So—you’re a PT, PTA, or therapy tech, and you’ve got a nice gig at a hospital, an outpatient clinic, or an inpatient facility. You’re happy, but you can’t help but wonder what else is out there over the rainbow. In other words, you’re not sure where your career is going—or what path you should take. Well, you’re in luck, because I have a plan for you. All you need to do is follow the yellow brick road; make some friends; fall asleep in a patch of poppies; and defeat evil. And last—but not least—live out the rest of your life in Technicolor. Oh! I almost forgot: don’t forget to bring your dog along with you. You’ll need a scruffy—I mean, trusty—companion to accompany you on the journey. But, if this golden-paved plan doesn’t work out for you, don’t worry. We’re not in Kansas anymore, and you can choose whichever path—no matter how winding—works for you. Just follow these steps to find your ultimate career destination—no great and powerful Oz required:
Step 1: Fill in the Blanks
If you’re just gearing up to start your journey to the Emerald City (er, the ideal career destination), then you might be feeling like a muffin’ with your head full of stuffin’. In all seriousness, with so many career options to choose from, things can get confusing for even the smartest of us. So, to clear up that head of yours—and learn more about your interests and goals—fill in the blanks (as adapted from this Forbes article):
- I’ve always dreamt of doing ______ in my career.
- I’d love to have ______ skill set or education.
- If I had to choose a specialty I would like to work with ______.
- What I love most about my job is ______.
- If I could be my own boss, I would spend my time doing _______.
- In my free time, I love ______ because _______.
- When I retire, I want to have achieved ______.
After you’ve filled in your answers, take some time to review your responses. When you do, you’ll likely see some common themes. For example, you may identify some very specific goals like running your own clinic, working with kids, or traveling more. Or, you might discover that your goals are more general—like the desire to simply help others or move every day at work. Regardless of your responses, just knowing what’s important to you, how you like to spend your free time, and where you’d like to see yourself in the future will help you narrow in on the right path.
Step 2: Figure Out What It Takes
On the way to your ideal job, you’ll likely face challenges—and have to meet job requirements—that fall outside of your current wheelhouse. But, that’s not a bad thing. You just have to be prepared for what’s ahead. For example, if you want to become the CEO of a physical therapy practice, you’ll have to fulfill much different requirements than those of a DPT—or even a manager. To figure out what you need to do to meet the requirements for your ideal role, ask yourself the following questions:
- In terms of clinic settings, should you migrate toward a smaller practice, a hospital, or a larger chain?
- Does the role require certification or education beyond what you already have (e.g., MBA, law degree, economics degree, or specialized CEUs)?
- Should you attend an elite school? Or, will a local program offer you the same benefits?
- How many years of school are you willing/able to commit to?
- What kind of work schedule do you want?
With so many things to consider, it’s good to have a rough outline of your own needs and map them to roles that fit those needs.
Step 3: Have Courage
Once you’ve identified your passion, don’t let “if I only had a nerve” become the mantra that holds you back from pursuing it. Just because a job will be challenging doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. You just need a little bit of confidence to help you along your way. In fact, studies show that the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy really works. In a science-backed Mental Floss article about confidence, the author explains that “researchers have found that ‘acting’ a certain way allows your brain to ‘rehearse’ a new way of thinking and can set off a desired chain of events in the future.” Translation: you’ve always had what it takes to be successful. Now, it’s time to pair your brains with some confidence, and you’ll be well on your way to realizing that potential.
Step 4: Find a Mentor
As you forge your career path, you’ll need help through the journey. And while you might not know a good witch who will show up in a golden bubble every time you run into a problem, you can build relationships with mere mortals that’ll prove equally—or almost equally—valuable. Because the next best thing to having your own personal Glinda is having a mentor. As this NGPT article points out, “Having a good mentor-apprentice relationship is critical for the development of excellence, in any field study.” Your mentor can provide you with much-needed advice—whether that’s with regard to your career or your life in general. And contrary to what you might assume, finding a mentor doesn’t have to be complicated. You just need to reach out to someone you look up to and trust. From there, feel out the relationship. Both the mentor and the mentee should be committed to learning from one another. Actually, being in the physical therapy industry can make mentorship even more valuable. After all, PTs love to help others—so finding a helpful, knowledgeable, willing mentor shouldn’t be too tall of an order.
Whether you’ve got your sights set on becoming a staff therapist or a CEO, you have everything you need to forge your path—the head, the heart, and the courage. Follow the steps outlined in this post, and eventually you’ll land exactly where you were meant to be—no heel-clicking or chanting required.