What’s a New Grad to Do???

This is the Taking Care of Business column appearing in the 8.15 edition of OT ADVANCE

What’s a New Grad to Do???
By Iris Kimberg, MS PT OTR

First jobs are like other firsts in one’s life-watershed events that have the power to  shape and influence a  future path and  direction. This past May I was contacted by many  newly graduated therapy students grappling with the “what’s next” question. How happy I was to advise them, not be them! Most students call me in regard to private practice – how soon can I start, what should I do, how helpful is it to work in another private practice?

For the overwhelming majority of students coming out of school ( with the rare exception being the student who pursued OT as a second career, pairing it with a compatible first career (ie. social work), no new grad is equipped with the dual set of clinical skills and business acumen that is required in private practice. I still think one of the best first jobs (especially if you have the luxury to let opportunity trump salary) is to work in a teaching hospital. Teaching hospitals still teach, and any new grad still needs to learn and get first hand experience in a structured setting where guidance and building a knowledge base is part of the job. Sound clinical skills must form  the basis of any therapy private practice that wants to build in long term success.

That said,  a new grad can  go work in a private practice, but it has to be the right private practice. In occupational therapy, most  OT private practices today are  either hand specialty practices or pediatric based, so for starters that should be a match. Some grads have a great head start because they already have done fieldwork placements in private practice.  Long time friend, colleague, and Utica College alum, Pamela Miller MA, OTR Fieldwork Coordinator  at Columbia University reports that she  routinely places students in private practices in  mostly level one and some level two placements.  It gives the student an opportunity to see a therapist not only treat, but also be involved in aspects of entrepreneurship unique to private practices.  Factors in placement  also include the extent of  supervision,  and the diversity of caseload to assure the student a well rounded experience.

Here is some considerations  for a  new graduate when contemplating a private practice based first job.  Remember that as much as the practice owner is  interviewing you, you are interviewing the practice owner to evaluate what you will glean from the relationship.

  1. Find out about the therapists who work in the practice ( including the practice owner) – how long have they been a therapist and in practice, what are their additional credentials?  What is the turnover rate of therapists at the practice – that can speak volumes about the practice.  Does the practice owner  exude passion about their craft?  Is this someone you think you could emulate, or someone you want to make sure you “don’t turn out like?”
  2. Try to talk with existing staff therapists – ask one question and see how long they take to answer- “What do you like about working in this practice?”
  3. Get specifics about the type(s) of patients who get referred to the practice, and who refers to them. Pediatrics means different things to different people.  Make sure you know what you are signing up for.
  4. Get specifics about what your potential job responsibilities  would be – do you get the sense that they are looking at you just in terms of billable hours you can bring in? How many patients are you expected to treat per day?
  5. What are the opportunities for learning at the job? Does the practice utilize group  patient reviews, and how will they supervise the work that you do?  Does the practice offer continuing education? Will you have the opportunity to work side by side with therapists or  are you flying solo all the time?
  6. What is your first impression of the practice?  What word(s) comes to mind? Dynamic, enthusiastic, or burn out?
  7. Answer this question – would you want to be a patient in this practice or refer a family member??
    If you cannot answer yes, you may want to reconsider taking the job.

Employment is a two way street, and a true give and take relationship. As new grads, you are generally fully of enthusiasm, unbridled determination, and ready to give 150% of your time and energy to a new job; the onus is one you to make sure of what you are getting  in return!

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