With the new year close to beginning, it is getting close to the time when residency applications should start getting sent in, so I thought I would review the pros/cons. It can be a tough decision whether you are just finishing up school or have been practicing for awhile, especially with the salary adjustments, but I believe it is worth it.
The primary reason I recommend pursuing a residency is to become a better clinician overall at a faster rate. We often forget that we graduate from physical therapy school as generalists. We know a little about a lot with tools to figure out how to treat most conditions. However, we are by no means specialists. Honestly, I was insecure about my knowledge and skills as an orthopaedic therapist coming out of school and that I would not help many patients. Now, of course, we improve with experience, mentoring and taking various courses, but it takes a long time. In completing a residency, the knowledge and skills are gained at a faster rate. With the advanced didactic and hands on material that is learned in conjunction with 1-on-1 mentoring, the reasoning that may take some to gain in more than a few years can be gained in one. If you look at the medical profession (with which our profession regularly tries to mimic - think white coat ceremonies, doctorate degrees, direct access), residency is required in order to gain the special skills and knowledge for the area of medicine.
I recognize there are many issues with the residency process. First of all, there are not nearly enough spaces for all the PT school graduates. It would be difficult to abruptly increase the number of residencies and ensure certain standards. I think there is potentially a place with certain continuing education programs that maybe take a year or so to complete but advance the clinical reasoning and skills in the field. In the orthopaedic specialty, this can be a COMT program, McKenzie, SFMA, PRI, or many others. There are similar type programs for each specialty. Another issue typically is cost. While, residencies themselves are not an option for all due to the pay cut, the continuing education programs discussed before can help to mediate those costs at a much more affordable rate.
There are many different types of clinical development programs from which to choose. The three of us chose residencies. Jim was at Harris Health's orthopaedic residency, Brian at USC's sports residency, and myself at Scottsdale Healthcare's (now Honor Health) orthopaedic residency. For a list of the available residencies, check out this link from the APTA.. Below you will see a couple different links we have had about our residency experience, but please don't hesitate to contact any of us in either making a decision about applying to a residency or the process itself.
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James Heafner PT, DPT, OCS:
Owner and lead physical therapist at Heafner Health, cash-based physical therapy in Boulder, CO. Areas of expertise include orthopedic and manual therapy, functional movement, pain science, and movement science.
In May 2013, I earned my Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Saint Louis University. After graduating from the Harris Health Systems Orthopedic Residency in October 2014, I moved to Boulder, CO. Since living in Boulder, I have started my own cash-based PT practice, earned my OCS certification, and teach for the OPTIM Fellowship and COMT program in Houston TX and Scottsdale, AZ.
Chris Fox PT, DPT, OCS: Physical therapist at Foothills Sports Medicine & Physical Therapy in Scottsdale, AZ and regularly lectures at the Phoenix Campus for NAU's DPT program and for Optim Manual Therapy's COMT program. Completed multiple advanced manual therapy courses implementing aspects of biomechanical analysis. He received his DPT from Saint Louis University in 2013. Completed Scottsdale Healthcare's Orthopaedic Residency (now Honor Health) in July 2014. He became a Board Certified Orthopaedic Specialist in 2015. Level I Expert in FMS and SFMA , Kinetacore FDN Level 1 certification, and IASTM Technique course completion. He would like to pursue further education in McKenzie Technique, Dry Needling, Strength & Conditioning, Orthopaedic and Manual Therapy.
Brian Schwabe PT, DPT, SCS, CSCS:
- Board Certified Sports Physical Therapist (SCS) at Elite OrthoSport in Santa Monica, CA which specializes in treating collegiate/professional athletes and clientele from the Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Santa Monica areas.
- USC Sports Residency Trained Physical Therapist (<1% of all PT's residency trained)
- DPT from Saint Louis University
- Future plans/interest include:
1. USAW, SFMA & Catapult Systems technology for NBA teams
2. Pursuing a position as a sports physical therapist &/or Strength coach for a Division 1 athletic medicine department or professional sport team.
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