Physical therapy schools do a great job teaching students the fundamentals of physical therapy. Students learn a wide variety of topics leaving them with knowledge spread across many different specialty areas. This is both good and bad, We are trained to be general practitioners. Being a general practitioner means you can practice in any setting with a baseline level of competence. Since the human body is so complex (and our knowledge of the brain and central nervous system is continually evolving), physical therapy school does not have opportunity to teach us to be a specialist. There is simply not enough time in 3 years. The purpose of this post is not to discuss the downsides of physical therapy school, but to discuss the need to continue developing our skill sets after physical therapy school.
What is the best way to specialize in your area of interest?
After PT school, Chris, Brian, and I all attended orthopedic residency programs. These programs were intense 1-year programs teaching us to be experts in neuromuscular diagnosis, examination, and treatment. Key concepts of my program were pain science, exercise prescription, manual and manipulative therapy, and intervention selection. Since the residency program was my full time job, I could finally spend 100% of my attention on neuromuscular and orthopedic concepts. Prior to the residency, these orthopedic topics were simply wrote memorization put into practice.
A residency or fellowship program may not be for everyone. Residencies cost a considerable amount of time and money. Fortunately, you can still train to be an expert without attending a residency. Today there are many other advanced programs to choose from. Online learning opportunities are now giving students higher level learning experiences. Medbridge is a great example of this. Other programs offer continuing development using online didactice learning and in person lab sessions over the course of 1 or 2 years. Whatever your interest, I highly recommend finding yourself an advanced learning program. If you are failing to prepare yourself for the future, you are preparing to fail. Get out and specialize.
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