It’s that time. You are on your last clinical. Your classmates are studying for the NPTE, applying for jobs, and somehow know exactly what setting they want to be in. Some even have offers. Meanwhile, you are lost on what you want to do when you “grow up.” You knew you always wanted to be a Physical Therapist, and went into your first year with an open mind. It’s now third year, and you still have an open mind. Crap, I thought I would have had it figured out by now. I didn’t spend all this time and money to be unsure. Does this sound like you? Well, this was me. So, you aren’t the only one. Life at the end of the physical therapy (PT) school and as a new graduate can be scary.
But let me tell you, from being 21 months out, that it is okay. I’ve held five different jobs during that time span. I will explain my journey from not knowing what I wanted to do, to being certain about my future, and then to doing something completely different.
Tip #1: Search out the possibilities
Let me rewind this story a bit. Not many people know this about me, but during my second year of physical therapy school I was bored, deflated, and did the bare minimum to pass. I almost didn’t want to do PT any more. Why? I was an avid traveler in undergrad and PT school. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to travel for my career. I didn’t know what to do but ended up expressing my concerns to a professor. Surprisingly, he told me there was such thing called travel PT. I did my research and was thrilled!
I would be able to combine my passion of physical therapy with my love for traveling. I regained my motivation with a sense of relief for my future. Before I took a traveling, or a contract job, I was told I needed a year or two of experience before I traveled so that’s what I'd set my sights on.
Tip #2: Keep learning
When I graduated, I was torn between outpatient orthopedics and inpatient neuro rehab to get my experience. So, which did I pick? Neither. Honestly, I actually didn’t choose. I just didn’t get any job offers for the 15-20 jobs I applied for. I went ahead and reached out to a travel company and was a contract therapist at a skilled nursing facility (SNF) for my first job in my hometown. This wasn’t my ideal setting. I never even had a SNF rotation when I was in school. After my 13-week contract, I took my first official travel job. I was pumped and had my vision to travel for a minimum for three to five years.
When I was traveling, I took an online course about marketing and business for physical therapists. This completely shifted my mindset for the whole PT profession. I was shown something that I didn’t learn in school. This led to an abrupt ending of my travel aspirations, but in a positive manner. I now wanted to open up my own clinic in the future and needed to shift gears to set myself up in order to do so.
I went back home for a permanent position at a private practice outpatient orthopedic clinic, finally. With this position, I was able to learn more of the business side than most traditional staff clinician jobs. From taking the course and learning from this job, I felt like I was ready to do my own thing. I decided to put my four-week notice in and open up two businesses: an online business (Physio Memes, LLC) and a clinic (Transcend Health).
Tip #3: Accept that your dreams can change
At the time of writing, I am working PRN (as needed) at the first SNF where I was a contracted PT, haven’t opened the doors to the clinic yet, and haven’t really made any real money in my online business. I have had three jobs and now have plans on starting two businesses. Who knows what will happen from here, but I am very happy with where I am sitting.
So why did I tell you all this? It’s fine to not have it all figured out right when you graduate. Life is full of uncertainties and things will fall into place. I was uncertain from my second year of PT school about even being a PT to being unclear when I graduated with what setting to work in. I then found a career path that I was so sure about, and then that quickly changed. All in less than two years.
Life is like your taste buds. You may totally dislike something at the moment, but later in life, it might be the most addicting thing ever.
When I graduated, I would have told you that you were crazy if you said I was ever going to open up a business. I’m not saying you have to go open up a business, to travel, or jump around as much with jobs as I did. Rather, keep an open mind and embrace the opportunities around you.
My takeaways: there are alternative career paths for PTs
Reach out to people about your concerns. You never know if and how they can help you. I had no clue travel physical therapy existed and may not have made it through my second year of PT school if I didn’t talk to my professor about it.
Things aren’t always textbook. I was supposed to get a year or two of experience before traveling but didn’t.
Plans are allowed to change. I was committed to traveling for years to come, but only did one contract.
Look for mentors. This can be in person or virtually. It’s so easy to connect with people via social media. I would have never thought about opening a business without taking the course. My mentors have helped guide me throughout my career.
Keep yourself open to opportunities. There are people who go into PT school dead set on working with sports med and end up in pediatrics. They never even thought about it, but when they were exposed to it, fell in love. You can’t pick an option that you don’t know exists.
I would love to hear who feels the same way. Share your story in the comments below!