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Ways to Continue Improving as a New Graduate PT

After thinking a lot about my first year of practice, I’ve begun shifting my focus to look ahead. Now that I am not a new-new graduate, I want to develop my skills to reflect my growing experience in the clinic. These are some of the ways in which I am improving my clinical practice at the moment:

Fill in the gaps

A few times a week, I find myself with small breaks in my schedule due to patients rescheduling. While it can be tempting to spend the time chatting or checking email, I try to make the most of these scheduling gifts. If I have enough time, I’ll head into the gym to watch my co-workers treat. I’ve learned a lot of great exercises and manual techniques just by observing others. When I give a patient a particularly tough new exercise, I enjoy saying, “Well you thank my co-worker X for this one!” If that’s not an option, I pull up an article or blog post from my ever-growing list of saved links to read. My favorite recent read was by fellow NGPT writer C. Shante Cofield on questions to make sure you’re asking during evals.

Make use of mentors

I am lucky that every other week in my clinic, the newer therapists get an hour of dedicated mentoring time with the senior therapists. We use this time to discuss difficult cases and practice manual techniques. It can be daunting to try a technique I’m not comfortable with on an actual patient, so being able to practice on coworkers is invaluable in improving my skills. Getting feedback and advice from my more experienced co-workers has had a big impact on my practice and allowed me to tackle some challenging cases.

Practice whenever possible

Outside of official mentoring sessions, my coworkers and I are quick to grab each other to practice and treat. For example, I may have someone mobilize my stiff thoracic spine in exchange for something they need done. I recently learned a great taping technique when one of my PTA’s had a sore shoulder. She knew she needed it and guided me as I taped her shoulder. The very next day, I was able to successfully use it on a patient with similar complaints.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

I’m getting more accustomed to checking protocols for common post-operative procedures and conditions. Although I don’t use these protocols verbatim, I find them helpful to ensure that I’m not missing anything and to help keep the patient on track for a timely recovery. These protocols also take the pressure off from having to create an entire rehab program from scratch every session. I tend to find a lot of helpful protocols through my alma mater.

Communicate with other practitioners

Whether this means calling a patient’s medical doctor to alert them to an odd pattern of symptoms, or trying out a massage therapist that a patient swears by, I am trying to treat less from inside a vacuum. Many of our patients see a multitude of other practitioners and have other procedures done, so I am doing my best to understand and experience these things. In the next few months, I am hoping to try acupuncture for the first time (since unfortunately, I am in a state that does not allow PT’s to practice dry needling).

What else do you do to ensure that you are constantly improving as a physical therapist?

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