Open letter from an “experienced therapist” to new grads (and anyone else who will listen :)).

I am approaching my 32nd year of practice as a physical therapist. Over the years, many things have changed, but some things will never change. So far, these have been my top lessons

  1. There is no end to learning. I tell my students all the time one you think you know it all you have stopped learning. If you see a patient with a certain diagnosis this year and then see them again a year later and you are doing exactly the same thing you havent grown. I earned by doctorate in my 30th year of treating and plan on continuing to learn and grow.
  2. Pick one system (Maitland, McKenzie etc) and learn the basics of the system well. It will give you a great base from which to work and allow you to grow and learn new techniques. But….once you have a base system don’t be afraid to add to your tool box. All patients do not fit into all systems, they didn’t all read the book and may require a different approach. . Be open to other ways of thinking. Residency training is a great way to accelerate the learning curve. I waited 10 years to joint a residency program and wished I did it as soon as i graduated.
  3. Make sure you find a mentor you can trust. I have made a concerted effort to find mentors over the years. Seek guidance and assistance from others if you need it (and we all need it).I reach out to my peers all the time for guidance.
  4. Teach and start early. It took me too long to teach because I felt I didn’t know enough or that what I had to offer wasn’t special. I have come to realize that the more I teach the more I learn. If you can explain it you understand. Some of the best teachers I have met take a complicated subject and make it seem easy, that is a sign of a great teacher.
  5. Treat your patients as if they are family (family that you like::) Go above and beyond your patients expectations. This can range from a quick text to see how they are doing to becoming a patient advocate. Despite the fact that you will not be able to cure every patient, you can make a difference in their lives and find them the additional assistance they need.
  6. Embrace change. Change is inevitable, the key is how we reposed to change. I continue to change as I gain more experience and that has allowed me to stay relevant and helped me continue to grow as a therapist.