Reflecting on a Year Never to be Forgotten
In a year where healthcare workers were called to serve our country, as a group, we stepped up to the plate. We may have started the year with the car in cruise control, living life without any inclination of hitting the emergency brake at some point in our ride to come to a complete halt. Nicely paved highways soon became dirt roads that even the Waze app couldn’t deter us from. We soon had to acknowledge the reality of this bumpy ride being the only route available for a while. Our path sometimes felt like we were driving in the dark with no streetlights and periodically feeling the sudden jolt of potholes that reminded us we could not get too comfortable as we continued to push onward with no end in sight.
“We need to remember that circumstances don’t make a person, they reveal a person.”
In a time when many relationships were confronted with the challenges of a global pandemic and a divided society, we were forced to take a stance. Sadly, in many cases, this led to a line being drawn in the sandamongst those who were once considered esteemed colleagues, friends and in some instances even family. We learned it’s okay to not be okay, but also the importance of educating ourselves about what goes on both in and outside of our own bubble. However, education without action is just entertainment.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Not all was bad this year. We still found ways to celebrate those who found themselves graduating in the center of chaos. Their accomplishments should not be diminished in any way. With “5 Things Every DPT New Grad Should Know,” we tried our best to provide insight to our new PT grads so they can hopefully avoid some of our early career mistakes. We reminded them not to conform to toxic environments and to spend more time chasing experiences, not letters. We shined the spotlight on well deserving physical therapists who have gone above and beyond to leave their footprint on our profession. In my eyes, being the loudest voice or the face that’s always seen doesn’t necessarily designate you as a leader.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
Follow me as we revisit the mental state we started the year with; it is here we are reminded to become your patients’ 1. Favorite Teacher and 2. Never Forget Your Purpose. As you’re yearning to feel like yourself again, I’d say it is normal to feel thrown off by all of the debris Hurricane 2020 has hurled at us.
“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge anything.”
Like any hurricane, some of us will be more affected than others. Moving forward, as we prepare to board our flight into 2021, let us do a bit of a self-assessment. Create your own security checkpoint. Make sure your pockets are emptied of any items that may be harmful to you in the upcoming year. Take the time to re-establish your “why” and begin your journey to become grounded again if you have not already. For myself, I’ll never forget the impact of my 10-year-old mentor who unknowingly taught me what it means to earnestly fight for your patients. You’ll have to find what fuels your flame. This propellant will be unique to you. Hold it tightly! It is precious cargo that should never be left to be mishandled at baggage claim.
PROTECT YOUR PEACE!
It sometimes takes being pushed to your wit’s ends to actually appreciate what peace means to you. It goes beyond the two fingers we use as a friendly greeting or the notion of being free from mayhem. Your peace is what conserves your sanity and keeps you grounded. It is unique to you and must be protected at all costs. Fundamentally, this is done by instituting balance and priority in your day to day routine. If you’re reading this, it is very likely you aspire to be great at what you do and put forth the effort to be a better version of yourself. As healthcare professionals, we are continuously faced with successes and failures. These can emerge in the form of getting our patients healthier, passing or failing board exams and even attempting to compare ourselves to our peers who may be further along than us in knowledge and skills. We must keep in mind,
“it’s not about what happens to us, it’s how we respond to it.”
We often get a feeling of euphoria when our patients praise us for the positive impact we’ve had on their lives. These compliments make us feel substantiated and keep us uplifted to do what we do as clinicians. However, what happens when our patients are not getting better and the burden of them losing trust in us starts to outweigh the euphoria? Add non-clinical struggles such as finances, personal relationships and a pandemic in the mix and you might as well just hop in the front row of this emotional roller-coaster. No matter your superhuman strengths, we all are susceptible to losing our cool and finding ourselves drifting from the railroad tracks that have led us to success and happiness.
“You must check in with yourself to assess your needs and fill your own tank before you try pouring into others.”
Life is not normal right now. The routines you may have used in the past to help re-calibrate and balance your life probably have been taken from you in one way or another. Before we can be essential to others, we have to be essential to ourselves. What are you doing to fill your tank? How often are you checking your fuel gauge to see if you’re running on ‘E’? Don’t wait to get stuck in the middle of traffic to call for help when you can see the breakdown miles in advance.
Protecting your peace can be everything you make it. It should always be in your zone of awareness even when things are going well. If your goal is really to help others, we have to make sure we aren’t lending a helping hand from an arm that is weak and tired from its own struggles. As healthcare professionals, we have the access and knowledge to seek appropriate resources for ourselves. Don’t underestimate the bravery it takes to ask for help. Stay grounded with what keeps you happy, practice gratitude daily and learn to celebrate others by being genuinely ecstatic for their successes even in the midst of your personal disappointments. You’re the driver of this train, don’t let a few stops along the way derail you. Use the help of signs and symptoms to help navigate your way back on track and keep charging forward.
Your Favorite PT: Using History to Understand His Story
It’s okay to NOT be okay.
In all honesty, recent events have been heavy. As a clinician, I’ve struggled with maintaining my composure as the world around me seemingly crumbled. There are feelings of anger and hurt from a multitude of situations that were blatantly unjust. A healthcare worker like myself sleeping at home and brutally murdered? An innocent man with a knee to his neck killed over $20? Watching helplessly, I witnessed a horrific 9-minute video that left me numb. As uncomfortable as it makes me by saying it, I am all too familiar with these type of wrongdoings against people that look like me. However, this time was different. The entire world was watching.
I drew a line in the sand.
After hearing responses to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd from my peers and different media platforms, I realized I needed to know where the people in my life stood. In my eyes, you either viewed these killings as being right or wrong. Any attempt at justifying these deaths, in my eyes, was unacceptable. After finding myself in hour long discussions and debates about racial injustices, I was forced to face a reality I had often rationalized in my own way. I was faced with numbers and statistics that outlined a culture of systemic racism that was much bigger than the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. I somehow ended up giving testimonies of a lifetime while explaining my personal experiences that were very unsettling to hear out loud.
Silence ensures that history repeats itself
I knew what I experienced was not right. Those in my community have always spoken up about these issues. Our protests of being ill-treated were continuously met with rebuttals as many of our white counterparts failed to acknowledge relevant parts of black history that were not taught by the education system. I was met with statements like “slavery has been long gone”. “Schools are no longer segregated” and “my parents came here from another country with nothing but the clothes on their back and they became successful, why can’t you?” There are plenty of remarkable stories of families coming to the U.S. to fulfill what they considered the ‘’American Dream.’’ This dream was rudely interrupted for African Americans in so many ways. Even something as grandiose as the US economy, was built off the enslavement of Africans. We had to persuade the country that a proudly boasted confederate flag is a reminder of how the South's slaveowners valued their wealth over my ancestors’ freedom.
After a little Windex, the window is a little clearer now
It wasn’t clear why I never questioned the other side of the story when learning about this country’s history and how it pertained to me as an individual. In retrospect, I am more “woke” to the discrepancies of what was taught in grade school. I ask now, what happened to the people who were outwardly against de-segregating schools? What happened to the bankers who refused offer home loans to blacks? What happened to the whites that felt an African American could not drink from the same water fountain as them? What about the nearly 5000 people lynched between 1882-1968 as a way to oppress black people after they were freed from slavery? People that were on the wrong side of history didn’t magically disappear just because we had anti-discrimination laws passed 55 years ago. If you were born then, you haven’t even reached retirement yet. I ask my peers. What side of line were your parents on? If you don’t know, find out.
We’re here. Now what?
I am angry. I am hurt. I am disgusted. However, I am so proud of the support I have received and seen abroad. I have had friends reach out to me to openly express their stance on racial injustice and to let me know they are here for me. I have had my work organization as a whole take a stand and construct actionable steps to tackle a concern of systemic racism. I have had coworkers organize and create department wide conversations that not only aim at identifying problems but, brainstorm how we can do our part to address this matter. For the first time in my life, I feel my struggles as a person of color are being recognized as a topic that is important to both individuals inside and outside of my community. Countless people are refusing to let this be a fad or allow the amount of news coverage guide their efforts.
I became a healthcare practitioner to help my family in times of need, such as assisting my mother after surgery or advocating for my uncle after he sustained a stroke. Over the years, there have been efforts to address racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare. Did you know that black people between the ages of 45 and 54 die of strokes at a rate that's three times greater than their white counterparts? Did you know black women and white women get breast cancer at about the same rate, but black women die from breast cancer at a rate 40% higher than white women? My call to action for you is to educate yourself and advocate for those in need who are at risk of falling victim to systemic racism.
5 Things Every DPT New Grad Should Know: Advice from a Fellow
1. Chase experience, not letters
Would you spend $50K on a car you couldn’t drive just to say you have it? All letters are not created equally, proceed with caution. It’s so easy to get caught up in adding accolades to your name especially when you’ve spent your graduate studies seeing the alphabet soup your instructors acquired listed behind their names. It has been engrained in you that the more titles you have, the more you’ve accomplished. I recommend setting a goal and thoroughly researching all that goes into getting there. It may be residency training or even taking things to the fellowship level. Whatever your reason, don’t lose the forest for the trees. Treasure these experiences and make the most of them. Never lose sight of your purpose for seeking training in the first place.
My first CEU course was with an instructor I’d consider a Renowned Professor with an amazing background and resume. He covered at least 50 different manual therapy techniques in a two-day course! I left the course in awe and ecstatic about the extensive list of “skills” I now had in my toolbox. I knew for sure I’d be ready for a manual therapy certification by the end of my first year as a clinician.
Fast forward a few months and I probably had only used 5 of the 50 after returning to work. This wasn’t quite how I had envisioned my CEU money being put to work. I realized I was pursuing the glamour of being a manual therapist without understanding what goes into it. The course instructor wasn’t at fault, he was brilliant. It was people like me who wanted to become an expert overnight without respecting the process that made courses like this common practice. To this I say, take the time to take charge of your own learning experience. Review course objectives and syllabuses to make sure the timing is appropriate for you and where you are in your career. Find therapists you look up to and ask their opinion about upcoming courses. They may have insight to what the course offers and if it’s a good fit for you. There’s nothing worse than being all hammer and no nail with your skillset.
2. Attack Your Failures
When you fail and yes, you will, use it as a learning experience. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you can’t blame anyone but yourself. If you can’t accept the fact you have failed, you’ll never put the energy into making sure you don’t make the same mistake again. Hold yourself accountable, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Own it! Replay the situation, talk it out with someone and give yourself at least three other ways you could have handled it. Sounds cheesy, but why treat it like a bad date you want to move on from when it could be a major turning point for your career. I’ll never forget how confident I was about treating low back pain. All of my patients were getting better or at least in my eyes they were. I then experienced my first session of didactic work with the residency program for treatment of the lumbar spine. The mentor, an Alligator of the Swamp, who had been a PT for over 20 years, posed questions for which I had no answers. I was embarrassed and felt exposed. In retrospect, this was my moment. It kickstarted my journey. The concept of “imposter syndrome” or “faking it to you making it” holds true, but it requires putting in the work to actually make it over the hump. You’ll eventually get to a point where your failures carry little burden when stepping on the scale, no longer weighing you down.
3. Don’t conform to Toxic Environments
Being a new graduate, you’ve come out of school hopefully with only a few bad habits, if any. As a new grad, you now have the choice of starting on a clean slate. You have a choice to establish a strong work ethic, virtuous morals, and unfailing empathy for your patients. When backed into a corner, always side with what holds true to who you are as a person and what you believe in. As a new grad, you will be impressionable, but you can also be the change for the better. If you find yourself in a toxic environment that does not seem salvageable, don’t be afraid to find a situation that aligns closer with who you are. You’ve now entered the realm of why it is important to interview the organization you are working with at the same time they are interviewing you.
4. Contrary to popular belief, you graduated at the perfect time
You may feel cheated by not having the traditional graduation you’ve come to anticipate over the past 3 years. In actuality, you graduated at the perfect time. You are coming into healthcare at a time where there is no clear expert on this evolving pandemic, as it is still being understood.
- Nevertheless, whatever specialty you decide to begin your career in, you will be affected in one way or another by patients recovering from COVID-19. -
Why not prepare ahead of time to learn and educate yourself on how patients recovering from this condition will be in dire need of our profession in their recovery. You’ve spent countless hours of didactic coursework targeted at understanding the why of vitals and critical lab values that may influence a patient’s clinical presentation. You have the opportunity to apply this useful information to practice without having to undo the mistakes of downplaying it in daily clinical practice. As your more experienced colleagues struggle to adapt to a new normal by being placed out of their comfort zone, you may find yourself being relied upon for input more so than expected if you put the work in to do things the right way, the first time.
5. Make Networking Meaningful
Once you graduate, your life will never be the same again. Make networking meaningful. Pay it forward. Take students as a clinical instructor and keep up with their progress after they’ve left you. They’re your student for a few months and could potentially be your colleague for decades. Try to have all relationships end on a good note. I recall starting a new job and attending a CEU course my organization was hosting only to find that my boss from my days as a clinical assistant in a city 4 hours away was an attendee. Thankfully, our relationship had been great, and she had nothing but good things to say about me to my new coworkers and boss who was in attendance. Networking can exist in so many different ways. You too may have been a clinical assistant. You will also meet people at conferences and places of employment. Either way, cherish these relationships, you never know how they may come full circle. Like-minded individuals in the PT world always seem to cross paths. It’s inevitable. Finally, once life hits you and you are no longer dealing with the day-to-day school regime, you may find yourself becoming your old self again. This is a good thing. Accept it. Embrace it. Share it with the world.
Take a deep breath, regroup, and push forward
It’s been about 2 months since our world as we knew it was rocked by a pandemic that has been sobering to say the least. My thoughts and prayers go out to those negatively impacted. After receiving an e-mail from my organization regarding the uncertainty of the year ahead, I thought this would be a great time to rally the troops. You are only as strong as your team. There is no need to beat yourself up about a situation that is out of your control. The bruises are not a good look on you. My “mama” always said, the one thing that can never be taken from you is your education. Whether you’re starting your career or are well established, you possess knowledge and skills that are intangible.
In with the good. Out with the bad
Sometimes your day just needs one deep breath to kickstart the release of any negative energy you’re harboring.
Go ahead. Do it.
Make it as awkward as possible.
Take a DEEP BREATH IN, IN, IN, IN and then a deep breath out.
If that was your practice round, feel free to show me the real thing this time around. I want to challenge you to try starting and ending your day with a purposeful deep breath.
“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” – Henry Van Dyke
Preserve your identity
This is your test. Can you pull it together? In this moment, we all have a unique set of circumstances and an opportunity to be better versions of ourselves. If you’re following this and you’ve thrived under pressure before, let your light shine. As a healthcare practitioner, now is the time to prepare yourself for your role in this pandemic, both in the short and long term. How can your training up to this point prepare you for a new wave of impairments related to this pandemic? Why wait for someone else to figure it out for you? How would your approach to treatment of a patient affected by COVID-19 differ based on acuity? What special considerations can you implement for a patient with an underlying neurological condition? Chronic orthopedic conditions? History of cardiac disease? History of cancer?
Let’s be clear. You cannot advocate for any person or group without first learning how to advocate for yourself.
“The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the wind and rains and the scorching sun.” – Napoleon Hill
With the loss of physical touch, your identity as a physical therapist may feel as if it’s been stripped from you, no pun intended. However, you can find other avenues of fulfilling this void by finding purpose in your days similar to your typical routine. If you’ve been given a different task within your organization, use this as a chance to learn a new skill or another aspect of your company. You’d be surprised how the relationships you build find a way to come full circle. You can’t sit back and expect your leaders to hold your hand--they have their own slew of problems they’re managing. Your patients are just that, your patients.