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.