Develop Your Patient Care, Not Your Social Network
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
Presumably, in hopes of avoiding it, I’m often asked by students and new grads what I think is the biggest mistake folks make in the early years of their careers. Unlike many other questions, I’m confident on my answer: They spend far too much time networking on social media, which significantly handicaps their clinical skills development.
New grads now have it tougher than I did because there are so many more options vying for their attention. In the first 5 years of my clinical practice, it never even occurred to me to spend time establishing a brand or developing a nationwide network. When I had a small break in my schedule, I didn’t have the temptation of grabbing my phone and retweeting something. Instead, I crossed my fingers that my boss had a few minutes, so I could ask questions on patient cases that I was struggling with. I wasn’t excited to go home so I could edit and upload a photo to Instagram or check the metrics on my latest MailChimp email blast, I went home and opened my patient charts and tried to figure out who wasn’t getting better and what I was missing in my management of those cases. It was these years of intense and exclusive focus on developing my practice, where I developed practice patterns that allowed me to help a good percentage of my patients meet their goals, which is what helped me truly fall in love with being a physical therapist. This isn’t a crying out to bring back the golden days, and I’m not blind to the positive aspects of social media’s emergence, this is me saying if you want to develop mastery of your art you have to spend a great deal of time doing it, and a lot less time talking about it.
Like it or not—and I’ve found this out through direct personal experience—devoting considerable time to networking and social media detracts from your ability to develop as a clinician. I got serious about creating a social media presence a couple of years ago, which means that I spent a solid 6 or 7 years completely devoted to clinical skills development, and more recently, a couple of years trying to establish a brand and develop my skills, simultaneously. My progress as a clinician, my progress toward mastering my art, has slowed in the past 2 years, as a portion of my mental attention and time have been delegated to brand building and business management. My primary concern with this next generation of physical therapists is that they aren’t immersing in an intense clinical development period early in their careers, and I am betting their job satisfaction is going to suffer severely because of it. Let me expand on that just a bit.
Nothing you do on social media matters very much, and nobody is going to care about it for very long. This is why you can say stupid stuff occasionally and not sweat it; social media moves so fast that almost immediately after you say something it becomes yesterday’s news. How much deep satisfaction and joy can be gained from something so transient? On the other hand, when you submit to the grind of developing a solid set of clinical skills, and you leverage those skills over a period of weeks or months to really help someone who came to you in a tough place, now THAT relationship sticks. Let’s face it, if I took 6 months off from my periscope show, there would be a tiny cult following of folks who would even remember it, let alone care about it, but I can tell you story after story of patients I’ve seen years after we finished treatment who say, “Jeff, I just want to tell you 1 more time how thankful I am for the work we did together, it really changed my life.” People ask me where my passion for our profession comes from and I tell them it comes from the patients, specifically the energy they infuse in you when they tell you how thankful they are, how happy they are that they feel better, and how excited they are about being able to avoid surgery. A lot of physical therapists keep the thank you cards and gifts they receive from patients, so when they are feeling worn down or burnt out they can read those motivating words and get lifted back up. That is a great example of what I mean by patients giving you energy.
Spending the time to get good at this craft is what allows you to consistently get outcomes, and it’s getting outcomes that energizes you. My all-time favorite hashtag on Twitter says it all: #GetGoodNotBusy. Early on it’s not about the size of your network or business in the early years, it’s about becoming a rock-star clinician and tapping into the pipeline of passion that comes from getting solid outcomes; the pipeline is the wellspring that drives the next 20 years of your career. Once that is in place it may be time to develop other aspects that can assist you in meeting goals outside of and beyond the clinic, but the order in which you do this stuff matters.
The points I made above are not popular ones, and they are often met with significant resistance. People tell me that they need to develop a huge network to open doors for them. I believe this is a classic quantity over quality error. When I talk to most of my colleagues whom I perceive as being highly successful, there is a common theme of a few key relationships they had with mentors who developed and connected them—a few relationships. Go back and listen to the EIM podcast that Dr Childs and I put out, and key in on the stories from the incredible clinicians we have interviewed, and you will hear a very similar story over and over again. In their early years these legends identified 1 or 2 key people who they really looked up to and they clung to them like glue. They developed a deep and meaningful relationship with a couple of folks who were able to mentor them, and once the development was sufficiently in place, were able to help them become upwardly mobile by finding or creating opportunities for them.
My thoughts on what the recipe is to become an awesome clinician, and it couldn’t be simpler, is to find 1-3 people who you deeply admire, both personally and professionally, and do whatever it takes to spend large amounts of time with them. True mentorship doesn’t happen online, it doesn’t happen in books, it doesn’t happen within a strict framework, it happens when you coexist with someone you look up to, and you are smart enough to pay attention and humble enough to change. If you find the right people you don’t need anyone else. They will be able to help you develop your skills and connect you professionally, and since you formed an authentic relationship, they will care enough to do so. The reason we spent so much time at the beginning of this piece talking about the wasted time networking is two-fold. First, time is a very finite resource and there simply isn’t enough of it to do everything; most people can’t devote time to developing a large network, while also getting their skills quickly up to a level that churns out solid outcomes and leads to professional satisfaction. Second, a really big network is usually full of thin relationships, ones that often get in the way of committing to the deeper relationships that harbor the transformative potential. You wind up cheating what matters by focusing on what doesn’t.
During the February #XchangeSA chat, I want to talk about a number of other methods that I think are hugely important to develop clinical expertise, but to have a chance to employ those methods you have to make the time and resources available, which is why this conversation was so important to precede the live event. Looking forward to the conversation!
Jeff Moore, PT, DPT, received his doctor of physical therapy degree from the University of St Augustine for Health Sciences. He is a board-certified orthopaedic physical therapist, and is certified in manual therapy. He also is a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists. He has spent the past 8 years working exclusively in outpatient orthopedics. He launched the Institute of Clinical Excellence in 2012, and joined the faculty of Evidence In Motion in 2015.