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.
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.
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 your work load is like or what a
typical day is like for you?
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 do you wish you would have known
or been prepared for after graduating?
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 fiancée has a very well-paying job as well,
so we are financially comfortable.
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!
- What is it like/managing
student loans on a physical therapist salary?
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 http://classroomtoclinic.blogspot.com/ or find her on twitter .
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 email@example.com, or find me on twitter @dpt_usa.
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