They say hindsight's 20/20, right?
7 years and 2 days ago I earned my DPT degree from Emory University. I graduated with highest honors and history repeated itself. Just like my K-12 years, I never made a B in PT school. College was a little bit of a different story (being a student athlete at Duke was hard, people).
I don't share that information to fluff my ego or bruise yours. Rather I quickly learned upon graduation and entering the professional PT world that getting the best grades didn't really matter. I kind of knew that was true as I was entering PT school, especially after I learned that some of my mediocre-at-best college grades (ahem...Physics) did not prevent me from getting in to a top PT program.
However, I didn't really listen to myself then. Hopefully those of you following in my footsteps will do as I say and not as I do and listen up.
Graduating at the top of my class brought a few perks, but they were short lived. Upon being hired by my first employer, I received a call from the HR representative congratulating me on my high achievement. I have a nifty plaque that sits (dusty) on my bookshelf in my office proclaiming my perfect grades. Even my diploma inscribes a little phrase about my academic flawlessness: "Doctor of Physical Therapy with Highest Honors." I got to wear yellow cords on graduation day (which are also collecting dust on my bookshelf). So 3 years of hard work were recognized over about 3 days of my life in May 2009, never to be heard from again.
So that is a bit of a letdown when you think about it. But make no mistake: I'm also not saying that grades don't matter and yes, believe me, I am proud of my hard work. Back in my day (yes, I realize I'm really not that old, but it's fun to say) we had to make a 80% to pass a test, a class, and the program. Say it with me folks "B's make DPTs."
Now that I am teaching PT students, on occasion I hold my breath as I grade tests and pray that every student makes an 80 or higher. That's right students--your professors want you to pass! I promise! It not only reflects poorly on you if you don't pass, but it makes us old dusty professors feel like we aren't doing a good job if you don't hit that 80% mark. We wouldn't be in the position to teach you everything we know if we didn't want you to make it to the other side. Because then that would mean that everything we know isn't good enough. And that's just not true.
So I just said that the best grades don't really matter, but also that it's not that grades don't matter. Whew, that's a lot of double negatives.
What I'm getting at is that grades aren't everything.
What makes a graduating student most attractive, to me at least, is a general curiosity and inquisitiveness to find out why something is happening versus simply stopping at what is happening and what to do about it.
Simon Sinek gave a great TED talk called Start with Why that describes this idea in relation to leadership and customer service. I like to think his theory applies perfectly to a great medical provider. "What is wrong with the patient and what do we do about it?" becomes rote after awhile. The real excitement happens when we ask "Why did that happen to the patient and how did he or she get to this point in the first place? Why does he or she respond to the treatment (what we do about it)--differently than the next patient with the exact same condition (what it is)?
See how important "why?" is? No two "whys" are the same for any one patient. Ever.
Starting your examination with "Why are you here?" versus "What is wrong with you?" are two very different questions. Asking "why" is what what makes a good student, a good clinician, and what makes our job so mysterious and exciting every single day.
So basically I'm saying a good student needs to be the "Sherlock Holmes" of PT.
What else do I love in a graduating student? Oh, let me count the ways...
Being a team player
Recognizing where you need help, and openheartedly asking for it.
Knowing how to maintain and keep personal and professional boundaries for oneself and for others
Openness to change (after all, the medical profession changes on a daily basis! Roll with it people!)
Playfulness and creativity
Being able to ask for help and receiving feedback humbly and with an open heart
GIVING feedback humbly and with an open heart
Remembering that there is an ART to medicine and sometimes that art is much more important than all of the systematic reviews and randomized control trials
Giving back to your profession by being present and engaged in the state and national organization and special interest groups
Going to professional conferences
Participating in community outreach and community service. Willingness to take a lower salary in order to maintain ethical and legal boundaries in a job
Willingness to advocate for other professionals and companies to maintain and adhere to ethical and legal boundaries
Willingness to support the growth of other professionals and their practices, understanding that their growth is not your loss
Willingness to petition for higher pay
Willingness to provide pro bono care
I think that covers a few of my favorite things.
Do you notice something about all or most of those things? Generally those are things that you can't learn in a textbook or continuing education course. You can't get a score on a national board certification exam to prove your worth in those areas.
You have to BE those things, not DO those things.
I used to think I could "do do do" and "accomplish, accomplish, accomplish" to get myself to the top. I figured once I was at the top, I was safe and all the good things would then come to me. That's certainly one way to do it and believe me, I did it well. But it's also exhausting. And there is just so much more to life than pushing so hard all the time. And <gasp> I also learned there was also so much more to life than being a rock star PT. My husband is so thankful I finally came to that realization. A few years ago I began to realize my Hyperachiever was getting a bit burned out, so I enlisted the help of a fabulous coach who recommended I do a little light reading with a little book called Living the 80/20 Way.
In a nutshell, the theory in the book is one of efficiency. Less is more. You can see it there on the title. How can one continue to strive for excellence (a value I never intend to surrender) yet do so with as much effort as necessary, but as little as possible?
What is the secret sauce and the sweet spot to doing that as a PT?
I highly recommend that every single DPT and PTA student out there get their hands on this little gem. It is more than just a light read. It offers practical exercises and applications and believe me, by the time you're finished reading it, you'll question why you ever tried so hard at anything in the first place.
The secrets weren't just in this book though. They were also in diving deep and making many tough-to-make changes to my work hard, play hard, competitive collegiate athlete mentality and lifestyle that I was applying to my personal and professional life. Thanks to the help of a trusted professional, I've really reinvented who I am both personally and professionally. And the best part is--I live the 80/20 principle.
Roughly 20 percent of my time is dedicated to making 80 percent of my income, and that income is roughly 80 percent higher than what it used to be. What do I do with the other 80% of my time? Make 20% of my income, have a lot of time for peaceful relaxation, fun, drawing and painting, spending time with my family, exercising, cooking, and doing all of the things that I love.
And I mean it. I'm writing this blog from my patio at 11:00 in the morning on a weekday, the 2nd weekday in a row that I haven't seen patients. You CAN have this life. It's just a matter of figuring out your "why" and getting very efficient with your time.
Recently, I had the opportunity to share my experiences with other up-and-coming physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. I was honored to have been interviewed by the APTA Student Assembly's Pulse blog regarding advice I would give to DPT and PTA students.
You can check out that blog post here.
If I could sum up the Pulse blog post in one sentence it would say
"For the love of all things sacred, PLEASE focus on what's most important in your life, even when you are swayed by the temptations of overworking, perfectionism, over-achieving, competing with classmates and friends for jobs, and sacrificing personal enjoyment for professional gain."
It's hard to resist that temptation or to realize the stories we tell ourselves about doing those things are actually lies. I'm so proud of every step I have taken along the way and wouldn't change or take away any of it as it all gotten me to the wonderful place I am now. I only wish to have added a mindfulness of being more strategic with my decisions a little earlier in my career.
So if you're a student or new professional, remember to enjoy the moment, take a breath, be patient, and do your best---but know that your best does not have to be THE best of anyone else. Stay in your lane--in school, as a professional, and in life. You don't have to compete and despite the dusty plaque on my shelf--there are really no trophies to be won in this profession. Work together with and support your peers, even when you disagree with them. The only way to elevate our profession is to support each other. And supporting each other starts by supporting and honoring ourselves!
Hindsight's definitely 20/20 for me, thanks to some stylish lenses through which I'm now able to see. For now I'll take my own advice moving forward and practice what I preach. Believe me, it isn't easy to break old habits, so I must practice every single day. I look forward to the blog I'll write 7 years from now to the PTs and PTAs who are 7 years out of school!
Looking for some direction?
Perhaps you know you want to do something big and bold with your career, but aren't quite sure what courses to take or where to look for jobs that won't burn you out.
That's what I'm here for!
I offer personalized coaching for new professionals looking to carve their niche without compromising their values. Reach out to chat.
I can't wait to hear what you're up to!