The Best Career Advice for Students and Young Professionals From The Experts in the Field

image Some of the most common emails I receive are from students and new graduates regarding advice on getting started in their careers.  I wrote about 5 tips on landing a job in professional sports in the past but wanted to also provide more general advice.  Better yet, rather than just hear from me, I asked my friends and colleagues to also offer their best advice for students and young professionals.

I am lucky enough to share with you advice from many experts in the fields of physical therapy, athletic training, strength and conditioning, and manual therapy – an impressive group of experts including Ken Crenshaw, Brian Tovin, Rafael Escamilla, Leon Chaitow, Eric Cressey, Tom Myers, Sue Falsone, George Davies, and myself.  This is very similar to my Essential Reading Lists from expert clinicians that I published last year.  A collaboration of thoughts from amazing people in several fields around the globe.

Please share this with your colleagues and classmates.  Forward this along, stumble it, tweet it, talk about it on facebook, link to it on your site, and anything you can think of!  For my experienced readers, please reply to this post with your advice as well.  Let’s make this an impressive resource!  These are all unedited and straight from each expert.

image Ken Crenshaw, ATC, CSCS – Head Athletic Training of the Arizona Diamondbacks

I always encourage students to read, read, read as that will able a lot of information that may be applied to their profession. The desire to continue to learn beyond school is paramount. Think outside the box as there are many tools that may help in your future practice. Lastly communication and work ethic are 2 really big needs for me as they don’t seem to be taught in school and are very critical in our organization.

image Brian J. Tovin, DPT, MMSc, SCS, ATC, FAAOMPT – Founder & Owner of The Sports Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta

The best advice I could give is to develop your manual therapy skills…not just joint mobilization/manipulation, but soft tissue techniques, stretches, PNF, manual resistance,etc.  Patients will often assess how good a PT is by how good their hand are, stating, “He/she has the best hands!”.  There is a good reason for this as there is something special, or some may say “magical”, about the laying on of hands that is beyond psychosomatic. Make patients feel that coming to your clinic is different then going to a gym and seeing a trainer…this is what makes us different as physical therapists.  As a PT, I hear patients complain that I saw (a clinician) and “they never even put their hands on me!”.  Do not be that clinician.

image Rafael F. Escamilla, PT, PhD, CSCS, FACSM – Director of Research at The Andrews Institute in Pensacola, FL

Stayed focused, finish what you start, and be persistent.  I can’t tell you how many projects and studies that people start but don’t finish, or give up on.  Identify a line of research or area of study that you are interested in, set specific goals regarding what you want to achieve, and then stay focused and be persistent until you have achieved those goals.  Some of my research publications have taken 3 or 4 revisions (and 2-3 years) before they were finally published, and it would have been easy to give up after the first couple revisions.  Once you meet your goals, set new goals and start the whole process over.  Limit your goals and don’t spread yourself too thin by being involved in too many areas – stay focused. Be really good at a few things rather than mediocre in a bunch of things. Finally, be a glass half full type of person rather than a glass half empty type of person, and optimistic rather than pessimistic.  You will be more likely to endure the trials and tribulations you face, and come out stronger, more determined, and in the end, more successful in your endeavors.

image Leon Chaitow, ND, DO – Distinguished manual therapist, author, and educator. Honorary Fellow, University of Westminster, London and Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies

I recommend a thorough understanding of Hans Selye’s general and local adaptation syndrome concepts (some good info here). This suggests that whatever the actual health problem – and in fact the more complex the problem the more important this formula becomes – it is essential to appreciate that almost all health issues can be seen to represent failed/or failing, adaptation. Once this is understood it becomes important to consider which adaptive stressors can be identified – whether lifestyle, biomechanical, biochemical or psychosocial – and how these can be modified or eliminated. These adaptive stressors represent one facet of the therapeutic equation, which might involve postural, respiratory, nutritional, behavioral or functional factors. The other part of the equation that needs to be considered relates to way(s) in which functionality might be enhanced, so that the stress burden can be better managed. Aspects of this would entail improved strength, stability, flexibility and mobility – along with sleep, rest, exercise etc.

So the bottom line of this therapeutic formula boils down to – reduce the adaptive load, while improving function. The only other choice is to treat symptoms. Into this mix it is also critical that we tailor the therapeutic interventions to the ability of the individual to respond positively – so that treatment doesn’t become yet another stress burden.

Selye H: The stress of life, Philadelphia, 1976, McGraw Hill.

Chaitow L Blake E Orrock P  Wallden M  2007 Naturopathic Physical Medicine Elsevier

image Eric Cressey, MA, CSCS – Owner of Cressey Performance and my co-author of my DVD set Optimal Shoulder Performance:

My biggest piece of advice would be to recognize that a degree (or certification) is really just a foot in the door, and that the real learning begins when you are “thrown into the fire.”  Sure, it kind of stinks to hear that $200K+ in college expenses and 4+ years of energy spent merely gets you to the starting line.  However, it’s exciting because it’s a sign that all the work ahead is about establishing yourself as a “cut above” other professionals in your field.  When your goal changes from “the minimum standard” to “excellence,” life is more fun and the real learning and motivation begin.

In college, short of failing out, there really isn’t any pressure.  Universities don’t send you home because they don’t like your attitude, energy level, attendance/punctuality, or new haircut.  In the real world, though, you’ve got to step up your game.  A little mantra I live by with our staff is “Clients (patients) hire and fire you every day. You can’t have bad days.”

image Thomas Myers – Manual therapist and author of Anatomy Trains

There is one Advice God, but expressed as a Trinity:

1) Be clear in your intent. Knowing what you intend to do can inform your hands and inform the client / patient at a subtle level in such a way that makes up for your ignorance of exactly where everything is and what is going on in their tissues. The other side of that coin – mucking around hoping to find something that works (the ‘press and pray’ strategy) is occasionally a way of causing damage.

2) The contrary but still consistent advice is: experiment. When what you know is not working, make a conscious choice to explore in search of a new way. How else do you think all the things you know now were discovered? Most scientific discoveries are not made to the sound of ‘Eureka!’, but to the sound of ‘Hunh?’.

3) The 11th commandment: Thou shalt not bore God. If you are bored, you are doing something wrong. This is the most interesting profession going and it’s a largely unexplored area. If you’re bored, you got down a cul-de-sac, and you need to back out and go on in another direction. If all your sessions start looking the same, this is a good indication you are bored. Get help via mentorship or a new class.

image Sue Falsone, PT, MS, SCS, ATC, CSCS – Director of Performance Physical Therapy at Athlete’s Performance in Arizona

1) To be open to all ethical ideas, yet critical of where it fits into your personal practice.  No one has it figured out.  If someone did, we would all be doing it.  Just because someone uses a technique that you don’t, it doesn’t make you or them right or wrong.  It’s just different.  Maybe it fits into your practice, maybe it doesn’t.  And that is ok.  Even if you learn that you don’t want to use that technique, then you learned something that will shape you as a clinician.

2) Learn from everyone around you, and meet as many “big names” in the field as you can.  Introduce yourself to someone after you watch them speak, drop them a question via email about something they said in their talk, etc.  You’d be surprised at how many people will respond to you, and what doors these connections can open for you as you move along your path.

image George J. Davies, DPT, MED, PT, SCS, ATC, LAT, CSCS, ACSM-CET, APTA-CCI, SMAC, (REMT), FAPTA – The godfather of sports physical therapy:

Develop a passion for what you do, always keep the intrinsic love of learning, provide the best care to your patients based on the best evidence, it’s a profession (not a job), so contribute when you can, maintain a balance in life, and have “FUN” along the way.

image Michael M. Reinold, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC, CSCS – Head Athletic Training Boston Red Sox

1) Surround yourself with the best – that is what I did. If you like tennis rehab and you want to get into tennis, seek out the experts in that field, learn from them, work with them, and become one of them.

2) Work harder than everyone else. That is the American way, isn’t it? Our society will allow those that want to outwork others to do so, and this always results in good things. It comes down to the Pareto principle. You can apply it in many ways, but basically 20% of the people do 80% of the work. What percentage do you want to be in?

3) Always have a sound scientific, and hopefully evidence based, rationale behind each and every thing that you do. Every exercise, every set, every rep… Everything. Not only to provide rationale for your patients and clients, but also to challenge yourself to always update and enhance what you do. I have always been this way and you can see it in my articles, like the summation of many years of work that I published in JOSPT last year – The Scientific and Clinical Rationale Behind Exercise Selection for the Glenohumeral and Scapulothoracic Musculature.

4) Shape your practice on as many different thought processes as possible.  Or, better said, don’t get locked into one treatment pattern.  That is tunnel vision.  Take the best out of everyone and become yourself.

What else???  Do you have more advice you would like to share?  Please comment on this post with your contribution. Please spread this post on your websites, in emails, on facebook and twitter, or whatever way you can to help spread this great advice!

18 replies
  1. Will Freeman, DPT, ATC
    Will Freeman, DPT, ATC says:

    Great advice, thanks. My advice would be to remember this concept “I give you weakness that you may be strong.” Don’t be afraid to acknowledge weaknesses in your skills, and more importantly don’t be afraid to discuss them with others. Acknowledge them and then make them your strengths. I like to comment “Take the best out of everyone and become yourself.”

  2. Terri
    Terri says:

    I like Ericsson advice regarding clients, “you can’t have bad days.” I think that’s true. Sometimes we have to put on that happy face…

  3. Perry Nickelston
    Perry Nickelston says:

    Great comments one and all. I find this happens in the chiropractic profession as well. New doctors and students come out with little knowledge on how to be successful in practice. They may have great hands and be really book smart, however most have not developed the most important skill of all…being a good communicator and getting along with other people. It's all about building relationships. So I tell them to develop those skills. Read books on communication, take a course (Dale Carnegie etc.) and put yourself out there. Don't worry about the methods, but stick to the core principles.

  4. Preston Collins SPT
    Preston Collins SPT says:

    Great information from everyone! I plan to take a lot of this advice to heart and hope that my career as a PT will greatly benefit.

  5. Craig Liebenson
    Craig Liebenson says:

    Great post. A phenomenal group of role models. Reminds me of when Gallimore & Tharp
    KEEP Founders Kemehameha Early Education Project did their analysis of all the best educators & synthesized the greatest hits & yet their program flopped.

    What made the difference was when they studied one master – John Wooden.Really studied him. Hung w/ him for months. Videotaped him. Analyzed him. Then, came up w/ the seed for their revolutionary academic paradgim.

    Learn from a master.


  6. Chris Dukarski,PT
    Chris Dukarski,PT says:

    During my 20 year career, I have learned that the biggest reason why therapists don't grow professionally is COMPLACENCY. As Tom Myers said "If you are bored, you are doing something wrong" is a great point, but the therapist has to first acknowledge the fact that he/she is doing the same, boring thing everyday. As they say, ignorance is bliss! Yes, Mike, it really is important to surround yourself with knowledgable, motivated people. Thx!

  7. Peter
    Peter says:

    Excellent post with great advice. I was disappointed that completing a residency program wasn't mentioned. These programs are gaining traction nationwide and provide an invaluable learning experience for both new grads and experienced PTs alike.

  8. Sam Leahey
    Sam Leahey says:

    In my opinion – the best possible advice given:

    "Take the best out of everyone and become yourself."

    Absolutley gold!

    Carson – It's nice to hear others mention the mistake of pursuing money early on. You wouldn't believe me if i told you the amount of undergraduate and internship debt I've accumulated in pursuit of passion. Well said.

    All the best,

  9. AndrewP
    AndrewP says:

    Andrew Pallas ND DO
    Lots of good responses here!
    One thing I would like to add is take the time and effort to learn how to use your eyes and ears as well as your hands. Really pay attention to the information your patients/clients are giving you, especially the stuff they aren't even consciously aware of themselves.
    Pay enough attention and more often than not, they will tell you what you need to do.

  10. Carissa Spraberry M Ed, ATC, LAT
    Carissa Spraberry M Ed, ATC, LAT says:

    Thank you so much for this! I really appreciate you and your experienced colleagues taking a sincere interest in mentoring the next generation of clinicians and researchers.

    It is so great to hear differing perspectives!

    I would add: Get involved, and be aware! Know the issues, advancements and obstacles that you face and commit to bettering yourself and the profession.
    Be your own best advocate- don't rely on others to sing your praises;champion for yourself and for athletic training.

    Thank you again, Mike! I enjoy your perspective and keep you on our blog roll :)

  11. Carson Boddicker
    Carson Boddicker says:

    Great topic and one that really hits the nail on the head for me.

    Having spent the last many years in the classroom setting, to me, one thing that I would advise is to pursue passion, have a purpose, and figure out how it all fits together. Too often students come away with myopic views of the systems and don't understand how they fit together let alone have a concept of how any of it fits in an exercise or rehabilitation program.

    Additionally, there are too many students who are motivated to "go make money" after college by being a PT, without truly demonstrating or exploring passion about the body. While money is a good motivator for many, I am not convinced it will help improve your results with patients/clients in the long run.

    Carson Boddicker

  12. CC
    CC says:


    Just wanted to send a huge "thank you!" to you and everyone who contributed to this topic. As a PT student, I spend a good bit of time thinking about where I want to be as a PT and the things I need to do to get there. Your blog has been an invaluable source of information for me. Keep up the fantastic work.

  13. Christie Downing, PT, DPT, Dip. MDT
    Christie Downing, PT, DPT, Dip. MDT says:

    Although I agree it's important to have "smart hands" and be competent in your manual therapy skills, I think what trumps all is to be a good educator.

    Most patients will appreciate a good technique, but if you can empower them to get the same result with a self directed techniques, this is more important than any manual therapy skill. Remember that we are there to teach patients to be independent, not dependent on us. Many fixes never need our hands. I say sit on your hands until it's demonstrated that the patient cannot fix the problem themselves.

    As an anecdote…had a patient who saw a chiropractor for "years" for her low back pain (I was seeing her for lymphedema), I finally convinced her to let me evaluate her low back. A few simple exercises and she came back and said "I can't believe I wasted all those years…I now have the confidence to treat myself"…and she has continued to do so over the past few years.

    Finally, be a reflective and active listener. Patients usually appreciate us more than their physicians because we can take the time to listen and connect with them. Develop your history taking skills and how to ask questions in a manner that elicits meaningful responses.

  14. Trevor Winnegge PT,DPT,MS,OCS,CSCS
    Trevor Winnegge PT,DPT,MS,OCS,CSCS says:

    I loved Brian Tovins post about develping your hands. I really think this is critical to not only being a good therapist but also a good employee. Patients will feel they are receiving more from their sessions nd compliance will be greater! Take a "simple" sprained ankle patient. Sure they need lots of exercise and stability and can probably get better without ever touching them. Isn't it better though, if we took some time, to perform some alternating isometrics, MRE's, and other PNF techniques to help build some stability, get our hands on the patient, and make them feel like their co-pay money was well spent?

    George Davies also had great insight on developing your passion. Not just developing it but maintaining it throughout your career. We have all worked with therapists just collecting a paycheck-don't be that person.

    One thing that I have found particularly helpful and I didn't see it mentioned int he article, is the use of a clinical mentor. As a new graduate, or even affiliating student, find the therapist in your clinic who kows their stuff. Ask them questions, observe their treatments, consult on your patients. Don't just ask them to look at a patient you cant figure out what is going on. Ask them to co-treat with you, so you can learn and feel what they feel. Find someone to take you under their wing. it helped me be a better therapist when I graduated. Sometimes it made me see what I was missing, other times it confirmed my suspicions. Either way, you can take that info and learn from it. I really cant overstate the importance of finding that clinical mentor who is willing to teach and guide you through the early phases of PT life. It definitely helped me to be where I am today.

  15. Jeff Cubos
    Jeff Cubos says:


    Thanks for sharing this. What a great post!

    I'd like to add that I am a big fan of using a "system" to learn. A routine. Some kind of framework or path that we can continue upon as we navigate through the wealth of knowledge that pubmed, the internet, the publishing companies, etc throw at us.

    Some suggestions may be:

    – Reading journal articles during the short breaks you have throughout the day (lunch, between patients).
    – Textbook reading during the weekend for uninterrupted, continuous reading.
    – Refraining from attending a seminar or lecture unless you have read up on some of the material that will be presented. $500 + to network isn't my thing.
    – Be accountable. Throw up some thoughts on a blog so that people can constructively criticize your work.

    The key is to "LEARN WITH INTENT!"

    Thanks again.

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