You may be eager to get started on that first physical therapy job or occupational therapy job right out of school. However, taking the time to think about what you want before you interview for a rehab job can help you make the best decision.
Here are 10 questions that I recommend you ask during your rehab job interview, regardless of whether you're a PT or OT:
1. What are the most common diagnoses in this patient population? What are the most common patient demographics?
Asking this question can be a great way to showcase your experience to potential employers. If you’re less experienced with these particular groups, you can also express enthusiasm for expanding your skill set and explain why you’d like to work with these populations.
2. How collaborative are the OTs/PTs/SLPs/nursing/physician staff?
The way the hiring manager answers this question can tell you a lot about the company and department. Some settings, departments, and companies are simply more collaborative than others. For example, some teams have scheduled check-ins or huddles, and others communicate more frequently throughout the day. Still others may not require much communication between departments at all, leaving employees to depend on medical charts and notes for information.
Neither one is necessarily better than the other. Some therapists enjoy flying solo, while others crave the collaborative nature of a job. If you're interviewing for an outpatient role, this question can help you understand whether you'll be attending frequent in-services, whether you'll be expected to provide said in-services, and whether the team goes out for happy hours or has birthday potlucks.
3. What is the average length of stay?
Again, length of stay can vary dramatically by setting and company. For example, you may have substantial experience with the rapid pace and quick turnover of acute care patients, thanks to fieldwork assignments. However, if you’re now looking to work in schools or long-term care, realize that you’re going to be building a relationship with each patient (and their caregivers) that can last for months or even years.
Based on your own preferences, length of stay can make or break your happiness at any rehab job. If you're interviewing for an outpatient role, you can also ask how frequently most patients attend therapy, and how many weeks/months they typically attend. This can offer you a window into whether the facility pushes a cookie-cutter approach to therapy, where each patient gets the same frequency of visits, regardless of need.
4. How long does a rehab (PT or OT) session typically last?
Similar to length of stay, session length varies depending on the setting, but can also differ widely between employers. For instance, some acute rehabilitation and long-term care settings may schedule appointments for as little as 30 minutes or as long as 2 hours. In contrast, you may spend only 15-30 minutes with an acute care patient.
This question is very important to ask in all settings. With the changing landscape of healthcare and reimbursement concerns, some therapists are expected to see patients extremely frequently. Some therapists enjoy a fast-paced schedule, while others find it extremely stressful and wind up feeling burned out from it. Think back to your clinicals and consider how you felt in various paces of settings.
5. What are the productivity requirements? How is productivity measured or calculated? How are refusals handled?
If the interviewer emphasizes the need to “get the minutes,” avoid refusals, or pick up missed time throughout the day with other patients multiple times during the interview, realize that productivity will be an important way of measuring your success in the position. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but when it comes time for your performance review, you might find that your otherwise stellar performance is marred by "poor productivity," and you aren't awarded a raise. It can be immensely frustrating.
Also, therapy assistants and PRN employees are usually expected to meet higher productivity standards than full-time employees due to differences in documentation requirements.
6. What types of certifications have other employees pursued while working here?
Asking about occupational or physical therapy certifications can tell you whether the company invests in team members. It can also highlight the skills the company values most. If they’re excited to tell you about the number of employees who just became certified lymphedema therapists, but you’re most interested in becoming a certified brain injury specialist, think carefully before signing on.
Another thing to consider is that certain facilities are rather entrenched in their ways. What this means is that maybe all the therapists pursue NDT/Bobath, but you're interested in Neuro-Ifrah. It can be difficult to convince a rehab manager to invest in a completely different program than they one they are used to. This doesn't mean it's impossible, but it's always worth being honest in an interview and explaining the certifications that interest you, then gauging the employers' interest and response.
7. What other certifications/experience would best serve the patient population? Are there any special initiatives you would like to see employees take on?
Asking this question will help you clarify what the employer’s needs are. Some examples of initiatives managers might mention include a journal club, a wheelchair seating and mobility clinic, or a support group. Again, use this question to highlight your experience or to express excitement about gaining experience in areas that interest you.
8. What are the most common assessments used?
Similar to the last one, this question will help you determine how well your skills match up with the employer’s needs. If they mention several unfamiliar assessments (or ones you haven’t used in a while), you may want to practice these tests at home to make sure you’ll feel comfortable with them if you take the job.
9. What is the documentation system?
Electronic documentation, as opposed to paper records, is quickly becoming the standard. However, some employers continue to rely on paper documentation and “hard charts” for transmitting information. The most common documentation interfaces include Epic, Cerner, McKesson, WebPt, RehabOptima, and Casamba. If you haven’t yet worked with the documentation system the company uses, assure them that you’ll get up to speed quickly.
10. What are the most common working hours and schedules? What are the busiest times of the day/week/month/year?
Clarifying expectations for employee schedules is a must. The reality is that in most settings (schools being the major exception), employers, insurance companies, and patients require weekend and holiday coverage. Weekend rotations with a day off during the week are more common than ever, as are positions requiring at least one weekend day. Patients also want more morning and evening appointment availability, particularly in the outpatient setting. The number of hours worked each day may also vary with the caseload. Additionally, depending on the setting, some times of the week, month, or year may be busier than others. You may be expected to work longer hours during those times (aka, “flex to volume”).
The variety can be both wonderful and challenging. It can help to decide what your ideal life and job look like before you interview.
- For instance, do you prefer to work alone, or to co-treat with others?
- Are you okay with being the only therapist of your discipline in the department or building at any given time, or do you need other therapists to exchange treatment ideas?
- Do you prefer shorter patient sessions, or longer ones?
The best rehab job is the one that matches your current and desired skills as well as your lifestyle.