3 Lessons I Was Not Expecting to Learn While in Physical Therapy School
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes
With only a few months left of my first year in physical therapy school, I reflected on how much I have changed since starting the program. Here is a list of 3 lessons I was not expecting to learn.
The importance of self-care
Rewind back to my first semester.
Initially, I thought the key to succeeding was balancing all my classwork and studying hard. I thought that if I kept myself in a classroom all day, studied endlessly, and repeatedly wrote out all the muscles, that I would excel in the program.
A few weeks later, I found myself overwhelmed with everything. I had a difficult time concentrating on my studies and lost motivation to continue. I was already on the road toward burnout.
Although it seems obvious now, it didn't occur to me how important it was to dedicate a few hours each week away from school. I don't mean abandon your studies, but just like you dedicate time to school and studying, you should schedule time for breaks, to do activities you enjoy, and to spend time with friends and family.
Trust me, it's possible to be a good student while also maintaining a life outside of school, you just have to make time for it.
Overcoming a bad experience
On the first day of my PT program, I had an anatomy quiz.
Although we were told beforehand about the quiz, I still ended up failing. Seeing that "F" already hanging over me, significantly dropped my excitement for school.
It would later slip even further, when I failed my first anatomy practical quiz.
When my professor noticed how defeated the class looked after taking the quiz, she gave us a short pep talk that I will never forget.
She said, "If we want to become doctors of physical therapy, we need to learn how to move away from a bad experience with a patient, and not let it define how we interact with the next patient." Of course, she was talking not only about resilience as future clinicians, but also in our current status as students.
In this case we needed to learn how to learn from the experience and persevere beyond it, moving on to focus on the next lesson or assignment.
It's okay to be frustrated, because you probably are not alone
When I was learning how to perform several hands-on skills, I was frustrated with how much I was struggling, compared to others in my class.
I saw everyone easily mastering palpation and physical examination tests, and I panicked.
Ultimately, I thought that I did not have what it took to be a physical therapist.
Thankfully, I did not give up and later learned that I wasn't alone in this frustration. Other classmates, and professionals before me, had experienced that same feeling.
This experience taught me that it is okay to ask for extra help. If these skills were easy enough to master on the first try, why would we need to be in physical therapy school in the first place?
If you put in the work, focus on your short-term and long-term career goals, and reach out to your classmates, professors, and mentors when you need a little help you'll succeed.
Physical therapy school isn't easy but if you're able to find school–life balance, demonstrate resilience and optimism, and ask for help when you need it, like me, these 3 years in school will fly by and you'll walk the stage at graduation in no time.
Jacqueline Cabuhat, SPT, is a student at Mount Saint Mary's University in Los Angeles. You can connect with Jacqueline on Twitter @JCabuhat_PT and on Instagram @studentpt_life.
What I Want Students to Know Before Starting Clinical Rotations
Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes
We've all been there, safely cocooned in the classrooms of physical therapy school, not worrying about clinical rotations because, well, they're not for a while yet. Then before you know it, they are right around the corner and many of you will come to feel some combination of panic and excitement set in.
Perhaps you were placed in a setting that you were hoping for, or maybe you are going to a geographical location that you always wanted to visit. Maybe you were you able to get your top picks for clinicals, or maybe you ended up with rotations that weren't even on your radar. Either way, the general logistics of traveling, finding housing, and preparing for your rotations can be overwhelming.
You've learned a lot of skills in the classroom, but here are some pointers that I'd like students to be aware of before venturing out on their clinical rotations.
First of all, remember that you are going out on your rotations not only to use what you've learned in school, but to also continue expanding your skills. You're going to be nervous at first, but remember that your clinical instructor (CI) should not expect you to have all the answers, and the CI is likely to be a little nervous as well in an effort to be the best instructor they can be.
It's important going into each clinical rotation knowing your own learning style and communicating this with your CI because likely you and your CI are different. Addressing this early on will reduce the possibility of you and your CI becoming frustrated later on.
Before you even begin your clinical rotation reach out to your CI regarding basic logistics such as parking, dress code, and your typical daily schedule. Inquire as to the volume, age range, and diagnoses of clients with whom you primarily will be working.
Will you be seeing someone every 15, 30, or 60 minutes? Will you have groups? Access to support staff? Are you expected to transition your clients to a tech or PTA after 15 minutes, or are you with them one-on-one for the entire session? What type of documentation system is used? Will you be working closely with other disciplines? Ask your CI if they have any specific techniques or skills that are often used for client care. Knowing this will help you narrow down your focus during any preparatory review regarding understanding of diagnoses and specific tests and measures as well as therapeutic interventions.
It's too easy (and common) to allow our minds to get away from us and think of all the "what ifs," increasing anxiety. Remember, your first day will likely be very low key. You'll get to know your CI, the staff, lay of the land, and a few clients. Most clinics have some sort of formal orientation process, so breathe and remember: the more information you have ahead of time, the calmer you will be.
I encourage you to be okay with the fact that you will make mistakes. Remember, your CI experience is one for learning and growth. Your CI should be understanding of this as well and be there to guide you along the way. Arrive to your clinical with an open mind, positive attitude, and humble approach, all of which should set you up for success.
Now that you've communicated thoroughly with your CI and have had most, if not all, of your questions answered, you can begin your journey as a student physical therapist.
Once orientation is over and your CI is teaching you the ropes, pay attention to how your CI performs evaluations, and then make an evaluation cheat sheet for yourself. This does 2 things: First, you need to remember that you are your own clinician and you don't want to completely mimic your CI; let your personality and skills shine. Second, regardless of whether your evaluation is paper or electronic, there often is not a good flow of information and it's easy to lose your train of thought or to get stuck somewhere in the middle as a result. Having your own cheat sheet will minimize this and you'll impress your CI by being efficient and, therefore, less likely to need your CI to jump in because you forgot something.
In addition, when it comes to initial evaluations keep in mind that not all populations are alike. I find that students often struggle with the prognosis and scheduling aspects of the initial evaluation. History of compliance, co-pays, clinic distance, transportation, and your client's schedule are all factors that may impact the frequency and duration of your services beyond the diagnosis. Do not overlook this.
At last, you're settling in nicely, have completed some evaluations, and are treating regularly. What do you do if you get stumped with treatment interventions?
One helpful tool that I didn't even know about until a few years ago is at https://www.hep2go.com/. You can create an account for free or pay to have some extra perks. Not only does the website provide a professionally laid out home exercise program (HEP) for your clients (people love professional handouts; avoid stick figures), but if you have free time, you can peruse the exercises to spark your own creativity.
Another option is using APTA's PTNow clinician portal, which is also home to APTA's Rehabilitation Reference Center. PTNow's mission is to assist PTs and PTAs in day-to-day practice. You'll find tests and measures, clinical practice guidelines, and so much more.
Be specific with home exercise programs, as clients are not going to recall all of your instructions once they get home. Be sure that you have written instructions specifying reps, sets, hold times, and whether the exercise is to be performed unilaterally or bilaterally.
Pay attention to your client's learning style; would pictures, written instructions, videos, or all of the above be most beneficial? As you build your own caseload, these resources also can be helpful in planning for the next day because it has a lot of great ideas.
As a CI, I'm very impressed with students who come in prepared each morning with treatment ideas for the day, rather than flying off the cuff. Not only are prepared students more confident, but they are also more efficient. However, I don't expect any student to go home and stress for hours over this—20 minutes will get you a long way into your daily treatment plan, and time management is key!
Ah, time management. It's difficult, whether you're a student or licensed professional, to balance hands-on treatment and point-of-service documentation. Ask your CI for strategies if you are struggling in this area and adjust as needed.
A common challenge with time management is distractions, and the most common distraction I notice with students (and professionals) is electronics. You shouldn't be texting, checking emails, or on social media while working with a client, and I suggest if this is an area of concern for you, leave your phone at your desk. Also, some clients are very chatty and it's up to you to manage conversation with treatment. Don't lose focus on why your client came to see you.
Reduced distractions and improved efficiency will help you complete your documentation in a timely manner, and documentation is one of the toughest areas for students to navigate because each clinic and setting is so different. I am guilty of writing vague statements such as "continue per POC," "pt tolerated treatment session well," in order to finish a note quickly. However, I learned an awful lot about the specifics of documentation throughout the course of therapist services after my employer underwent a lengthy chart audit process last year. Documentation is often breezed through in school with the expectation that you'll learn what's appropriate when on clinical rotations; however, this is not always the case.
I could write an entire post on documentation, but I will leave you with this: Ask your CI what the clinic specifications are and see if your CI can give you handouts that explain what's needed and why in detail to help you in this process. When in doubt, ask yourself if you are providing skilled therapy. Why is it important that you, and not a tech or family member, are providing the service? How does it relate functionally to the client? What cueing did you provide and what was the client's response? If you were to be audited, or even brought in for legal proceedings 7 years down the road, would you be able to read your own notes and recall who you worked with, what you did, and why?
Now that you've done all of your documentation and scheduled your clients out for a few months, what is your plan if someone doesn't do their HEP regularly or no-shows/cancels often? I find that many clinicians often overlook noncompliance because it can be a difficult conversation to have with a client, discussing how important their compliance is and that if they don't put the work in, D/C may come early. We often don't want to ruffle feathers, but it can be a frustrating and inefficient use of time to have to regularly call and follow up with a client who is making little to no progress because they're not holding up their end of the PT–client relationship.
I enjoy assisting students who are having these difficult conversations because I've seen too many new clinicians who never learned this skill become frustrated at lack of progress, and often not feeling confident in following through with a clinic's potential no-show/cancellation policy, or placing the accountability back on the client.
This also comes back to documentation. If you're documenting consistent noncompliance with poor progress, how are you going to justify continued therapy? Regarding difficult conversations, I hear clients state frequently "I can't because…" or "My doctor says I don't need therapy anymore, and…." Whether it is "My doctor said so" or "I'm too old," it takes a certain skill to steer these conversations back to a place where your client is willing and able to participate.
As a CI, I thoroughly enjoy working with students because I love to teach others the skills that I've learned from my time as a therapist. I love to learn from my students, too, and have yet to work with one who hasn't taught me skills that have stuck with me over the years. In my role as a CI, I feel as though I'm giving back to my profession because I have a hand in mentoring future clinicians.
I'll leave you with this: Remember to stop and take a breath now and again, communicate thoroughly with your CI regarding your goals, strengths, and weaknesses, and to enjoy your experiences. Speak up if you're struggling. Your CI isn't a mind reader and asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. It shows that you are professional enough to ask for help when you want to improve yourself as a student physical therapist before working as a licensed professional.
Jessica Baugh, PT, DPT, specializes in outpatient orthopedic and pelvic health at Mountain Valley Regional Rehab Hospital in Prescott Valley, Arizona. You can connect with Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are You Making the National Physical Therapy Exam Harder Than It Needs to Be?
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
If you listen to graduates from prior years, they may have horror stories (or posttraumatic test anxiety) from the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). Even for practicing clinicians who are several years removed from taking this licensure exam, it can still bring up feelings of anxiety.
What this could lead to is procrastinating in preparing for the boards.
I see at conferences or even on social media that candidates, months prior to graduation, are job hunting (even before starting to study for the exam) or planning vacations. Each of these create stress and they tend to stack on top of each other. Now, let's throw in this dreaded topic—your board exam.
Sure, everything else is so much more attractive to spend time on; however, waiting until the last possible moment to prepare for the exam only leads to self-inflicted anxiety and stress. This is where “examzilla" behaviors—like being moody, blocking out and depriving previously enjoyed activities, and having a not-so-pleasant mind-set toward the exam—makes it harder for someone who cares about you to be around you. Don't be that person!
It seems counterproductive to increase your anxiety levels, so here are ways that you can actually reduce the amount of test anxiety you have about the exam.
Change Your View of NPTE
How you view or think about NPTE can have a big impact on the outcome. Your mind is very powerful and can manifest your inner thoughts. If you think it's hard, then it will be. If you think it's long, then it will be. If you think you'll fail, then you might fail. If you think you'll forget things or are not a great test-taker, guess what? That may come true too! So the first thing you want to do is to change your mind-set on this exam.
It's a game (shhh...don't tell the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy this!). Just like in the clinic, each question is a puzzle to be solved. Slow down, proceed step-by-step, and you'll get your answer.
Questions are actually patients that you are treating. Think back to your clinical experiences and the patients you worked with. Thinking of the exam questions as people will allow you to apply your extensive knowledge and skills to each question.
Think about PASSing the exam rather than focusing on fear of failure. Have you heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you think it enough, it may just manifest itself. Of course you should prepare for the exam, but also remember you have all of the knowledge and skills.
Dare I Say: Studying Can Be Fun
Studying may not be fun or exciting; however, the material you are studying is to help your understanding of how to help your future patients or clients.
Rather than dread time investment prepping for the exam, you are equipping yourself with valuable knowledge that you'll use in your upcoming career.
It's easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of material that needs to be covered for NPTE; however, finding themes and patterns will help to streamline the content.
Find something interesting to tackle with challenging topics. Think of this tactic as being presented with a “patient with complications," chip away at each topic, little by little.
Be a detective by looking for exam content clues to help improve your strengths and weaknesses.
Go out and observe. Find ways to relate information clinically rather than memorizing (memorizing doesn't work for this exam anyway).
Make Practice Exams Your Friends
The easiest way to reduce the pre-exam jitters is to take practice exams. To beat the NPTE, you'll want to know what kind of beast you are dealing with and becoming familiar with the format of the exam.
Start off by getting your baseline to see where you stand before studying, as this will help direct you toward the areas to focus on.
Treat each practice exam as the real NPTE. Don't try to take a practice exam on a hectic evening when you're tired. Plan a day and time in advance where you can allot focus and time to it.
Simulate the actual NPTE day. Have you ever heard of the idea of practicing something as if it were game day? When taking a practice exam, try to stick with a hard-time limit without interruptions. This will only help you prepare for what is to come on the actual test day.
Practice using the strike-through, highlight features, and paper/laminated pages. The more comfortable you are with these tools and tactics prior to the exam, the less your brain has to worry.
Take a full-length exam (250 questions) and practice with a hard-time limit (5 hours) in 1 sitting to help with keeping your mind-set ready for the real exam.
Reducing Anxiety on the Actual Exam Day
Once the day arrives to take the NPTE, it's time to shine and show what you've got. It's normal to feel nervous and anxious; now, it's about controlling your mind to perform.
To build confidence, dress for success. Dress comfortably, yet ready to impress your patients. Avoid being too casual, as it can make you feel like you're not taking NPTE seriously. You'll want to be able to hold your head up high and keep the mind-set that you are able to handle any patient.
Have a go-to phrase that can help you refocus or keep you calm, such as “Focus" or “You've got this!" Use the laminated pages and write it down so that you can refer to it if you feel overwhelmed.
Remember to breathe! Practice diaphragmatic breathing. Sometimes when getting nervous, you may find that you are holding your breath. So after each question exhale, and then let that patient go. Don't carry the patient over to the next one.
Be able to trust yourself with your answers. Avoid changing your answers and don't overthink the question or answers. Keep everything at face value.
Finally, to help reduce your test anxiety, practice visualization techniques. Each day and night imagine your NPTE success from start to finish. What does it feel like, look like, sound like? Athletes do this all the time for the outcome they want, so think how you want the day to go, even down to the types of questions you'll answer. In general, being proactive is the key to helping reduce test anxiety over time. It's about being consistent in visualizing your success and training accordingly.
Now just remember, you're ready and you've got this! Good luck!
Miye Fonseca, PT, DPT, is founder and CEO of Therapy Exam Prep. You can connect with Miye on Twitter at @TherapyExamPrep.
Millennial Mindset Changing Health Care
As a Millennial, sometimes I joke that I was born in the wrong decade because of my affinity for Marvin Gaye and Frankie Beverly band, Maze. As with generations before mine, the younger generations tend to get a bad rap: Critics contend that Millennials are entitled, too fast-paced, transient, and lazy, and they scoff at our participation trophies.
But Millennials are undoubtedly key contributors in the workforce, across all disciplines and fields. Studies have shown that we are helpers, doers, activists, tech-literate, collaborative, and left-brain dominant. We give back to the community just as older generations have done, but rather than donating to institutions we are more likely to support causes we are passionate about. According to the Millennial Impact Project, health care is among the top 5 issues we care about, along with civil rights, climate change, education, employment, and immigration.
With all of this collective energy and interest igniting our generation, Millennials have a unique opportunity to impact health care, specifically the physical therapy profession, in a meaningful way. And the beautiful part is that you don't have to be a Millennial to adopt this mindset!
This is an excerpt from an APTA #PTTransforms blog post entitled, "Yes, We Can: How a Millennial Mindset Can Help PTs Improve the Health of Society." Read the full essay here.
Valerie Rucker, PT, DPT, currently works within an outpatient department in Washington, DC, and is a member of the DC Physical Therapy Association.
A Secret to Overcoming Stress: Volunteer
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes
My first year of physical therapy school was rough. I was stressed, overwhelmed, and worried over everything.
Did I study enough today? Am I going to get a good grade on my exam? How am I stacking up against the rest of my class? These thoughts constantly bombarded my brain.
I quickly realized that my free time outside of school was limited. Between classes, labs, group projects, meetings, and studying, there's little time to even sleep, eat, and take time for yourself, much less add any extracurricular activities.
As the year went on my stress and endless thoughts piled on. I knew that I had to do something.
Prior to my physical therapy school life, I always enjoyed volunteering. And while volunteering is so rewarding and fulfilling, my student-self thought, "But where's the time?" a question that quickly became "How can I make time to help others?"
Murphy Deming PT/OT/PA students volunteering at a local food pantry.
I found joy in volunteering by being part of something bigger than myself.
Once I was able to find an hour here and there to giving back in numerous ways, I soon remembered how relaxing and uplifting volunteering was.
What I didn't realize, though, was that volunteering would become my single greatest stress-reliever during my time in school, thus far.
My passion, similar to others, is helping other people—something that led me to a career in physical therapy—and also is a driver for my time serving my community. I have found the joy that I can bring to others by volunteering my time surpasses any stress level, negative feelings, or bad day.
One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time. During one of my busiest semesters, I took an hour out of my day, 1 day a week, to serve dinner at the local mission. That 1 hour a day was the highlight of my week. It allowed me to get outside of my school bubble, to help others, and remind me of why I chose physical therapy as a profession.
PT/OT students created "Family Fun Run & Games" annual event to combat the obesity epidemic in Augusta County, Virginia.
I knew that I had to get my classmates involved. There are 70 students combined in the PT/OT class of 2019. If everyone volunteered 10 hours a year for 3 years—the equivalent to 1 event a semester—we would hit our goal of 2,019 service hours.
Not only that, but we challenged the next year's class, the class of 2020, to hit 2,020 service hours by the time they graduate.
To date, the class of 2019 has 1,603 hours with 1 year to go!
PT/OT students created "Fall Risk Prevention Screening" in partnership with Augusta Health Hospital in Fishersville, Virginia.
Once a week, once a month, anything will help.
My advice to you, the stressed-out student, is to call a local food pantry, the local YMCA, Special Olympics, a 5K race, a pet shelter, or a nursing home to volunteer for a day, once a week, or once a month. Find an organization and a cause that you feel passionately about and that will benefit from your time. If you need ideas, just ask!
My hope is that others become inspired to volunteer as well. Set up an event for your classmates—you'll find volunteering with friends fun and rewarding.
After you volunteer, you forget that you were ever stressed, overwhelmed, or fretted about a test.
Dedicate your time to a good cause and get your mind off that test you took 3 weeks ago.
Trust me, when you volunteer you are overcome with humility, compassion, and the desire to serve others, which is why we joined this profession in the first place, isn't it?
If you need help finding partnerships or organizations to volunteer, contact APTA's Community Service Committee.
Kat Ziemke, SPT, is a student at Mary Baldwin University and serves on APTA's Student Assembly Community Service Project Committee. You can connect with Kat on Twitter at: @KatZiemkeSPT.
The Injury That Changed My Trajectory
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes
A shock of excruciating pain radiated from my knee to my upper thigh. My basketball teammates called for help.
When the school nurse arrived, she confirmed my fears, "You tore your ACL."
I remember crying harder than I had ever cried before.
As captain of my high school basketball team, my coach and I led the team to 2 regional championships and expected to compete in a third one. For months, I challenged myself and teammates to run faster, lift heavier, and shoot more accurately, but after my injury, the coach placed me on the sidelines and I gave up my position as team captain.
Blaming fate for prematurely ending my up-and-coming basketball career, I was blinded by my own suffering. Absorbed in self-pity, I struggled with adapting to this new lifestyle, one that included regular visits to see my physical therapist.
I remember arriving at the physical therapy clinic and quickly noting that people there, despite the various injuries and conditions, could very much relate to my physical and emotional pain.
From patients with limbs amputated to patients with stroke, everyone had disabilities that prevented them from enjoying the tasks they loved; for me, it was basketball, but to others, it was singing or swimming.
Feeling a sense of empathy and camaraderie, we cheered each other on with encouragement and optimism—very much like my days playing basketball. As we each reached our incremental goals and conquered our pain through a team effort, I recognized the shallowness of my self-centered worries and discovered the gratification in helping others surpass life's obstacles. Motivated by a newfound interest in service, I decided to apply the values acquired on the basketball court to a clinical and nonprofit setting.
After regaining the ability to walk, I coordinated a service trip, partnering with Gawad Kalinga, an organization in the Philippines that builds homes for the poor.
During a stay in the Philippines, I met Nina, the 11-year-old daughter of my host family. One night, Nina and I left the house for a stroll, but our lighthearted exchanges turned into a serious conversation about the hardships her family had endured. She talked about her alcoholic father and sickly mother, but not once did she resent her situation or curse her unwelcomed fate. Instead, Nina's conviction to end domestic violence and restore her broken family fortified my desire to support the underserved community.
Seeing that Nina's strength and courage conquered even the most trying obstacles, I recognized her pain as a universal condition and wanted to equip others with a strong will to overcome their difficulties. I realized that inspiring stories are constantly around me. No matter how different, how educated or uneducated, how poor or rich others are, they have something valuable to teach me, just as I have something to share with them. It is only a matter of if I look for it and through what mind-set I perceive it.
After returning to Taiwan, I continued to explore a curiosity for service by applying my rehabilitation and community service experiences to the basketball court. Recognizing the need for a therapist on the team, I helped my teammates tape limbs and retrieve ice packs, and demonstrated a warm-up routine to help avoid potential injuries, shown to me by my physical therapist.
As my teammates came to rely on my assistance, I realized how important knowledge of physical therapy benefitted them. While my basketball career ended abruptly, my passion for physical therapy was just beginning.
After entering college at Northwestern University, I expanded my exposure to physical therapy by volunteering as a rehabilitation aide at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.
Recalling my experiences as a patient and a volunteer at Gawad Kalinga, I understood that patients often found therapy unanticipated and emotionally tolling.
By empathizing with the patients and encouraging them through genuine conversations, I addressed their emotional and physical needs. After volunteering in the hospital, I realized that a career in physical therapy and, specifically, neurorehabilitation would not only encompass my love for movement, but also serve as a channel to empower others with motivation and encouragement.
Jonathan Tsay, PT, DPT, is a recent graduate of Northwestern University. You can connect with Jonathan on Twitter at: @tsay_jonathan.
How Identifying Culture Can Help You Find Your First Job
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
As a student, I was very involved in APTA's Student Assembly, and I ran for APTA's Student Assembly Board of Directors. I served on multiple committees and a national task force, participated in state and federal advocacy, and attended as many conferences as possible.
My mission was to improve access to physical therapist services through patient care, advocacy, education, and research. This was the passion that fueled my successes as a clinician and student.
When physical therapy school came to an end and it was time to find a job, I was worried that my employer would force me to drop my professional activities to focus only on patient care. I brought this concern to a few of my mentors.
Steve Anderson, executive coach and former CEO of Therapeutic Associates, gave me some good advice. He said, "Your first job is important because it will set the trajectory of your career. Choose wisely."
I took this advice seriously and began looking for an organization that valued the same things I did—APTA involvement, constant learning, mentorship, and evidenced-based practice.
I interviewed with many organizations that just didn't feel right to me. Eventually, my search led to Kevin Hulsey, CEO of RehabAuthority. He agreed to meet with me at APTA's Combined Sections Meeting and we chatted about our visions for the profession. He asked about my dreams, philosophy, and endeavors. I inquired about RehabAuthority and its culture and expectations. After our 2-hour chat, I knew that this was the place where I wanted to work.
My time at RehabAuthority, discussions with leaders in health care, and personal research has taught me that organizational culture influences success.
Based on these lessons, I believe there are 3 questions new graduates must answer when deciding if a company is a good fit: (1) Do the organization's purpose, mission, vision, and core values align with who you are and what you want to accomplish? (2) How do you define and characterize the clinic's culture, and is it a culture in which you want to participate? (3) How does the company demonstrate that it values its employees?
When looking for a job, it is essential for new graduates to examine and understand the culture of an organization in which they are interested in working.
Galen Danielson, COO of RehabAuthority, defines culture as "the things we do around here to succeed and what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior."
Culture encompasses many behaviors within an organization including treatment of patients, communication between staff and customers, values, thoughts, relationship with the community, and roles each employee plays within the company. These characteristics all define how a company thinks and feels.
Here are some tips to help you determine compatibility with an organization's culture:
Visit the company's website. A company website can reveal a lot about them. Is its language patient-centered? Is there a page dedicated to current or prospective employees? What variety of services or opportunities exist within the organization? Examining the answers to questions like these can help you identify whether this is a job opportunity that you want to pursue. Companies that heavily value employee happiness and success prominently display this. Usually, they will encourage team members to be involved in professional development and empower staff to pursue their passions.
Assess how an organization's mission, vision statement, core values, and purpose fit with you as a professional. The foundation of an organization is built on these 4 ideas, which should be regularly communicated and discussed among staff. A strong organization will use these principles to select the right people to maintain a specific culture. These principles can be defined as:
- Mission: What the organization does
- Vision statement: Where the organization is going, and how its leaders will know when it will get there
- Core values: Who the company is
- Purpose: Why the company exists
The specificity of these ideals may vary. Fitting them to an individual requires an intrinsic understanding of personal and professional goals, aspirations, philosophy, and beliefs.
For example, the core values of RehabAuthority include having fun, valuing the profession, embracing learning, helping people, feeling good about the work they do, and being pleased, but never satisfied. When looking for my first job after graduation, I was very attracted to the specificity of these values. They were easy to understand, and most importantly, described me and what I thought was important in becoming a leader in the profession.
Spend time observing in the clinic and getting to know staff and leadership. Culture can be felt, identified, and described. A common theme with successful businesses is a successful culture, which is set by management, reinforced by employees, and experienced by patients. A good way to understand an organization's culture is to experience it for yourself. Spend time observing how employees interact, how physical therapists treat patients, how satisfied patients are with their care, and how happy staff are in their jobs. How is the clinic managed? Do the employees trust the organization's leadership team? These are questions that can help you understand the clinic culture and decide if you are compatible with the organization.
My employment at RehabAuthority has now spanned 3 years. They have supported me in attending conferences, advocating at all levels of government, and participating in committees.
When looking for your first job, be wise. Understand the culture of the work environment and make sure that it fits your needs, wants, and goals. Your employer should empower you to participate in the activities that feed your passion. In return, this empowerment will likely improve your productivity, your job satisfaction, and the experience you provide for your patients.
Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT, MSCI, graduated from Washington University in St Louis and is a physical therapist at RehabAuthority in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. She has served on numerous local, regional, and national committees and task forces. She also manages social media accounts for APTA's Academy of Physical Therapy Education and PT Day of Service. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TheSteph21.