Do PTs need a professional mentor?

My career right now is pretty great.  I like what I do, I work with amazing people, and the flexibility allows me to be involved with my four boys on a daily basis.  But, the journey to get here was not a straight line nor a direct route. No, it was more of a wandering path. You could say that I took the scenic route, only the scenery really wasn’t that great at times.  There was a lot of indecision, frustration and really a lack of guidance. So, do PTs need a professional mentor? No, you don’t need one. But, you don’t need a map or a GPS in a new location either, although it helps a ton.  I didn’t have a designated professional mentor through much of my career. However, I believe I would have been able to get where I wanted in my career much faster (and with less disappointment/frustration) if I had a professional mentor.

Here’s how it usually goes… You graduate from PT school and start a new job. On your list of must-haves is mentoring. You want to make sure there is someone to turn to in the clinic when you are struggling.  You want to have someone to bounce ideas off of and ask questions. You want to bridge the gap between student and new graduate. You’re looking for someone that is there with you day to day.

Over my career, I’ve had plenty of GREAT clinical mentors. Unfortunately, I never had a professional mentor that provided me with the career advice I was seeking.  (Actually, it was the career advice that I wasn’t seeking because I didn’t realize I was missing it).

There is so much more to your PT career than diagnoses, manual skills, and plans of care.  Only I couldn’t see what else was out there because I had no one to help me visualize my career in physical therapy.  Instead I job hopped until I learned the hard way that this was not the way to get your ideal career.

So, what does a professional mentor provide and how is it different than a clinical mentor?

 A Professional Mentor Provides Perspective

Every year, I mentor physical therapists that feel stuck.  They don’t know what’s next. Many times they don’t know what they want next, not because they are indecisive, but because they really don’t know what is out there.  They have a very myopic view of physical therapy because in PT school they have been living test to test, never having an opportunity to dream. They simply don’t know what’s next because they have a narrow vision of what PT can be.

A professional mentor has a broader life focus. She or he is also able to take into account your overall life goals, values, and purpose when helping guide you toward your ideal career. A professional mentor is able to see the whole picture of your life.   Your professional mentor knows who you are as a person and that deeper knowledge helps point you toward a path unique to you. A professional mentor asks the right questions that helps you see things in a new way or helps you discover possibilities.  Sometimes they help you see a path you never knew existed.

A Professional Mentor Doesn’t Tell You Which Way to Go, But Keeps You from Going in Circles

I know I said that I never had a official professional mentor, but luckily one showed up when I needed it most.  I was on my 5th major job change in 10 years. I was sooooo frustrated with where I was at… for the 5th time in a row. I was ready to move my family. New job, new city, all things would be great, right? It had worked before, hadn’t it?  

Fortunately, I had someone speak wisdom into my life.  He pointed out the pattern that I was missing. New job, new city, but no roots.  In skipping around, I had ignored forming relationships (the one fulfilling thing that could make me stay somewhere).   He reminded me that it wasn’t all about me and my happiness. I had a family that was on the journey with me. He suggested I try a different course. I needed to set up shop in one city at one job and build relationships. His wisdom, interjected at the right time, kept me from making the same mistake over and over again -- thinking the grass was always greener and changing jobs again. A professional mentor is able to break a cycle and to redirect you when you need it the most.

 A Professional Mentor Walks with You

When I asked previous mentees what helped them most in our mentoring relationship, I was initially surprised when they shared times not of advice, but of understanding.  They didn’t refer back to a specific piece of advice that I had given them, but rather times when I was able to understand what they were feeling.

A professional mentor has been there. They know what it feels like to be in your shoes. I wish someone could have justified my feelings at my most frustrating times.  In retrospect, I realize all my feelings were normal, but no one was there to tell me that. Instead of knowing it was part of the process, I spent time feeling frustrated that I was frustrated. Having someone beyond your significant other who understands your frustrations is invaluable. Your co-workers and manager can’t really provide the support you need for big career decisions. My professional mentor could have given me strategies either to cope with where I was at or point me in the right direction. And if nothing else, an understanding ear would have gone a long way.

Do you need a professional mentor?  No. Should you find one anyway? 100% yes!  You will not truly understand the power of having a professional mentor until you find one or look back on your career and realize it didn’t need to be that hard.  


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