As a professor in a few entry-level DPT programs over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know many students. By and large, the graduates from these programs are some of the smartest, most motivated people I’ve met.  However, they’re not always greeted with the same sentiment by employers. It’s concerning. It’s a situation worthy of not one, but several blog posts and so what follows is the first of a three-part series. I’ll start us off with this post to start a conversation about how the profession treats the people who are it’s future.  In “New Grads: An Asset for Clinics,” Lauren Kealy, a DPT student at Regis University, gives a student perspective on why new grads are excellent assets in the clinic.  In part three, we’ll look at some solutions, and incorporate feedback from the community as the conversation progresses.

Treating Our Future – Part 1: The Bane of the New Professional

My motivation for this blog post, and this series of posts, is not a good one. That said, I hope it sparks a constructive conversation that proves beneficial. Simply put, I’ve seen too many new professionals in physical therapy treated like dung by potential employers.

Here’s a story about how it goes for new grads here up in Colorado:

The new Grad looks for jobs. They don’t find many options, as the positions posted primarily request those with 3-5 years of experience. The newly minted doctor of physical therapy waits patiently for the ad accepting new grads. It never comes. They network, they reach out, they apply to jobs which request 3-5 years of experience anyway. Eventually, they get an interview, only to be told they don’t have enough experience. That’s even if they get a reply at all, as most often they get a polite thank you and never hear from the employer again.

After a while, they find a clinic who’s pressed to hire. Or they have a particularly strong networking connection. They then, to my personal dismay as an instructor, must perform a practical exam as part of the job interview to “test their hands.” I thought we already did that as part of their physical therapy education process? Was it not good enough? Didn’t the new graduate pass the NPTE? Is that not enough? Shouldn’t clinical reasoning be the thing you test instead of “hands,” especially if your clinic’s therapists use ultrasound regularly for patients with back pain? I don’t get it. But, let’s continue the saga of the job-seeking new graduate.

Provided they “pass” their practical exam, they are then sent on their way. If not hired, they still don’t often get a call back to let them know they weren’t hired. Silence is the most common answer. If hired, well, good for them. They’re on their way to greatness, albeit usually without benefits, or with minimal benefits and a salary that soon leads to sticker shock, as they contemplate the grizzly reality of paying off their 7 years of student loan debt and trying to afford a place to live.

At a recent #PTPubNight, I listened to a conversation between two clinicians. When one, the older, found out the person he was conversing with had less than 6 months of experience, he responded with a sneer, a statement, “Oh, you’re fresh!,” and a turn away from the previously strong conversation. Is this how we should be treating our profession’s future?

Dehumanizing our Future

It’s tragic to watch this process. From graduation and all of its ecstatic highs to the low of never even hearing “No,” new professionals in physical therapy can be in for a rough ride. It’s not that each new graduate deserves every job they apply for. However, they deserve the respect of a professional, qualified and ready to work. To not even return their application with a negative response, to question their skill set, to demean them for their lack of work experience is wrong, and unproductive. As the profession works to inspire leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs to carry us into the future, a first stop characterized by disrespectful professional behavior is not a good strategy.

I know it’s not like this everywhere. In Texas, graduates from Texas State University were gobbled up like delicious pieces of bacon by clinics around the state. Texas is a positive job market, and so employers are happy to see the new graduates arrive. The point is, this happens somewhere. Colorado is not alone. I’ve conversed with many students from around the country and I hear similar themes: “They never even called me back, even after I did a hands-on practical.” “All the jobs want 5 years of experience, how am I supposed to get experience if no one will hire me?” “I had to sit and listen to what a liability I’d be for the clinic since I was a new grad.” “They made me do a practical exam, but the stuff they asked me seemed way out of date compared to what we learned in school.” I’ve spoken with many PT’s who declare, “I’ll never hire a new grad!” without remorse or pause. Many of these are the most respected and seemingly savvy PT’s around, even one’s with a large social media footprint.

It’s time for a conversation.

There are reason’s employers don’t want to hire a new graduate. Some of those are valid, while others are not. Some of the valid reasons, like lack of business skills or billing proficiency, should spark reform in education. Some of the invalid reasons, like assuming new grads can’t possibly manage patients with low back pain, should spark education and discussion. At no times, should the new professional be treated like dog meat as they rush excitedly into their first professional experiences. This issue is closely tied to the often discussed disconnect between education and clinical practice, but it’s more than that. It’s about respect, and a forward thinking strategy for how and where our new professionals go.

I’m very interested in feedback on this post. If you’re a clinic owner who doesn’t hire new grads, tell us why. If you’re a new professional, tell us about some of the hardships. If you just have an opinion, join in!

In part two of this series, Lauren will discuss the benefits of new professionals. Part three will look to solutions, and feature conversations that spawn from our posts, as well as highlighting some very successful practices who have embraced new graduates heavily. I look forward to this conversation.

 Links to Treating our Future Series
Part 1: The Bane of the New Professional 
Part 2: New Grads, An Asset for Clinics
Part 3: Resolving the Bane of the New Professional