There are 220 accredited physical therapy schools in the United States (CAPTE, 2014), with 25,971 students enrolled, an average of 40 students per class. Each year, 8,720 new physical therapists begin their careers. Academically, todays' graduates are better prepared than at any point in the history of our profession. The modern new graduate physical therapist is smart, motivated, and hungry to make a difference. The DPT degree provides a great preparation...but then what? How do you continue to grow?
The doctoral degree is ubiquitous. Physical therapy now presents a united front to patients, referral sources, other professions, and policy makers. However, the DPT is an entry-level clinical degree, one that prepares you for general practice at a basic level of competence. There’s no question that there's been a tendency in some circles to promote the contention that the DPT is the end of the education process rather than the beginning. What does it take to become an expert?
Most new graduates learn more in their first six months on the job than they did in their academic careers. Despite clinical affiliations, nothing can prepare you for that first day alone – your patients, your schedule, your problems. No one is looking over your shoulder. In the old days, you'd attend a bunch of different courses, often completed disconnected from each other. Magically, over time things might gradually fall into place to the point where most of your patients got better. Back then there was more time.
Today’s world is complex. Less visits, higher co-pays, intense competition for referrals. There is pressure to be ‘productive’. Everyone is busy. Gone are the days when an experienced co-worker could spend copious amounts of time with you to help guide your development. There’s more pressure than ever before on continuing education dollars. Every dollar has to improve your practice. So, with all that said, how does a new graduate get better? Where can you start on the path to mastery?
Residencies and fellowships provide a milestone driven timeline, supported by an academic structure to ensure that learning does occur. Mentorship is the fundamental anchor. Mentors recognize pattern. Mentors have made the mistakes; they help you to learn from yours. Mentors provide a consistent level of scrutiny and hold you accountable for your development. They’re there when you have a tough patient. When you get back from a course; they're ready to help you integrate the material into your clinical practice.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be starting a series of guest posts written by physical therapists that decided to walk the path to mastery. These therapists have become lifelong learners, committed to their own professional development. They’re keen to tell their stories about why they took on a mentor, why they chose the formal path along the residency and/or fellowship route and what kind of experiences they’ve had along the way. We hope you’ll enjoy these posts and contribute to the conversation.