Last night, I co-hosted the #DPTstudent chat on Twitter, and one of the recurring themes was the idea that you have to actively seek out professional development. I couldn’t agree more. School can provide an excellent foundation; often, it’s an introductory class on professional development that serves as a catalyst for continuing education throughout a student’s career, well after graduation. But setting your own goals and actively pursuing them is a key component of success. As our friend Sturdy McKee (@Sturdy) explained, “[Professional development is] not primarily about clinical skills & techniques.” It is absolutely critical to continue your clinical education throughout your career, but successfully navigating the ever-changing healthcare field requires much more.

As Matthew McClain (@DPTMatt) put it last night, professional development involves “Meetings, weekend courses, journal articles, collaboration with other health care professionals.” Lauren Kealy, one of the chat organizers, launched the #DPTstudent chat with the purpose of connecting with other DPT students, which in itself is a form of professional development. The bottom line is that identifying your goals early on and taking an active approach to your professional development is a must in today’s competitive PT job market.

Another topic that sparked a healthy debate among the chat participants related to the PT brand itself. Will DPT students call themselves “doctor” post-graduation? There was an interesting dichotomy here. On one hand, most tweeters recognize the need to educate the general public and make sure people know PTs are doctorate-level medical professionals. On the other, there seemed to be some concern that patients may be intimidated by the word “doctor” and that being called Dr. So-and-So can be a barrier to developing a trusting, productive relationship between patient and “doctor.”

During last night’s chat, I challenged this notion. I’ve never felt intimidated to call my doctor “doctor,” and I’ve always been happy to know that the person I trust with my own, and my family’s, health is a doctorate-level professional. I think it’s especially important that we communicate to the public the fact that physical therapists are “doctors,” because let’s face it, the physical therapy brand needs help. Defining ourselves as doctorate-level medical professionals will earn us trust and respect from patients and other medical professionals alike, and it will set us apart from the competition.

To summarize, and to answer Lauren’s question (What would I tellDPT students that they can do now to help with professional development?) here are my pointers:

  • Be an active member of the APTA
  • Find a mentor
  • Join in the conversation (on social, at conferences, at state assembly events, etc.)
  • Complete a self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses (i.e., strength finder)

I would like to thank TJ Janicky, Lauren Kealy, and Zack Duhamel for the invitation to co-host the chat. It is incredibly rewarding to connect with the DPT student community, hear your concerns, and talk about the steps we need to take in order to move our profession forward. I appreciate the opportunity to teach, learn, and pursue my own professional development in the process. If you are looking for me on Twitter, here’s where you can find me: @HeidiJannenga

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