mapping out a strategy to thrive in your new career, whether that be through the help of a mentor or through networking with physical therapists who have literally been there, done that.  With over 20 years of experience in physical therapy, Dr. Phil Page is definitely one of those people. Check out his expert tips for establishing success early on in your career.

1. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself.

You’re still a novice, and just like wine, you’ll only get better with time. It is not expected that you know everything right away. Keep yourself open to learning new lessons. Stay observant and really invest in the knowledge of each experience and from those around you.

“When I was entering physical therapy school, I thought I knew everything,” said Dr. Page. “When I got out of school, I realized I didn’t know everything; and when I started practicing, I realized I didn’t really know anything at all! Your skills will grow with your experience; you can’t (and wont) learn everything in school!”

And don’t panic– you are not the only one who feels lost when beginning their professional career.  Every physical therapist goes through a similar experience.  Even the experts.

2. Start with the Basics.

Trust the foundation of knowledge you have. Focus on mastering the examination process and clinical decision making first. These are your priorities for quality and effective care. Your skills will improve as you treat a variety of patients; experience is your best teacher. Advanced techniques will develop in time as your experience grows.

“Master clinicians have tremendous clinical decision making skills,” said Dr. Page. “It’s hard to learn that from a book: it takes time and experience. While your foundation of knowledge in ‘evidence-based practice’ is important, remember that there isn’t always ‘evidence’ for everything you do; in fact, we wouldn’t be doing much if we really held up many of our interventions to true scientific inquiry.

3. Find a Mentor.

Observing and learning from more experienced therapists is non-negotiable! Make sure to also have a trusted resource to turn to whenever you have questions about diagnoses, treatments or professional concerns. Actively seek out clinicians willing to spend time passing their knowledge on to you.

“I’ve been blessed to have some really great mentors along the way,” said Dr. Page. “While some taught me about how to evaluate and treat patients, the most valuable mentors I found were those that taught me how to work with people, not just “patients.” I still stay in touch with them regularly.”

4. Immerse Yourself in the Field.

If you really want to get ahead, you need to put in the extra hours— literally. This is an investment beyond 8am-5pm. Seek out additional opportunities that provide experience in your field of interest, then look for more. Pay your dues early to maximize the benefits.

Stay current on the most recent research, too. New discoveries frequently arise in healthcare and it’s your responsibility to stay up to date. Become familiar with science journals relevant to your field and register for continuing education courses, beyond those already required. Just do a little bit more than you have to, especially in the beginning.

“The only way to stay current is to know the literature,” said Dr. Page. “However, it’s very challenging with the information overload we experience today.” Don’t rely solely on CEU courses. Use shortcuts like journal clubs or even follow clinical researchers on Twitter to keep up with the literature!”

5. Network, Network, Network.

A well-developed network is invaluable. It serves you, as the therapist, but more importantly, it makes an insurmountable impact for your future patients. Join the APTA and pay a little extra for the specialty journals in your field of interest.  Attend events like CSM. Shake hands. Start conversations. Engage with other healthcare professionals and begin to foster the connections in your network. You never know who you will need to pull from your back-pocket, or who will need you, for a consultation or concurrent care.

“Early in my career, I started finding the ‘key opinion leaders’ in the field and simply went up to them and introduced myself, forging a long-lasting relationship today,” said Dr. Page. “But don’t forget to open your network outside of your specialty or even outside of physical therapy. There’s a lot to be learned and shared out there!”

Free Resources to Get You Started

Ready to jump right in, but not sure where to start? Don’t worry— we’ve got you covered.  Here is a list of free resources to add to your personal database. Bookmark them, become familiar with them, apply them and be sure to return to re-read all of the updates.  

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’re not going to be the therapist you’ve always dreamed of being overnight, or even over a year. Keep your sights on your true priority.  Help your patient and develop your practice from there. Perfect your basics, put in the work, continue to learn, find a trusted mentor and build a supportive network— these are the keys to a successful, rewarding career.

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