How I Knew Residency Was for Me: A New Grad’s Perspective
5 minute read
For some physical therapy students, the decision what to pursue postgraduation can be challenging. What specialty area, what type of practice setting, or even whether to pursue pursue residency training or not.
For me, I knew I wanted to pursue a residency. In this article, I want to share how I found residency training was for me.
But first, let's define what a residency is. The American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education defines residency as a postprofessional program that one can participate in after graduation, once they obtain their physical therapy licensure.
This program usually focuses on a specialty area of practice such as neurology, sports, cardiopulmonary, or pediatrics and prepares you to sit for the respective area’s board specialty examination. In addition to preparing you for the specialty examinations, you are mentored by clinicians with beyond-entry level clinical reasoning, exposed to professional development activities, and are given teaching responsibilities (depending on the program). Research on the outcomes of physical therapy residency graduates is scarce, but there are two studies that may be worth your attention.
A 2008 research study by Jones S., Bellah C., and Godges J.J., published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Education, compared professional development and leadership activities between graduates and nongraduates of physical therapy residency programs. They found that there were significant differences between residency and nonresidency graduates, with the residency graduates showing significantly greater rates of participation in postgraduate fellowship programs, board certification in a physical therapy specialist, number of years as a primary clinical instructor of a physical therapist student, frequency of employment as a head instructor or lab assistant in a professional physical therapy education program, etc.
In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Education by Briggs M.S., Whitman J., Olson-Kellogg B., et al., employer perceptions of physical therapists’ residency and fellowship training were evaluated. The investigators distributed a survey to organizations that employed PTs who graduated from a United States-accredited residency program and asked about perceptions of how employees who were residency and/or fellowship trained performed compared with employees with equivalent years of experience that were not formally trained in a residency and/or fellowship program. The authors found that the respondents rated residency and/or fellowship trained employees higher in domains of leadership, communication, clinical aptitude, scholarship/evidence-based practice, and teaching.
As you progress through physical therapy school, you may find yourself fitting into one of two camps.
The first camp is a student who has a profound interest in one specialty area of physical therapy. For example, maybe you have a passion for cardiopulmonary physical therapy and immerse yourself in the Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy Journal. You love teaching the material to your friends and working with this patient population during your clinical internships. This student would be in a perfect position to apply for a residency position right out of school.
The second camp is a student who may be interested in two (or multiple) specialty areas of physical therapy, which is actually a good thing. In this scenario, you may want to hold off on applying for one until you have been able to practice for a few years in different settings and discover what you like best. A common misconception is that residencies are only sought after by third-year students, but many #FreshPTs who have been practicing for multiple years pursue residency programs as well.
I was recently accepted to start a residency, and during my residency hunt I prepared a checklist of items to consider that helped me, which I hope will help you as well.
- What geographical location do you want to/plan on moving to? Different areas of the country offer many different things: cost of living, culture, vibe, city vs. rural, etc. If you are trying to avoid areas with a high cost of living, it may be worth it to cross states like New York and California off of your list. If you want to live in a city, it may be necessary to include only big cities in your search for the right program.
- Do you want a residency that is associated with an institution of higher learning or one that is solely affiliated with a clinic and an independent company? They both have their pros and cons and is something to consider.
- What are your career goals? This may be one of the most important bullets and I cannot emphasize it enough. When you are considering residency, you should look far beyond the year or so that the program will last. You really want to be in a program that is going to support your short- and long-term career goals and will nurture you into achieving these. Do you see yourself becoming involved in teaching or professorship after residency? Maybe you want to dive into more of a researcher’s role? The institution that you choose is crucial into playing into these successes.
- What is your personal culture? We all have a set of internal values that we abide by as students and as PT’s. Does the institution you are considering embody the same core values that you do? Workplace satisfaction and happiness is the key to long-term success as a clinician and is a repellant for burnout, so make sure that you keep this in your toolbox as well.
- Research the program’s accolades. Who will be mentoring you? Is the faculty residency trained as well? Many programs actually publish on their website what the outcomes were for the previous residency class as well. The things that you may find in these outcomes are written and oral exam scores, individual assignments completion, etc.
- Reach out to the program’s faculty before you apply! It is an amazing way to break the ice in a more informal manner. You can discuss your interest in applying and then ask them questions about the program.
- Reach out to the program’s current and previous residents. They will be able to give insight on how their experience was in the program, and aspects that they valued most about it.
If you have any questions about residency programs, I’d encourage you to reach out to the APTA Residency and Fellowship staff at email@example.com.
Kyle Stapleton, PT, DPT, is an orthopedic physical therapy resident at Duke University/Duke Health. You can connect with Kyle on Twitter at @kylestapleton10.