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Advice to New PT Graduates

Physical therapy is an incredible field to go into. For those who don’t know, physical therapists go through undergraduate school and then three years of a doctorate program. This rigorous program is nonstop, year round, and includes intense course work as well as clinical work. We graduate with all the training we need, yet we may still have doubts moving onto our work after graduation.

I felt the same way after graduating. I had doubts. Am I able to do this by myself? What if I don’t look confident? I was constantly (and still am) looking for advice from coworkers, other classmates, and research! I have had lots of students and new graduates ask me what my biggest advice is for them, so I have compiled a list of the advice that I think is most important moving into the real PT world, whether pediatrics or not.

  1. Do your research- every case that you see is different, so learning from experience is important. However, there is SO much guidance in the research. Pubmed has so much to offer to at least have a starting point with most patients. Journals and articles speak for themselves in their effectiveness with treatment style. Even though I am a firm believer that every child is unique, I still make sure I am up to date on current research.

  2. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”- This was a tough one for me to learn. So many new grads told me to "fake it 'till I make it", and this works sometimes. But sometimes there is just no faking it, and I actually don't know the answer. For example, I worked with a family that asked about a stretching program and how effective stretching is for kids with cerebral palsy. I just hadn't had a family ask me this before. So instead of acting like I know my stuff, here is how I handle situations like this: "sorry, I'm actually not sure of that answer because I haven't looked into it before. I will review the current research for stretching with CP this weekend and get back to you next week with an answer and a plan". You would be SO surprised how far this honest answer will get you. Patients and their families appreciate honesty, and they know you are working your hardest to be the patient's BEST PT.

  3. Get a mentor- It doesn't have to be a specific person, just someone to talk to about tough cases. This could be your boss, a co-worker, a specific mentor, an old classmate, an old professor, etc. You will need someone to bounce ideas off of as you are learning in the PT world. Another reason you will need a mentor is for the emotional side of this job. Everyone prepares you to administer a treatment regimen, but no one prepares you for those kids with separated parents, or the mother in a domestic violence situation. It is so incredibly important to have someone to talk to about these things to help you process lots of emotions we may feel daily.

  4. Buy the books- This sounds so old school, but hey, books haven't gone out of style! Once you are in your specific field, you will learn about books and authors that are very popular and driven by research. For example, in pediatrics, Susan Campbell is a name we all know. She has a very intuitive and helpful book for those entering the pediatric world. Books are a way resource that we always have access too!

  5. Observe, observe, observe! Take every opportunity you have to observe other clinicians. Ask them to observe for a whole day, or just for a patient. Observe in other settings, your own setting, and even those you feel uncomfortable in. Observe other PTs as you walk your patient from the waiting room to your treatment area. Observation opportunities are all around us and we should take advantage of that!

If you are a student graduating soon or a new graduate, take this opportunity to prepare yourself for your field of work. Follow this advice, and you'll be set down a path of success. This is not an all inclusive list of my advice to new PTs, however it is a great starting point! You're already on the right track by reaching out for tips :) Keep it up and enjoy this great field of work that we get to pursue together!

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