I vividly remember the first class in PT school that focused on the topic of clinical placements. The Director of Clinical Education (DCE) started by saying “don’t reach out to clinics yourself in an attempt to get placed there, because you may forfeit the rotation.” I did not put much thought into this because I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, and more importantly, I was extremely focused on understanding the concept of the “concave-convex rule.”
What I did know is that I wanted to build relationships with professionals that shared similar interests and worked in fields that motivated me. Innocently, I sent an Instagram message to a PT working with a professional sports organization that I am truly passionate about. I was simply trying to ask for resources to learn more about a population I aspired to work with. The PT replied and not only provided me with the educational information, but also mentioned that the organization was accepting students for clinical rotations.
Once I received the message, I recalled that first class meeting and thought to myself, “did I forfeit the rotation?” I immediately reached out to my DCE and sent the details of the conversation. I explained how the interaction occurred and how this potential clinical experience would benefit my career and professional development. Additionally, I would be working with a population that motivated me to apply for PT school in the first place.
Fast-forward two years later, after having many conversations with my DCE, expressing my desire to work with this type of population with my professors, and aiding however I could in the clinical placement process, I am currently completing my last clinical rotation under this therapist at the organization.
In my opinion, your three years of PT school is the best time to network, because everyone wants to help a student. Also, in school you are surrounded by teachers and mentors that want to see you succeed, so it is also imperative to make your interests known.
As students, we are all willing to volunteer, shadow, and observe to gain experience, learn clinical skills, and make connections. An essential step in becoming a well-rounded student clinician, and future professional, is having the personal drive to make yourself available, find the contacts, and build a network.
All successful PTs were once eager graduate students looking to learn and gain knowledge from professionals they admire. More often than not, established PTs will help students and share advice they wish they had known at their age. At the same time, students can provide reciprocal value to mentors and people they network with. Some ways students can do this is by asking mentors if they need help at events, sharing social media content, or offering to assist in any endeavor.
Over the past three years, I have sent over 50 emails, Instagram direct messages, and LinkedIn messages to established PTs, and truthfully, I can count on one hand the number of times I did not receive a reply. A silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic is that now more than ever professionals are communicating through social media, video platforms, and emails, and thus - more networking opportunities are available. All you have to do is just send the email / DM / LinkedIn message. You never know what can transpire from a connection. In our next posts we will talk about the best ways to reach out to people.