Residencies & Fellowships: Insight From Current and Former Graduates
In part 1 of this blog series we talked about the what, defining what residency and fellowships are and why to choose this route postgraduation. Now, in part 2 we'll talk to graduates of residency and fellowship programs to find out why they chose this professional path, why they chose their specific residency, and how it benefited them professionally and personally.
I chose The Ohio State University (OSU) Orthopaedic Residency Program because it offered clinical mentorship, experience teaching in a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, and the opportunity to perform research with excellent PT and PhD mentors. After completing my residency, I was asked to be the first fellow in training for our developing Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy Fellowship program at OSU.
In the residency, you're exposed to some amazing role models in our profession and you're afforded several unique opportunities. In the fellowship, I'm mentored by 2 physical therapists with 20 years' experience each, and both have different orthopedic and manual therapy backgrounds. Currently, I'm half way through the fellowship, and my clinical acumen has grown substantially. To have dedicated clinical and research mentors who are invested in your success is very special. During residency and fellowship training your clinical reasoning improves dramatically. After completing the residency and part of the fellowship, I've been given opportunities to mentor residents, help with research, and teach. Residency and fellowship training is one of the best things I've done after physical therapy school. I highly recommend it for students and new professionals.
- Cody Mansfield, PT, DPT, is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopaedic physical therapy and a 2015 graduate of The Ohio State University Orthopaedic Residency Program. He is currently a fellow in training in the Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy Fellowship. Find him on Twitter @mansfieldcody.
During my final semester of physical therapy school, I applied to 2 programs. I did not get accepted. I knew that women's health was the place for me, so my plan was to continue to practice, attend continuing education courses as able, and continue to improve my clinical skills. Approximately 5-6 months later, I was contacted by both programs encouraging me to reapply. If you want to specialize, don't give up—if you don't get accepted, keep applying, keep working at it.
When applying to different programs, I found that my program had a flexible platform, where I could mold my experience based on my personal goals and interests.
What I did not expect to get from the residency was the deeply personal relationship I would make with my mentors and coresident. Initially, I thought I was there as a student role, but what I found was a family. I matured greatly throughout the residency; I learned confidence and skills as a professional health care provider. I learned how to listen to patients, how to reflect to ask better questions of myself, my patients, and my colleagues to become better. I learned how to be a steward of the profession. Ending the program, I felt more confident in my skills, and I felt that I was a vastly better clinician than when I started.
- Stephanie Fournier, PT, DPT, is a board-certified clinical specialist in women's health, a certified lymphedema therapist of the Lymphology Association of North America, who completed a residency in women's health physical therapy at Baylor Institute for Rehab and Texas Woman's University. She is currently pursuing her PhD through Texas Woman's University.
I decided to pursue a sports residency because I was looking to gain unique experiences and excellent mentorship after graduation in order to become an expert clinician in sports physical therapy. As a resident, I work with The Ohio State University's men's rugby team throughout the week at practice, and also travel with them for their games in the fall and spring. Due to the physical nature of rugby, there is truly no better sport to work with to gain acute sports injury experience. This unique opportunity to work with a team gives me perspective of all that goes on to keep a team healthy throughout the season.
Although I only have been a sports resident for a few months, I can already tell that I have grown exponentially as a clinician. With time spent with my mentors each week and the ability to ask other board-certified clinicians questions at any time, I know that I am helping my patients achieve better outcomes than I would be without this training. Sports residencies, depending on specific experiences, also will help you to improve your skills with on-field injury management, improve presentation skills, and allow you to perform research. These opportunities will likely not be present with typical outpatient positions.
Along with the benefits during the residency program, there are many long-term benefits as well. The residency allows one to take the board certification exam (sports certified specialist) after completion of a residency. This can be done much quicker than by accumulating the hours required to take the test without doing a residency. Residents also have been shown to have higher pass rates than therapists sitting for the examination, who did not graduate from a residency program. Mentors in the residencies may be able to introduce you to therapists all over the country to help get your foot in the door in the area you are looking to work.
With the relationships and connections that are made, along with the specialized training, I believe that a sports residency provides a great foundation to begin a career in sports physical therapy, and may set you apart from other candidates when trying to obtain the position you want in the future. When you are getting ready to apply, it is important to take the time to do a lot of research on the residency programs and figure out what you are looking for. You have to make sure that the residency you apply for is a good fit for you, and vice versa. If possible, I would advise going to visit the residency before you apply to allow you to meet the clinicians and see the facilities. It may go a long way in the eyes of those involved in the residency program.
- Mitch Therriault, PT, DPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, is currently a sports physical therapy resident at The Ohio State University.
I chose the University of Texas - Southwestern's Orthopedic Residency because of the variety of experiences it offered that aided my development as a clinician. The residency offered the opportunity to round with an orthopedic surgeon on a weekly basis, teach entry-level students, develop and execute clinical research studies, and treat patients in a multidisciplinary pain management clinic over the course of a 3-month period. Following the program, I can honestly say that I gained an extensive knowledge base related to orthopedic physical therapy. My patient care has advanced in many ways that I do not think would be possible without my having the opportunity to participate in this residency program.
Participating in a residency benefited me in the short term, as I was able to really focus on improving my patient care with mentor guidance over a 1-year period versus the alternative of immediately jumping into full-time clinical practice. The residency curriculum greatly advanced my knowledge base on orthopedics and fully prepared me to take the orthopaedic clinical specialty examination. I also had the opportunity to aid in the development of clinical research studies, which is a particular interest of mine.
A residency is a short-term investment with long-lasting benefits. Residency training, although a financial and temporal sacrifice, advances one's clinical expertise and career by 3-5 years, in my opinion. While it is a lot of hard work, there is no doubt in my mind that every early morning, late night, and weekend learning opportunity will pay dividends in the long term.
- Seth Watson, PT, DPT, is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopaedic physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist, and a graduate of the University of Texas - Southwestern Orthopedic Residency program.
I worked for several years in a large hospital system prior to my decision to pursue a residency. Several years after graduation, I found myself the most experienced PT within my clinic. I was successful with many patients, but wanted to be better equipped to handle complex cases. At the beginning of my residency, I really craved having consistent mentoring to improve my reasoning and manual therapy skills. At the end of the program, I felt like I had developed a consistent framework for treating patients that also gave me the freedom and capacity to handle the unknown.
The benefits, I believe, are both short- and long-term. You surround yourself with an environment that is focused on learning and becoming a better therapist. And once you graduate, you have the opportunity to stay in a learning mindset by becoming a mentor yourself. I believe that the residency helped prepare me for my orthopaedic certified specialist exam. My ability to effectively communicate with patients improved significantly with help from my mentor.
First, think about what you would want to get out of a residency. Residency is truly an adult learning experience that will be driven by YOU. So be selective and do your research with the residency programs that interest you, and take time to interview your potential mentor and current residents. Carefully weigh the challenges and opportunities that the experience can provide before making your decision. Residency can be very difficult, and you will work extremely hard. Make sure that you are ready to own that commitment!
- Arlyn Thobaben, PT, is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopaedics, and currently an orthopaedic resident at Evidence in Motion Orthopaedic Residency.
I always knew I wanted to do some advanced postprofessional training. This was deeply ingrained in my brain after completing my final orthopedic clinical experience with my CI, who was fellowship trained.
Throughout the first portion of my career, I had the pleasure of working alongside a fellowship-trained PT. I worked with him for 5 years, and his clinic was predominately focused on sports medicine. This is where I developed the passion for working with this population and the desire to learn as much as I could about managing the injured athlete. While I did my best to keep up with current literature and attend relevant continuing education courses, fully immersing myself in a year-long learning experience seemed to be the best way to gain the expertise I desired. While doing so, I was working with some of the best PTs in the country, and they all had one thing in common: postprofessional training.
The residency program at the University of Delaware offers opportunities to participate in the care of D1 athletes, covers a variety of sports, and works with orthopedic surgeons on a weekly basis, both in the clinic and in the operating room was unmatched in any of the other programs. During my residency I also learned how to improve my documentation, verbal communication, and confidence when consulting with other health care professionals.
I would urge prospective residents and fellows to do their research and ask questions. Find out how much time you will spend in the clinic versus how much time will be spent on outside experiences. Learn what is expected of you and how you will be tested for competency. Make sure the things that the residency provides matches where you are at professionally, and what you want to personally obtain from the residency. All residencies are not all equal; some better serve the new grad, and some can handle the new grad and the PT who has been practicing for a few years, but you won't know unless you ask.
- Greg Schiller, PT, DPT, is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopaedic physical therapy who completed the sports physical therapy residency at the University of Delaware.
I felt residency would open doors, particularly those in patient care, in management, as well as in education. I chose the Brooks Geriatric Physical Therapy Residency because I knew I wanted to be a part of an organization that was leading the way in evidence-based therapeutic intervention, continuing education, and community involvement. I also had the opportunity to meet previous residents and fellows. It was consistently clear through interacting with them that they were passionate, knowledgeable, and highly motivated to share the skills that they had acquired by going through the program. I left each interaction with the clinicians with a sense that this was the type of clinician I wanted to become. Finally, I spoke with the residency coordinator and recognized immediately that she was passionate about not only our aging adult population, but also about developing strong clinicians. It was clear where I needed to be.
While going through the residency you further develop clinical knowledge. This is a large benefit because you are a practicing clinician and can incorporate what you learn immediately into practice, unlike while you are in physical therapy school. One of the greatest benefits is the ability to clinically problem-solve, and develop a clear high-level clinical thought process established primarily through direct clinical mentoring during patient care. Continuing to develop clinical decision-making by having that network of fellow residency grads, allows you to challenge each other and hold each other accountable to progress yourself to the next level. It definitely prepared me to sit for board certification, and I passed the geriatric certification exam on the first attempt.
While it involves a significant commitment in terms of time and effort, I believe it is something that continues to pay daily dividends. The clinical decision-making and problem-solving skills developed through mentoring are used in working with patients, mentoring colleagues, and guiding students in the classroom. Be ready to learn how to take the constructive criticism, apply it, and keep yourself open to understanding different approaches. You can grow so much in a short period of time and develop a strong clinical decision-making process that allows you to confidently practice on a very high level, and be very patient focused.
I also think it is important for anyone considering residency to identify what's important to you. Are you looking for strong clinical mentoring? Are you looking for a strong emphasis on manual therapy? It's important to speak with and have an open conversation with those within the program that you are considering to make sure that it's the right fit for you. At the end of the day, you have to align your goals and values with those of the program and make sure that they are pointed in the same direction. I feel like if you do that, you are setting yourself up for success.
- C.E. "Rob" Robinson, PT, DPT, completed the Brooks Institute of Higher Learning Geriatric Physical Therapy Residency.
I chose the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Centers for Rehab Services Geriatric Residency Program for a few different reasons. The program encompassed each step a patient may encounter across the continuum of care. What I mean by that is in 15 months I spent equal amounts of time in acute care, skilled nursing, acute rehab, and outpatient settings, along with multiple specialty practice observations (home health, surgery observation, amputee support group, and a movement disorder clinic, to name a few). Another great part of this residency was the required 3 hours of mentoring a week, with a different mentor who specialized in each setting I practiced. Throughout my entire residency, I was surrounded by extremely intelligent mentors and coworkers who were always ready and willing to share their knowledge with me. Along with everything I've previously mentioned, I felt extremely prepared for the geriatric clinical specialist exam by the end of the 15 months.
I felt very prepared to treat any geriatric patient I came across in my practice, and felt more confident with my treatment techniques. That being said, if I had any questions, I had so many mentors that I wouldn't hesitate to ask a question from the relationships I made in residency.
If you are a current student and thinking about a residency, I would suggest doing it straight after graduation. Although, new professionals who aren't sure what they want to specialize in right away should take the time they need to find their niche and then apply to residencies. Specializing in 1 population is something you want to be 100% sure about, so taking a few years to decide what is best for you will be to your benefit. Regardless, if you are a current student or new professional, I would highly recommend completing a residency; it was truly a great experience professionally and personally.
- Erin Boyle, PT, DPT, a board-certified clinical specialist in geriatric physical therapy, completed a geriatric residency program with UPMC Centers for Rehab Services.
By reading through insight and advice from current and former graduates of residency and fellowship programs, we hope that you have a better understanding of what these programs entail and how they can benefit you in your career. In part 3 of this series we'll discuss how to find the best program that fits you and your goals.