What I wish physical therapy students and new graduates knew about their faculty (and all PTs for that matter)

I was sitting in my office and I think my jaw actually may have hit the desk after I heard what she said. She told me she loved orthopedics, but didn’t think she was smart enough to do it. I was shocked. This was an extremely gifted student. She looked at us faculty as if we could do no wrong. She looked at us as if we had it all figured out. She looked at us in such a way that she had convinced herself she never could be like us.

This was such a punch in the gut for me. Rather than inspiring physical therapy students, we were somehow demotivating them or worse, intimidating them. We had taken the best and the brightest and made them feel like they couldn't do it. This is the opposite of what I had hoped and what I feel is my purpose. So, I want to set the record straight. I want to share this for all physical therapy students and graduates past, present, and future.

 This is the real story about your faculty:

We don't know everything

What looks like brilliance is actually just teaching in our area strength, hours of preparation, and years of experience. I don't teach anatomy because I can hardly remember it myself. I learned it for boards and after that I had to make room for the tips and tricks of doing a Lachman.


Our patients don’t all get better

I wish I could say that every patient I see is a success story. Unfortunately that is not true. The reality is that no matter how good you get, there are going to be people who don’t get better.  Don’t worry, these outliers get to be fewer with practice, but they never disappear completely.


We don’t feel good enough

For years I was waiting to feel like an expert. It really never came. Finally when I started to feel it, the new leaders in our residency and faculty started to make me feel lacking in skills and expertise. Now they push me to be better.  There are always going to be new people, new techniques, and new research that challenges us-- this is healthy.

It is one thing to know that your faculty really don’t have it all figured out. But how can we change this feeling of inadequacy into something beneficial?

We need to change the definition of success. When we are students and new graduates, we tend to base our definition of success on whether the patient got better or not. As you continue on in your career, you will come to recognize that not all patients get better and not all of it is your fault. While you should strive to get everyone better, I suggest you create  a new paradigm of success in these three areas.

  1. Did I prepare?

Preparation involves anticipation. Anticipating what is coming your way and preparing for what may be coming your way is something I see successful physical therapists do. They look ahead at their schedule the next day. If they see a diagnosis or region that they are not very familiar with they research it and talk with colleagues.  They identify areas they need to develop and figure out ways to fill the gaps. You cannot always get everyone better, but you can do everything possible to try.


  1. Did I care?/Did I give 100%?

Approach every interaction with a patient as “How can I positively impact this person’s life today?” Most of us got in this profession “To help people.” Who said that 100% of the help we provide has to be physical? If you aim to brighten each person's day and try to make his life better in some way, you will be brilliantly successful.


  1. Did I reflect?

Unfortunately, I think reflection gets a bad rap. I HATED reflection in PT school. It was STUPID, POINTLESS, BUSYWORK! Does it really matter how I FEEL about going to a food bank and serving a homeless person? I couldn’t stand reflection.

But what I have seen over the years is that a hallmark of excellence is the ability to reflect on what went well and what could have gone better in each patient's evaluation and treatment.

So, if you want to join the honest conversation about how we feel about our careers and find others always striving for more, come join us at the Professional Rebellion.

By the way, what if I told you that doing these three things would also decrease feelings of burnout over your career?


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