In general, 2020 has been an extremely challenging year—not just for physical therapy professionals (or even just healthcare professionals in general) but for anyone working in a public-facing capacity. We’ve been conditioned to see other humans as possible disease vectors, and there is a baseline fear underscoring most of our interactions with others. Yet, despite the many low points of the past year, there is still so much to celebrate about being a PT. Here are just a few reasons why, at the end of the day, PT is still a very fulfilling career, even during the era of COVID-19.
1. PTs and PTAs experience daily human interaction.
Being around other people is certainly more anxiety-inducing than it used to be. But the vast majority of people need human interaction in order to maintain optimal mental health, and many office workers have struggled to adjust to remote work for that very reason. In the past, remote or solo workers could get their human-interaction fix by going to happy hours or meeting friends on the weekend. With COVID-19 precluding these gatherings, many are feeling the devastating effects of long-term social isolation.
While loneliness is driving many people to take unnecessary risks or simply cope with unhealthy feelings alone, PTs still enjoy the camaraderie of supportive coworkers, as well as the human connection that comes from working with patients, their families, and other healthcare providers. While these interactions can certainly be stressful and draining in their own ways, during a time when only small, essential gatherings are encouraged, physical therapy professionals can certainly appreciate the ability to work with other humans—especially in a safety-cautious environment.
2. There are more physical therapy career options than ever before.
Some types of jobs have all but disappeared during the pandemic. Independent healthcare recruiters are struggling to find companies as clients—and forget about trying to run an escape room when close contact is ill-advised.
Physical therapists, on the other hand, have gained more options than ever. Many PTs are turning to telehealth physical therapy—either by setting up their own remote practice or joining an existing company. Physical therapy professionals are also seeing new clinical focus options, such as the oncology specialization that was introduced in 2019.
3. People everywhere need physical therapy.
This year has had an interesting effect on people. They’ve retreated inward, reflected, and reassessed what really matters. As a result, many have rerouted or readjusted their lives. Some people are leaving metropolitan areas to get more living space or be closer to their families, while others are taking the opportunity to pounce on lower rents in places like New York City and San Francisco so they can finally realize their dreams of big-city life (without going broke in the process).
The beautiful thing about these shifts is that physical therapists are needed pretty much everywhere. True, some markets are more saturated than others—but we don’t face the same geographic issues that other professionals do (i.e., having to live in a certain region of the country in order to find a job in our field).
4. PTs are helping people come back from COVID-19.
This is certainly not the easiest time to be a physical therapist, but one silver lining is that PT has been absolutely crucial to many COVID-19 patients’ recovery. There are countless recent stories highlighting the role PT has played in helping patients bounce back from COVID-19—not just physically, but also mentally.
In an era of unprecedented divisiveness and stagnance, the physical therapy skill set should be cherished. It’s one thing for a patient to simply survive COVID-19; being able to reclaim independence and truly thrive is a whole other story, and it’s what many patients crave most. That’s exactly where PTs and PTAs shine.
5. PTs get to see genuine progress.
In that vein, seeing any type of progress (not just COVID-related) is so fulfilling these days. During a time of, shall we say, profound inertia, any indication of forward movement can make us feel like our work matters.
Many other healthcare professionals don’t get to see progress like we do. A physician or nurse might prescribe a medication or perform a procedure, but they don’t always get to see the fruits of their efforts; patients simply call or send a message to say they’re doing well.
However, PTs and PTAs get to experience the satisfaction of a patient returning for a follow-up visit and truly feeling better. At the next visit, that patient might feel even better—and so on. The relationships forged—and celebrations of progress made—are more valuable than ever during times like these.
6. PTs and PTAs often get extra pay for working holidays.
Most of us are skipping Thanksgiving this year. Christmas will be spent crying into our cats’ fur. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but holidays in 2020 have largely been a wash.
While a lot of people will side-step family time to keep things safe, many physical therapists can embrace working on holidays and get paid extra for their efforts! Because hours have been spottier than usual for many PTs and PTAs, the ability to pick up a shift and make some extra cash is more valuable than ever. Conversely, many remote and office workers will spend much of Thanksgiving working—but won’t see an extra dime for it!
7. There’s no doomscrolling for at least eight hours a day.
When given the opportunity, people can’t help but look at something horrifying. That’s why we rubberneck to see every gory detail of a car accident, and it’s why we can’t seem to stop doomscrolling—even when it comes at the cost of our own mental health.
While the lack of downtime (otherwise known as unrealistic productivity demands) is certainly an issue in the physical therapy profession—one that absolutely needs to be addressed—over the past year, it has sometimes felt like a blessing in disguise.
Water-cooler chats tend to be negative and can even devolve into political arguments. Time spent perusing social feeds often leads to increased stress and anxiety. But most PTs are too busy to spend time chatting up coworkers or constantly checking Facebook. The silver lining of this busyness during such a stressful time is that clinicians are spared some of the frustration and stress that comes from looking at every little push notification.
8. PTs and PTAs are constantly up and moving with their patients.
Even though obesity has been linked with poorer COVID-19 outcomes, many of us can’t help but pop that extra donut hole into our mouths as said mouths hang open in horror during our tenth doomscrolling session of the day. So, it’s really not surprising that physicians are reporting that more of their patients have experienced weight gain during the pandemic.
Not only does exercise prevent weight gain, but it is also vital to mental health—which, as I’ve already noted, many of us are struggling to maintain during the pandemic. While some PT roles keep you more active than others, most PTs and PTAs are up and moving much more than those of us working from home. So, they probably have a better chance of staying fit—even during the holidays!
Why do you believe physical therapy is a fulfilling career? Please share your reasons in the comments!