My physical therapy program was designed to prepare “generalists;” physical therapists who can work in nearly any setting/environment with the knowledge and skill to get the job done and prevent death/dismemberment Coming out as a generalist is a double edged sword; you can work anywhere, but that doesn’t mean what you’re doing is of the highest calibre. One of the best options to quickly gain experience, mentorship, and training is via post-graduate residency. Obviously this isn’t an option for everyone, particularly those in the tribal setting…me included. With this in mind, I created my own blue-print/schematic for clinical development. This schematic was based on the general structure of my colleagues’ residencies, comprising of the following components.
Complete a course series
I took a 6-month Orthopedic Manual Therapy (OMT) course through a PT clinic in Oklahoma City, created to act as a pre-cursor for their associated OMT fellowship program. During this course, I refined a number manual therapy techniques, learned of new approaches to management, and improved in my critical thinking skills. Taking an entire course series is a great way to jump start your clinical practice and develop a framework for assessment/treatment. A surprising number of residency/fellowship programs out there offer their lab components to the rest of the PT community; Evidence in Motion (EIM), the North American Institute of Orthopedic Manual Therapy (NAIOMT), and the International Academy of Orthopedic Medicine (IAOM) are a few of these options.
Read the most current/best literature available and follow the work of influential physical therapists/researchers
I follow a number of journals, particularly the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) and the Physical Therapy Journal (PTJ). These monthly journals provide loads of information on a variety of topics and are easy to access by joining the APTA. By easy, I mean they’re free with your membership. In addition to these journals, you’re given access to a huge network of information via APTA’s Evidence-Based Practice and Research section. So really, if you’re an APTA member there’s no reason you shouldn’t have access to some of the best evidence available to guide your practice. I also follow a number of blogs and podcasts that review the literature, offer different perspectives on clinical cases/approaches, and put you in touch with some of the most influential people in the PT game right now (Gray Cook, David Butler, Charlie Weingroff, Mike Reinold, Todd Hargrove, etc).
Take a test prep course for your intended specialization
A test prep course breaks the information into concise segments that are easy to follow. They take the literature and condense it into the most useful/effective information to guide your clinical practice. If you already participate in the first two bullet points, a prep course can really help you refine your knowledge and put it into practice. EIM offers a great test prep (per colleagues who participated in their program), as well does the APTA. They vary in cost and in their delivery, but are great resources to consolidate the massive volume of information out there, guide your review of the evidence, and/or prepare for a specialty exam.
Find and utilize a mentor
When I graduated and started in my clinic, I completed my PT program without having found a mentor I was comfortable contacting regularly. Luckily, I had direct access to a seasoned OT, who had prior experience as a PTA, and electronic access to a PT who had obtained her OCS and was participating in an AAOMPT fellowship. Their mentorship was invaluable in my early years. Having a colleague/mentor can shape your early years as a therapist and give you the push you need to become a great therapist and guide your development from the beginning.
This isn’t the be all/end all of clinical development plans, but it’s worked for me. If it’s not your style, create your own or join a residency program that fits. Above all, don’t lie idle and hope experience will lead to improvement. Challenge yourself to be a better clinician, for you and your patients.