Thursday, February 26, 2015

Experiences: New Grad By Dr. Kala Markel, DPT

I would like to give a special thanks to Dr. Kala Markel, DPT for being a guest blogger. Her words are very insightful! Again, a big thanks to her for her willingness to help our Pre-PTs, PT-students, and new PT grads.

  •  Bio
My name is Kala, and I am a 29 year old physical therapist. The road to becoming a PT was an awfully long and windy one, so I’m guess you’re what people would consider a “non traditional” student. Ever since I was a small child I had wanted to be one thing: a teacher. So, it was no surprise when I graduated high school that I went straight to the local university and got my Bachelor of Science in early childhood and elementary education. When I graduated with my teaching degree, the education was going through a very rough time (circa 2007) and jobs were scarce. So, I spent three (long, pain staking) years day-to-day substitute teaching at about 7-8 school districts, praying for a permanent job. And every interview I went on ended the same, “Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re excellent, but we can’t hire you right now.” Talk about a self-esteem killer. During the time I was in college and beyond, I had begun teaching Spinning©, pilates and aerobics classes. In short, I loved it, but I didn’t love when people came up to me and asked me about their sore ankles or aching knees and I had no answers. I started to consider that maybe teaching in a classroom wasn’t my calling after all. At first, I thought I would get my Master’s degree in exercise physiology. Then, I could really help all the people in my group fitness classes and I could work with people in cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehabilitation has been an interest of mine because when I was little I had open heart surgery. The thought of being able to relate to patients with similar issues (even if they were not the same age as me) was very intriguing. I went and spoke with the head of the exercise physiology department and she looked me square in the face and told me I would be wasting my time and that I should pursue a career in physical therapy. Physical therapy had been an idea, but with this new information and after shadowing, I decided it was for me. So, it was back to school for a year to complete all my science courses (chemistry, biology, physics, A&P) before I could even apply to PT school. Then, I missed the deadline by 2 courses, so when I applied I had a full year to wait. Finally, I started physical therapy school in August of 2011 and graduated in December of 2013, and became licensed in January 2014. And as of February 10, 2015, I celebrated my one year anniversary at my job!
  • How was the transition/learning curve when starting your first job?
For me, I felt that my school prepared me extremely well for the transition to a new grad. And, I had a bonus that the company I accepted a position with was a company that I had completed a clinical rotation at. Before starting, I was very familiar with a lot of the procedures which made the transition easier. However, that being said, I really honestly feel like I didn’t have my multi-tasking and documenting completely under control until about 10 months into the job. Some of that is the electronic documentation system that we use and some of it was just adjusting to all of the things that happen in a clinic that you aren’t exposed to as a student. I work for a small company, so a lot of the insurance information is something that I have to keep tabs on and work with, more so than I would have ever imagined.
  • What your work load is like or what a typical day is like for you?
My workload increased pretty quickly when I started working, although that was not the owner’s intention. We just happened to be the busiest we have ever been in the history of the company. Now I’m used to the caseload. I work in an out-patient facility that is a Certified Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF for short) which is sort of unique. I encourage you to google CORF and read up a little. That being said, we offer physical therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and cardiac therapy. I have varying shifts, but on my long 10-hour days I can see anywhere from 15-24 patients and only 7-8 hour days I see around 10-15 patients. It seems very high (and it is), but when you work in pulmonary rehabilitation, the patients only see a physical therapist for about 30-45 minutes. There isn’t any manual therapy or modalities, so it is easier to move them through their programs than a typical patient with orthopedic issues. Now, all of this is about to change because I’m about to become the facility director at another office in our company. That office is not nearly as busy as the office I’m currently in (maybe 8-15 patients a day) and I am also working on developing a program specific for patients with heart failure. All of my responsibilities are going to shift. I’ll still be treating patients, but I’m also going to be doing some administrative tasks and there are program changes that we want to make that I’m going to be involved in. I’m really excited, especially being out of school for such a short period of time, but I’m also very nervous at the same time. I think that my education degree, my physical therapy education, my clinical rotation at this company, and my coworker all contribute to the fact that I was able to transition so easily into the workforce as an effective therapist.
  • What do you wish you would have known or been prepared for after graduating?
I wish that in school they would be more honest about what normal/expected compensation is and how to negotiate to get a fair compensation. I felt like when I accepted my job, I had no idea how to negotiate, so I just accepted the amount stated. There are a million things you’ll come into contact with once you graduate that you will think, “I wish they had prepared me for that,” or “I wish I had known.” Honestly, I think that’s part of getting out into the field. Managing people and fostering trusting relationships is something that can’t really be taught, you learn as you go.
  • What is it like/managing student loans on a physical therapist salary?
I will say that the amount that I accepted was higher than what my classmates had accepted in out-patient positions, so I did feel good about that. Also, my company offers an incentive bonus which works on a monthly basis. If you are busier than expected then you are rewarded for the number of patients that you see. So, I have the opportunity to make roughly around $4-7,000 additionally throughout the year on top of my base salary. Now, my student loans are another story. I have no debt from my undergrad since I had a 4 year hiatus from the time I graduated with my BS and the time I started PT school. So my student loans were roughly $75k upon graduating PT school. To pay that off in 10 years was going to cost me almost $900/month. I went with the 25 year plan which brought the payment down to $520/month and I voluntarily pay $600/month to try to pay a little more on interest. In addition to my student loan payment, I pay roughly $1500 in other bills (mortgage payment, house bills, car payment, gym membership, groceries, gas, etc).  That being said, it is manageable and I’m rarely freaking out about money. My fiancĂ©e has a very well-paying job as well, so we are financially comfortable.
  • Additional thoughts
I just encourage everyone who is thinking about going to PT school or if you are in PT school… You can do it! It’s ok to cry, it is ok to want to quit, it is ok to drink an entire bottle of wine yourself. You will get through it and when you do get through it, it is the most amazing feeling! Don’t get discouraged, do your best (you don’t have to be “the” best to be a wonderful therapist) and just take the opportunities you get. I encourage everyone to remain open minded throughout school and your clinical rotations; you never know when you’ll find a niche of PT that you will really enjoy. Open your mind and accept it all, it’s the only time you’ll get to “try out” various settings without having to accept a position or job search!

Again, a special thanks to Dr. Kala Markel, DPT for her willingness to share her insights. For more information about Dr. Kala Markel, DPT check out her blog at or find her on twitter @kalaisrad.

Let me know what you think about my blog, I would love to hear your feedback. What do you like? What would make it better? What kind of posts would you like to see in the future? Let me know via the comments section below, email at, or find me on twitter @dpt_usa.

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1 comment:

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