Early in my clinical practice I was often wrought with an internal conflict of whether I was in the right place professionally. After graduating PT school, I went into travel therapy with a thirst for seeing the country and paying off student loans. I felt well prepared from my intensive, hands-on program in Florida, but there were still times I found myself adrift without direction or a plan on how to best manage more complicated patients’ plans of care. I often asked myself, “should I change course, stop traveling, and gather more education?” I resigned to forge ahead in travel therapy with the caveat instead to look for a fellow physical therapist to serve as my de facto mentor.
I found that mentor in a seasoned PT who shared similar interests to myself and a mutual respect for each other’s backgrounds. In a year's time, I was able to hone my skills, bounce difficult cases off an expert in the field, and continue to grow professionally while not sacrificing my personal goals. Looking back on this, I can say that a traditional mentorship program may not be for everyone, but a mentor comes in many forms and every practicing rehab therapist should have one.
Rehab therapists are looking for more.
Before we dig into the reasons why mentorship is important, I first want to establish why it’s a good time for clinic leaders to consider this topic. In our most recent State of Rehab Therapy report, we discovered that 9% of the rehab therapy workforce resigned from their jobs last year—which is considerably higher than the healthcare industry’s 3.7% turnover rate. What’s more, an additional 70% of the more than 6,600 rehab therapy professionals who responded to our survey stated that they were considering a career move of some kind. Of those considering a career change:
- nearly 15% cited they’re considering moving to a different clinical role or care setting,
- 14% cited they’re considering moving to a non-clinical role, and
- nearly 13% cited they’re thinking of leaving health care altogether.
Why is this? WebPT co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer, Heidi Jannenga, went over the myriad reasons in her recent Founder Letter, but the main message was clear: “Therapists in 2022 are looking for more than their counterparts were 10 or 20 years ago. Salary is important, of course, but there must be more. Therapists are rightly aware of the importance of maintaining time for their personal life in order to function at their peak professionally. As such, clinic leaders must offer career pathing and growth opportunities, as well as cultivate a culture that prioritizes its staff's well-being—especially if they intend to retain their top talent.”
Our report findings corroborate this. Career growth opportunities ranked as the second-most important job motivator for rehab therapists and assistants, and an overwhelming majority of student respondents cited that they’d love to see more clinical training and residency opportunities added to their course curricula.
Bottom line: therapists across the board are looking for guidance, and organizations that offer some form of mentorship will leg up on the competition. Here’s why.
Mentorship enhances employee satisfaction.
CNBC and Survey Monkey conducted a study in workplace happiness and finding or having a mentor proved to be one of the top factors in improving employee satisfaction. From nearly 8,000 full and part-time workers polled, nine in ten who had a mentor rated job satisfaction as “satisfied” and over half rated it as “very satisfied.” Another interesting take away from this survey was that mentorships resulted in employees feeling like their contributions were valued by their team and they were more likely to feel like they were well paid, both of which yield a positive company culture.
What’s more, in a recent webinar from the APTA’s Fit for Practice initiative, the panel stated that providing a mentorship to your clinicians—whether seasoned or green—will demonstrate that you’re investing in that therapist, helping to naturally strengthen their bonds to you and the company.
Mentorship helps therapists level up their practice.
Research has noted the proven utility of mentorships in improving the critical thinking skills of novice physical therapists, and the added benefit of mentorships assuaging the stress and insecurity rehab therapists encounter in practice and managing difficult patients. Models of mentorship that use online instruction, in-person instruction, and a mix thereof, have grown in popularity and efficacy. Structured mentorship programs that seek to provide unique opportunities for clinicians will excel in creating best-in-class professionals.
I had the opportunity to discuss the value of mentorship with Josh Funk, DPT, Founder and CEO of Rehab 2 Perform, and when I asked him why he thinks mentorship matters, he replied, “Our company totem is ‘Be > Yesterday.’ As such, it’s up to our leaders to ensure we’re providing an environment in which all members of the company can ‘Be > Yesterday.’ And providing mentorship ensures that this can happen.”
Mentorship can improve patient outcomes.
An ever-present fact in rehab therapy is that reimbursement is becoming more and more directly tied to patient outcomes. The root purpose for an employer or director to utilize a mentorship comes down to enabling therapists to enhance their professional education, and thus help their patients achieve greater outcomes. This is a growing field of research wherein a recent study found that 80% of the patients treated by physical therapists with 150 hours of mentored clinical practice achieved clinically significant scores on the patient-specific functional scale (PSFS) relative to only 63.8% of the patients treated by therapists with usual base standards of training.
A wealth of online resources exist online through blogs, employers, and academic institutions that also speak to how important many students, new grads, and mentors feel some form of mentorship truly is to patient success in rehab therapy. As one such mentor states, “to be the best, one must train with the best.”
So, where can you start?
At its most basic level, every mentorship starts at no cost in a profession that embraces and is rooted in a sense of giving. That said, there are some simple initiatives any clinic can use to mentor clinicians:
- Host a weekly huddle on company time.
- Take 15 minutes at the end of business focused meetings to learn something new as a team.
- Have a “question of the day/week/month” for the team to collaborate and tackle.
- Host journal clubs for therapists to convene and discuss the most relevant research topics in rehab therapy.
- Attend a conference or continuing education event together with more than one teammate.
One Clinic’s Approach
As WebPT’s Ascend 2022 Innovator of the Year, we’ve long had our eye on Rehab 2 Perform—particularly, its mentorship and internship programs. So, who better to ask about building mentorship programs in your practice than Funk?
Rehab 2 Perform’s mentorship program engages mentees with a healthy mix of in-person and remote learning. Specifically, it comprises:
- Weekly in-service sessions;
- Monthly one-on-ones that span professional and personal topics;
- Monthly visits from the COO to ensure continued clinical growth;
- A 365-day online program for new clinicians covering clinical, operational, and financial topics critical to onboarding; and
- Full access to R2P Academy, the company’s proprietary platform that offers continuing education.
What’s more, Funk is in the midst of creating a customized questionnaire for new hires that will allow his company to cater the mentorship experience to the demands of the individual best suited to their learning style, interests, background, and more.
Mentorship programs can be just as fulfilling for the mentor, as well. According to this study, those who reported being a mentor helped create a supportive workplace culture, improved their mentees’ clinical decision-making and quality of care, and helped build greater staff retention. That’s got to make you feel good about yourself! Speaking from my experience teaching entry-level DPT students, their vigor and thirst for knowledge is incredibly re-energizing, and is something I cherish.
So, for practice owners and clinic directors looking to hire and retain staff that will continue to add value to the practice, mentorships can prove to be invaluable incentives in the long term. As Funk said, “what are you waiting for? The future of your company depends on it!”