Blog Post

Movin’ on Up: 5 Tips for Growing Your Physical Therapy Career

Move your PT career forward with these simple steps.

Melissa Hughes
5 min read
September 10, 2020
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Treating patients and helping them heal can be tremendously rewarding, but providing hands-on therapy—as a generalist PT, at least—might not float everyone’s boat. I mean, consider my job. I’m a professional writer (and I kind of like it), but the idea of churning out listicles and research articles probably sounds nauseating to a lot of people. Even if you’re satisfied with your chosen field, sometimes you can just tell it’s time to change the scenery and grow your career in a slightly different direction. When you know, you know—you know? 

So, if you’re a PT and you’re ready to grow (or change) your career, then keep on readin’.

1. Determine your trajectory.

It’s hard (read: impossible) to build a house without a blueprint. You need to be clear about—and familiar with—your ultimate goal in order to work toward it. And if you want to successfully grow your career, then you need to decide what kind of work you want to do. Would you like to step into a managerial role? Own your own clinic? Are you interested in specializing in a certain type of rehab therapy or working with a specific patient population?

Find the name (and title) of your ideal role.  

Once you have a better idea of your desired direction, brainstorm some titles that apply to that type of work. Then, research those job titles and note the different skills and responsibilities that each position requires. For example, clinic directors and clinic managers both oversee staff, but a manager may focus more on daily clinical operations and training, while a director may focus more on human resources and finance responsibilities. 

2. Refine your skillset.

In the previous step, I asked you to jot down the different skills you would need to have—and responsibilities you would need to fulfill—in order to find success in your ideal job position. Now, go through that list and denote what you’re already good at, where you lack experience, and where you need to improve. Ta da! Now you have an exact list of up-skill action items. 

Seek out traditional educational opportunities. 

Now for the action part: If you lack experience in a certain area (or you need practice in it), then you can seek formal education to bolster your skills. For instance, if you’re aiming to specialize in a niche therapy type, then look for relevant, industry-recognized CEU courses to take. If you need to improve your management, marketing, or business finesse, then find a webinar to watch or read a few articles from experts in those disciplines. 

Find opportunities to practice (or learn) a skill set at work. 

Now, I’ll be the first to recognize that traditional education isn’t the best solution for everyone. The good news is that there are probably tons of learning opportunities hiding in plain sight right inside of your current workplace. If you have a healthy work culture, then it should be no problem for your manager or director to help foster your professional growth. Ask if you can assist with or shadow projects, tasks, or activities that don’t fall within your current job scope. Let clinic leadership know that you’re looking for ways to improve and expand your skills, and be open about how you’d like your career to progress. 

3. Find a mentor. 

Next, find a mentor in the field or position that you’d like to grow toward. Good mentors can open a lot of doors for you. They can help you evaluate your skills and talents, teach you about industry or career best practices, direct you toward relevant educational opportunities, and encourage you to continue growing and pushing yourself toward your final goal. A mentor can also help you network and connect with other professionals who are established in the professional circles that you’d like to enter. Sometimes, getting your foot in the door with a relationship is all you need to enter a highly competitive field. 

4. Seek growth opportunities. 

Beyond improving your skills and working with a mentor, a great way to grow your career is to seek (and know how to identify) growth opportunities. If this sounds a little vague, that’s because it is. We all encounter different opportunities in our lives that may open new doors and send us down different paths. A night of volunteer work, for instance, could allow you to meet an industry heavyweight who volunteers at the same place. Guest hosting a small YouTube webinar could lead to a speaking gig at a major convention. You just never know! 

Push yourself to say yes.

That’s why Meredith Castin, PT, is such an advocate for saying “yes” to any growth opportunity that presents itself to you. She believes that accepting new opportunities, even if they push you outside your comfort zone, is a wonderful way to challenge yourself and move your career forward. 

5. Network in your professional community.

There are probably people somewhere in the world who like networking. Okay, okay, I’m being facetious. Plenty of people like networking; I even know a couple of avid networkers. But for many of us, networking feels overwhelming, stressful, and confusing (especially if you’re soft-spoken, an introvert, or both). Here’s the rub: networking is one of the most effective ways to grow your career. It puts you in contact with people who can help you develop your career—whether that’s by giving you advice, introducing you to a future employer, or even offering you a job directly. 

Learn the trick to successful networking. 

So, I’m going to let you in on a little trick that helps me manage my networking-related stress. Networking is really just the art of making acquaintances and friends. That’s it! Yes, the ultimate goal of networking is to build a mutually beneficial relationship, but before someone goes out on a limb for you—or vice versa—you need to build some rapport. So, start by trying to establish a solid acquaintanceship—and then friendship—with people in your professional community who are also interested in forming connections.  

Meet people virtually during COVID-19.

Meeting new people in the midst of a pandemic is tough; there’s no doubt about it. But just because it’s more difficult, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! With fewer places to meet IRL (a.k.a. in real life) the world of online communities and events is positively blooming. Consider Virtual Ascend, WebPT’s 2020 digital conference. It’s a free event (with upgrading opportunities) that offers a ton of education, insight, and networking opportunities. Check it out

2020 has thrown a curveball at everyone. But this time of turmoil and uncertainty can be a great time for introspection. You can use this time to really sit down and figure out what’s important to you—what you want out of your career. In the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to drop them below.  


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