I once met a PT who made a career change to work in adult education. Initially I thought that making such a career change must have been difficult. However, after considering it for a while longer, I realized that her career move was not so crazy. As PTs, we’re educators. We educate other healthcare professionals on what services we can provide, and how we fit into the healthcare spectrum. We all educate adults (even the PTs working in pediatrics, because you are probably educating parents). These are all "non-clinical skills"!
Early on in my career as a physical therapist, I thought of skills as referring to my clinical skills. Since I was mostly working in outpatient orthopedics, I specifically thought of my skills as a PT as having to do with my manual skills. I spent countless hours honing my manual skills, and taking continuing education to learn new techniques. Now after being a PT for over 10 years, I am realizing that I have gained much more than what we traditionally think of with clinical skills.
In addition to those finely tuned manual skills, as well as other clinical skills that I worked hard to develop, I have also gained other skills that are crucial to advancing my career. Most PTs have also developed these skills throughout their time working in the industry. By having a working knowledge of these skills, and demonstrating that you both have them and work to cultivate them can help you to advance your career. Whether you are seeking to advance your career in either clinical or non-clinical work as a physical therapist, being able to highlight the following skills in cover letters and interviews will help catch the eye of potential employers.
Working as a PT has taught me some good time management skills. With all of the productivity demands placed on healthcare workers, we are adept at time management. If you are a PT, and don’t have good time management skills, you’ll probably learn them quickly or burn out. Delving into specific strategies to improve time management may be beyond the scope of this article. However, if you do feel that your time management skills are not good, you may want to look around your workplace for that colleague who is always on time with patients, and does not work too late. Ask that person for some tips on how to stay on top of your workload.
In addition to managing time, PTs also manage patients by working one on one with them to improve their pain and mobility. As PTs we are often doing more than managing a single therapy session or determining the frequency and duration of your plan of care. If you are managing a patient’s case, you may also be responsible for managing their other therapy needs. Does your patient need to see an occupational therapist or a speech therapist? If so, you need to make a case for that need and notify the referring provider. You will have to determine the patient’s durable medical equipment (DME) needs, and make sure that the order gets sent to the referring provider and the DME company. If you think that the patient may need additional imaging or other medical tests, again you need to relay this concern to the referring provider.
PTs are case managers and are responsible for coordinating many of the patient’s needs so that they can be successful. Project managers work with a team to achieve goals, and meet certain criteria within a specific time frame. Project managers do this by initiating, planning, executing and controlling the work of their team. Sounds familiar, huh?
Physical therapists are masters at negotiation. We negotiate with insurance adjusters to get additional patient visits. We negotiate with patients to get them to buy in to PT and be more compliant with their care. PTs even negotiate with each other regarding things such as lunch hours and coverage.
As a physical therapist, we understand that negotiation with different groups may require different tactics. When negotiating with an insurance adjuster, being polite, concise and offering objective reasons as to why the patient should receive PT care is key. When negotiating with patients there may be a little more give and take, but the agreement isn’t always verbalized. For example, you may listen to what your patient has to say for two minutes (even if it is off topic and doesn’t answer your question) because you know that the patient will feel that you are more compassionate and be more likely to adhere to your plan of care. When negotiating with colleagues, again there is give and take, but you may also verbalize the agreement. “I’ll work your shift this weekend, if you cover my weekend shift next month.”
As a PT, you become an expert in communication. This profession requires that you communicate with different types of people at different levels. You are required to communicate with doctors, nurses, fellow PTs, occupational therapists, and speech therapists. In this type of communication you may be using very technical and specific language.
PTs must also be able to communicate with patients. We may need to communicate diagnoses and anatomical concepts without getting too technical. We may need to communicate directions for home exercise programs or home safety in language that is clear and concise. We may also need to communicate expectations for physical therapy in language that is clear, compassionate and non offensive.
Just as a physical therapist must be a master of time management, they must also consider themselves an educator. We educate patients and their caregivers in a one on one setting regarding mobility, diagnoses, and self care. We may also give talks, classes and seminars to groups of patients or potential patients. Physical therapists are often responsible for educating other healthcare professionals on the abilities and limitations of what we can do. Becoming a clinical instructor, creating a continuing education course, and doing an inservice for colleagues are also some ways that PTs educate each other.
Unlike being an educator or a wiz at time management, being a leader does not go hand in hand with being a PT. However, as a PT it is easy to grow and demonstrate leadership skills. PTs often mentor other PTs. Sometimes this happens on an official basis where clinics will match up newer PTs with more experienced ones and give them a platform to discuss specific aspects of being a PT. More often this happens on a less official basis in break rooms, chart rooms, and hallways, where younger PTs will approach older ones looking for advice.
If working in a leadership role is a career goal, or something that you might be interested in, start looking for ways to be more involved in your clinic or department. You could start a journal club, organize inservices, or offer to take younger therapists under your wing. You may also get a start on leadership by volunteering for other tasks at your workplace such as revising documentation templates, or reorganizing the gym. By being one of the first people to put your hand up you are showing others that you are ready to step up and help out. Supervisors and managers typically take note of this behavior, and are likely to approach you with other opportunities that arise.
This is a pretty broad term, but business development is the use of customers, markets, and relationships to create long-term value for a company. Just as this term is broad, there are many ways that PTs are already involved in some sort of business development with their clinic or hospital as the business. If you have helped to organize strategies to market your clinic to either patients or physicians, then you have taken part in business development. If you have helped to create a program to treat a specific subset of patients, then you have taken part in business development.
For example, when I worked for a clinic that specialized in workers’ compensation, I helped to design a work conditioning program for patients. To do this, I had to demonstrate a need for such a program (e.g., our clinic didn’t have one, and other clinics did, which was causing us to lose business), outline a flow for how patients would be referred to the program, describe the inclusion and exclusion criteria for patients to enter the program, and draw up a cost analysis of how having such a program could allow my clinic to be reimbursed for more money. Once I got approval to run the program, I had to market it to physicians and patients. When I moved to another clinic that specialized in orthopedics, I created an exercise class for pregnant women. To get the clinic to allow me to run such a class, I had to go through a similar process.
Like leadership, business development experiences might not naturally fall into your lap. You may need to volunteer to take part in marketing talks with physicians, or give informational talks to potential patients. You may also need to identify a type of patient diagnosis that you enjoy treating, gain as much knowledge and experience as you can before asking your clinic to entertain the idea of having a class or program geared towards that patient population.
How to highlight these skills:
If you are looking for a new job; whether clinical or not, these attributes are important to keep in mind. In fact, you may think of other skills not listed here that you would want to highlight. To best highlight your skills, you need to remember what type of job you are looking for, and who will be reading your resume and interviewing you.
If you are being interviewed by another clinician for a clinical role, you can explain how your case management highlights your management skills, or how your starting a class at your clinic demonstrates that you have business development skills. You can be very specific about how your patient care experience translates into these other skills.
If you are being interviewed by non-clinical personnel for a non-clinical role, talking about patient care may leave them scratching their heads. Instead you need to describe what you did in terms that they understand, and find relevant to the position for which you are interviewing.
To highlight your business development skills, you may mention how you helped to write a business plan and did cost analysis to increase your clinic’s revenue. To highlight your communication skills, you might point out that you can communicate effectively with all levels of people, or that you act as a liaison between the medical community and the general public.
Wherever you decide to go with your career, know that a physical therapist is more than someone in a clinic that sees patients. We are educators, managers, leaders, communicators, business developers and more. Recognizing that you have these skills and conveying that to others can help you to move up in your career, and avoid burnout.