Guide to preparing for an interview as a Physical Therapist

So its time for the interview.  Maybe first; maybe one after other unsuccessful interviews.   Once we finish our internship and final semester, it is time to look for places where we can actually use our knowledge and help people!  Granted, after having a PT degree, you are going to get a job.  If you have some contacts in the field, you may even start working under direct supervision prior to clearing your NPTE.   In any case, yes, you will get a job – no worries there.

So, why am I even writing this post?  Here is why.  Yes, you will get a job – a job that will take care of your huge student loans and help pay your bills.  But, you want to find a place that you like, be liked by people around you, and you find satisfaction of “helping people” (after all, that is why you went to school for 5 years). A job that will not burn you out easily.  You want a job that gives you a purpose to get out of bed every morning and start your day happily, even after few years of practice!! That is why I wanted to write on a few interview tips for physical therapists.  So that when a new grad goes out for an interview, they ask the right questions that help them to learn about the place and the department in a better way.

When we go for a job interview, we are nervous. We usually prepare ourselves and look online for some tips. I admit I have done that. I wanted to know how to present myself, what to ask or what I should do as an interviewee. Now after few years under my belt as a PT, I can say what exactly I wish I would have known before I took that job. Don’t get me wrong, the sources I had referenced helped me gain confidence and prepared me mentally.   However, I saw a lack of information specific to physical therapy or rehabilitation department interviews. I am mainly talking about inpatient rehabilitation department. You can use many of the tips below for other PT settings as well. 

So, let’s start with the questions that will help gain information that you, as a therapist, should know.

Census:

What is the facility capacity and average census? This will give you an idea of how well the facility is doing overall. If they are 90% or more full on average, you will most likely to get full-time hours majority of days. You want to work in a place where you have enough work and they have a real need. You also want to ask what percentage is short-term rehab population. That is really where we, therapists, work and are needed.

Average length of stay:

This is important. You want to find out how quickly the patients are getting better. Faster is better in our quickly changing healthcare profession. 

Average disposition:

You want to know where the majority of your population discharge.  This guides you to find out on average how many patients go home,  to assisted living or to a lower level of care unit.   I’m sure you don’t want to work in a facility where the majority of your patients discharged to a hospital or die.   That population is too acute for aggressive skilled interventions, and you are not really working in rehabilitation environment at that point (unless you work in hospice care or comfort care unit).  

You also want to find out who decides the disposition. This is very important and can get little tricky.  In the majority of places, therapists make a recommendation regarding discharge based on physical level, cognition, behavior, medical condition, etc. Therapists don’t have to decide on the final disposition though.  That decision should come from an Interdisciplinary team (IDT) based on therapist’s recommendations.

Type of diagnosis:

Unless you are applying to a specialized rehabilitation facility, the majority of places will have patients with mix diagnosis.  Some higher than others, but usually, you want to look for a good mix of conditions as a new grad PT (unless you already know you want to have specialization in particular field). 

Size of Rehab department

How big is the department?  How many therapists in each discipline and with how much experience.  This will describe pretty much your day and flexibility. If you are the only PT than you are going to be expected to do all the evaluations, recertifications etc. If you have some senior staff in the team, then you have a mentor you can learn from and ask for advice on complicated cases.  Also, you can also learn from experience OTs and SLPs.   This does not mean that you won’t learn if you don’t have experienced staff members in your future rehab team but it does make a difference to have a team with a good mixture of experience as a new grad therapist.

Relationship among the therapists – if they get along with each other

I have worked in a rehab gym where the team is kind of a family, they like each other, they get along so well that you love to be around them. This can be true with different kind of personalities. Therapists do have some disagreements but they manage to work together in a coherent manner. That creates a good professional environment. 

On the other side of the spectrum, where people just cannot stand some particular staff members, and that is never a happy place to work. You want to go to work in a happy healthy place, not where people are fighting and constantly arguing with each other. One thing I will tell you is that the manager/interviewer is not going to say directly anything bad about their place. and they should not.. But, surely you will get some vibes or will see some visual cues that trigger the answer to this question. 

How is the relationship between therapist and assistant

This is kind of similar as the topic above, but, I did it as a separate topic as I have seen and heard many times, that new grad therapists resign as the assistants are not cooperative or not being team players.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have worked with few experienced and very hard working PT assistants and I totally respect their role in my patient’s recovery.  The goal of this assessment is to try to observe the working style of the PTA.  Your future assistant (if you are going to have any) should cooperative and look forward to having you join the team!

Expectation of manager/supervisor for the job applicant

This is very important. When you are talking with your future manager during the interview, you want to find out what her/his expectation is from the employee. You want to think about if it is real and doable for you. Usually, managers are supportive to their team, but, they also have their job and requirements to fulfill.  So, it is best to find out what you are getting into before you make the final decision.

Turnover of the department

You want to know how long the therapists stay in the department. Turnover of every six months or a year for the majority of the department tells you that there is something wrong with that place. You may not know what, but, you may not want to find out and get involved in as a new grad PT.

How did this position become available

Sometimes, you hear very genuine reason, like the person was relocating, getting married, decided to be a stay at home mom after a child – these are good reasons for position to become vacant. But sometimes, they will tell you that they have a hard time finding a right person for this place for whatever reasons. Now for this, I am not telling you that since it was not for someone else that it cannot be yours. Just make sure you ask the whys.

One thing you must realize is that every place you go to will have its own challenges. You just need to figure out the challenges you are willing to take on based on your personality,  and which one you can not stand.

How many patients a day a therapist is expected to see and how long on average

This will give you an idea of what your day will look like and what is expected out of you.  I discuss a typical day of a therapist in a separate post.

Check facility rating from CMS and know about the company you are applying for

I wrote this last as I know every article on interview tips talks about it. And yes, it is important to know the place where you are applying to.  In short, do your homework, and get as much detail about the place and for the building that you can find. You don’t want to work in a really low rated building. There are very good chances that you won’t get good rehab population that you can treat. And just in case, if you decide to work in some low rated building, set your expectation right.

Conclusion:

These are just a few tips that I think I would like to know before accepting a job. With this, now I think I know about the place I am going to work in. It can be different for you. This article is mainly for inpatient rehabilitation department. If you are applying in other settings, you may find few tips from this article are more important than others. Just do your homework and wear a smile, rest will fall into right place! Check out my article on how to succeed in sub-acute care facility as a physical therapist. Good Luck!!

 

Have additional questions?  feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

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NOTE: The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program.