Ask Mike Reinold Show

How to Become a Sports Physical Therapist

I know a lot of people want to specialize and become a sports physical therapist, but how do you actually do this?

In this week’s podcast, we take a pretty neat approach and go over the steps we would recommend at every level of your journey, from high school, to undergrad, to PT school, and early in your career. This was a fun one.

As a reminder, I’m running for president of the American Academy of Sports Physical Therapy, click here to learn more about my vision and how to vote!

To view more episodes, subscribe, and ask your questions, go to mikereinold.com/askmikereinold.

#AskMikeReinold Episode 246: How to Become a Sports Physical Therapist

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Show Notes



Transcript

Student:
So for a question today, we have Ryan from Salinas. “Hey Mike, I’m a high school student and want to get into sports rehabilitation therapy or something along those lines. Any tips or school pathway recommendations?”

Mike Reinold:
This is good. I forgot this was going to be the first question. I was looking at this one, I thought this would be a really fun one to go through because… What was the name again? Jonathan? No, you’re Jonathan.

Student:
Ryan.

Mike Reinold:
Ryan. Okay. What Ryan said here which I thought was really cool is, he’s in high school right now. And he wants to become a sports physical therapist. So I thought what we do is we can outline a path that he can take to put himself in the best position to succeed. And I thought this would be a cool way to do it. So I really liked this question, Ryan. So, so thanks for doing it. So let’s do this. Ryan’s in high school. Let’s talk about this: in high school, in undergrad, in PT school, and then when he graduates, when he’s an early career professional, an ECP. That’s what we’re calling them nowadays.

Lenny Macrina:
ECP.

Mike Reinold:
I’m down with the lingo. He’s not a new grad, but when he’s an ECP, we put all those together. What are the paths we can take to be a sport physical therapist? I like that. So who wants to go first? High school. Let’s talk high school. What can Ryan do right now to start this path? Who wants to go first? Lisa? What’s up?

Lisa Russell:
I can go first. Well, I think Tilley and I maybe are the only ones that went straight from high school into a PT program or at least recently.

Mike Reinold:
I was going to say us old people did, but that was different.

Lisa Russell:
Yeah. What I did in high school was I shadowed a ton of PTs just to see if I really felt like it was for me. I was in, probably all of us were, right? I was in PT for a lot of injuries, so I saw it from that lens. And then went and shadowed. And then the only colleges I looked at were ones that had PT programs.

Mike Reinold:
I like that.

Lisa Russell:
I made sure that they also had AT and other similar options in case I got halfway through and was like, eh, I don’t know about this, but I don’t know. You can set yourself up straight from high school and just apply.

Mike Reinold:
I think that’s great. So two big things I like from that. One is go shadow. Right? And it’s time to start learning that to get ahead in life, you probably need to donate your time a little bit and to get out there and hustle. So that’s great. So go find some sport physical therapy settings in your area and go shadow, go, “Hey, can I clean tables? What can I do? How can I help out?” That’s fantastic. But I liked that when picking a PT school, Lisa, I think you gave some really good advice right there. I like trying to find ones that seem to be focused in sports.

Mike Reinold:
So maybe a couple of tips and I may be wrong on this. So somebody let me know what they think, but maybe one that also has like a residency for sports physical therapy. Maybe that would be a good place to do your undergrad in your PT degree, because you already know they have a sports residency. That’s probably a good sign that their faculty are into sports and stuff like that. But I like what you said about athletic training, right? That tells us a little bit about your potential opportunities there. Maybe you could even try to get some time in the training room or maybe they have some opportunities to work with athletes in that setting. So two great advice, tips. I love it for high school. All right. Who wants to take undergrad? Dew, you got something for high school?

Diwesh Poudyal:
Yeah. A couple of other things for high school. I think one that jumps out to me is a lot of high school offer exercise science and anatomy courses. Like I have a couple of kids that are my athletes right now that are taking exercise science in high school. Right? It’s a very intro class, but it’s a good way to just get started. And then the other thing, which kind of sparked from Lisa’s conversation is outside of shadowing like a physical therapy clinic, go hang out with your school’s athletic trainer, right? Almost every high school has an athletic trainer. So hanging out in the athletic training room, helping out, or just talking and being close to them and making connections there is, I think, a huge step in the right direction.

Mike Reinold:
That’s excellent. And I think you’ll actually get to understand the athletic training a little bit better too, which might help you in college. Awesome. What’s up, Dan? What do you think?

Dan Pope:
Yeah. Real quick before we move on to undergrad, I’m probably assuming the person is already doing this, but if you want to be involved in a specific sport, you should probably be playing it or at least be around it, really understand it. And I’m guessing that’s implied, but if you’re not there yet, you probably have to continue doing that or at least start there, you know?

Mike Reinold:
Yeah. That’s great. I think that helps with authenticity and just learning, learning how to talk to people. We talked about this with students the other day, just like Jonathan it’s one of our students is a good soccer player. Gates is lacrosse and Joey’s baseball. We got three different kinds of athletes that are in our facility right now. And I’m sure each one of them worked with that specific athlete, they would have a much different dialogue than if they worked with like a swimmer, right? That they’re maybe not as familiar with, for example, but so interesting. Awesome. All right. Undergrad. What tips do we have for undergrad to set yourself off to be a great sports physical therapist, Dave? Tilley, Tilley?

Dave Tilley:
Yeah. I probably have a unique perspective here. I actually did not go straight into PT school. We had a bridge program. So undergrad and grad was one accepted program and I did not get accepted my senior year. And then I tried to apply to transfer my freshman year and also did not get accepted. I got in my sophomore year. So in undergrad I was trying to figure out what PT school would be like and what I could do. And so my recommendation is to obviously sit with a variety of professors in that undergrad department you want to get into mine was sports bio and exercise physiology. And I wanted to know that if I had the opportunity to go to PT school, that what I was doing in undergrad would either set me up to do undergrad and move on to grad school or transfer into the program that I wanted.

Dave Tilley:
So I talked a lot with the PT school and also the undergrad exercise bio part of [Springfield 00:07:56] and said, “What are the classes? How much do I have to take per semester to be in line if I want to move on and go to grad school and will these classes transfer?” Stuff like that, because, unfortunately, I think I saw a lot of kids, my freshman year, vaguely know the field they wanted to go into, but they just took random classes. And they didn’t get a lot of credits that transferred to their actual degree to go into it. And so they had to retake like two or three classes in the summer and they were unhappy campers.

Dave Tilley:
So that’d be my first piece of advice. And then almost exactly what we said about high school, just go shadow and hang out in grad program or undergrad program you want to be involved in, right? So it was exercise science for me. So I just went and watched exercise science kids in the junior year. And I was like, “Do I want this? Do I want PT school? Do I want to go somewhere else?” So yeah, just kind of hang with them. College admission tours is not nearly enough. You actually got to go back and talk with people or exchange a video call or something like that.

Mike Reinold:
Yeah. It’s time to start getting serious. Right? You’re in an undergrad, but you’re doing it specifically to get ready for physical therapy graduate school. So make sure you’re not doing anything that’s going waste time or money. Right? I like that. That’s fantastic. And then use that time to continue growing. Love it. That’s awesome. What’s up Len?

Lenny Macrina:
When I interview PT students for an internship with us, the ones that tend to stand out in my head are the ones that are previous ATCs. So they went to, like Lisa mentioned, have that potential path. I say, take the path and run with it and become, get an ATC undergrad, get that experience working and then go to PT school. So you’d find a program, some programs have combined ATCP [inaudible 00:09:29] BU my old school, Boston University, had it. I don’t know if they still do, but I think having that athletic training background is a great primer for PT school to learn all the basics of what you’re going to learn that first semester in PT school, you do well in PT school. It’s a lot easier transition.

Lenny Macrina:
I think another option is, I think Scaduto did this. He’s working right now, but if you can’t do that, become a personal trainer in undergrad school and maybe train some people. And get to work with people. And learn how to become a strength coach or personal trainer and interact with people, talk with people. And figure out how you can write a program for them. And then you just blossomed from there. That’s going to help you in an incredible way to be a sports PT.

Mike Reinold:
That’s awesome. OMG, this is a good episode. I like this. This is going to be good. All right. We’re in grad school, we got to go to grad school Dewey, sorry. We’re in grad school now, right? Or we are in physical therapy school. We’re trying to focus on being a sport physical therapist. Right? I’ll jump in and just say the obvious one here is to make sure you start planning your clinical rotations around the sport physical therapy field.

Mike Reinold:
Now, obviously, undergrad a lot of students get a little, I don’t know, disappointed I guess is the word. I was trying to think of a different word, but disappointed that their undergrad doesn’t necessarily prepare them to be a specific sports therapist, but remember that’s not really the point of that. So you have to get your bases down as like a physical therapist first and do all these things, but you can start planning to make sure that your outpatient rotation is going to be a very good level, high level sport place. Okay. So Dewey, does that kind of relate to that with what you were going to jump in a little bit, now that we’re in grad school?

Lenny Macrina:
All I was going to really add was just the fact that you got to put in so much more outside time from your courses to actually learn a lot of the stuff that might be relevant. Like I know for me, I made it a point to consume 10 to 15, 20 hours of like outside information outside of my undergrad courses and stuff. You know what I mean? I almost took whatever hours I was spending for, the 16 credit hours that I was doing at undergrad to be full-time student. I’m tried do the exact same amount outside of my classwork. So that’s just what I wanted to throw in.

Mike Reinold:
Yeah, no, but I think that applies to grad school too, right? I mean, that’s throughout college is use some of your spare time to start specializing in sports. I think you can do that. Tilley, what else in, now that we’re in PT school, what else?

Dave Tilley:
I just wanted to jump in because I actually just interviewed Mike Ryman on my podcast and we were talking a lot about this because I think it’s easy for us to jump on a train of, ah, PT schools are doing a terrible job with exercise physiology and sports PT, and they’re not training them enough. And I think Mike brought a really good point up. He’s like, “You have a lot to cover as a faculty.” What’s your main job in PT school? Don’t kill anybody and learn how to not hurt anybody. Right? And then from there you can learn on your clinicals to do it. And so while I think Dewey’s advice is awesome where you should be studying exercise physiology, I’ve told a lot of people before they go to PT school, work on your CSCS, work on a nutrition thing, try to do that, or even try to study it a little bit in the beginning of grad school, but just change your perspective about what the first two years, especially of grad school, are.

Dave Tilley:
Although I will say I talked to Mike about, but if I’m learning how to do advanced stroke rehab and I’m learning how walk people on ventilators, I should also learn how to do basic exercise physiology for like strength conditioning. And he agreed. Obviously Mike’s a pretty big proponent of exercise, but I think you just have to weigh those things about… you’re not going to learn advanced ACL rehab the first year or two or two and a half years into grad school. That’s for clinicals. That’s for the assets. That’s why you have sports boards and stuff after.

Mike Reinold:
Yeah, no, I love it. I think that’s great. I would also say, I think this is probably the point where you probably want to join the APTA and join the American Academy of Sports Physical Therapy. This is when I think most of us did, right? When we were in school to start to see what sort of resources they are. So full disclosure you’ve probably heard this. I’m currently running for president for the Sports Academy and it’s partly because I want to help people. I know I have the support of the people, at least on Zoom right now. But part of it is because this roadmap right here is exactly what I want to put forth in the Academy.

Mike Reinold:
I kind of think it’s missing to be honest with you, but that’s a bigger topic that you can read on my website and stuff to help people through these paths. But join now, because now you start to get those resources. It’s the education stuff. So you’re starting to learn. I have some spare time. Let’s learn a little bit about sports. Let me find the other people that are engaging within the Academy that are high level sports people that maybe I can network with. Maybe I can even get to mentoring. I think that’s that next step. Anybody else in PT school before we get to the obvious post-grad, residencies, and stuff?

Diwesh Poudyal:
I have something to say, you already covered it slightly there, Mike. But I think networking is enormous. At this point, you just need a job. And I feel like it’s that thousand pound elephant in the room. It’s like, you’re doing all these things to build yourself as this professional, but how are you actually going to get this job? And I think a lot of times that happens naturally, if you’re doing these things really well. My advice would be to network as much as you can and form really good relationships with the community that you want to be a part of. And then once you’re ready to graduate, you’ll actually have a lot of options. You may actually already have some job opportunities that said, “Hey, I really like you as a PT. I’d like to bring you into my facility where we have a facility that I think will meet your needs or goals.” So you’re already desirable as a potential employee to get that job before you even finish up and start looking for a job. It may already be there.

Mike Reinold:
Yeah. That’s huge. That’s huge. So, okay. We graduated PT school, we did some sport things. I think you have two options right now, right? Is get a job in a sport physical therapy setting, if you’re okay with that. And realize that that means lots of things that obviously that’s collegiate and pro sports, but realize that’s hard for new grad, right? That’s kind of like the diamond in the rough. So those are there, but working in an outpatient clinic that sees a ton of athletes. Right? And just realize that yes, in the middle of the day, you’re probably going to work with a total knee replacement because your athletes are all in school. Right? That’s okay. That’s still sports physical therapy to an extent, but really start to focus and put all your energy towards those athletes at night and networking, getting out to the local schools, the coaches, becoming that go-to resource, like being the soccer guy, right?

Mike Reinold:
Every ACL I want you to come see me, I’m the soccer guy. I’m going to see everybody. You can do that. And in that world, so that’s one option. And then we have residencies, right? And we’ve had plenty of students that have gone through some residencies, but there’s plenty of sports residencies that again, through the Academy, have been really developed, designed, to give you a more specific learning experience for sports physical therapy, right? So I’m still a firm believer that I don’t think anybody needs to do a residency, but I think a residency could be a game changer, if it helps you to achieve your ultimate goal, because you’re going to get an amazing year experience at a facility that’s dedicated to learning this sort of thing.

Mike Reinold:
So if you have the time, if you don’t mind making less money for another year and you don’t have your heart set on a specific opportunity that you may have, this could be another good route to put yourself in a good position. Right? So what else, let’s end on this. We still have an early career professional, right? We didn’t do a residency. You’re now working in outpatient, physical therapy. What advice do we give this person now at this point in their career to specialize in sports physical therapy, if they didn’t do a residency. Who wants to jump on that one? Dave?

Dave Tilley:
My biggest piece of advice is sacrifice the convenience to get a mentor. I think in an environment people are spit balling and talking about sports. I think that’s, I’ve said this in a podcast, the biggest mistake I made was taking a job that was a little bit closer to me and gave me a little more money, but I sacrificed good mentorship and I definitely kicked myself for it two years on the road.

Mike Reinold:
I can see that. Yeah. So find a place to go work and if your current employer isn’t the most sporty, but it’s a nice stable job, find a place that is and just donate your time somehow. How do you get there? How do you volunteer? What else? What other can they do? Dan?

Dan Pope:
Yeah, sorry guys. It’s a little bit more the same, but I was kind of in the same position when I finished up with schools that I wasn’t necessarily in the exact place I love to be, but you can make that place into the place you’d like to be. So continuing to network, talking to whatever sports coaches you normally talk to, getting more referrals, treating those people like gold, doing a very good job. You start to get your… Let’s say only 5% of your schedule is the people that you like to work with. The core sign that’ll grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, and all of a sudden you’re working in an environment that you love where previously it was all let’s say geriatrics or something different that you initially didn’t want to be a part of.

Mike Reinold:
Yeah, I think that’s great. I just said that I’ve said that to the students. I think maybe it was Katie. One of our last students, like a month ago, I was like, “Katie, I have an evaluation today. It’s not a baseball player. We should do it together.” Right? Like that sort of thing. I was excited. Once you start off with just a small percentage of sports and it grows and takes over your schedule because you do a good job at it. So I think that’s been great advice so far. I mean, obviously we have to wrap up this episode a little bit. I think the other thing you can do though, if you’re still in an outpatient physical therapy setting and it’s not as sporty as you want, is to use that time to continue getting experience just as an orthopedic physical therapist.

Mike Reinold:
That’s great, but take as much con-ed as you can at this point now. Go to as many sports-based things as you can, right? Again, the Academy has got their meetings, they have all their educational things. There are several leading sports PTs around the country that have courses either online or in person, but just learn, learn, learn to be a sports person. And then what’s going to happen is, like Dan said, it’s going to evolve, right, because you’re going to be so good at it. It’s going to grow. It’s going to grow through people spreading the great things that you did with them. And then they tell other parents and other kids, and then all of a sudden it takes time, but you get there. Right? Everybody sees us at Champion and they say, “I want to be you.”

Mike Reinold:
And we’re like, “Oh, great. What do you think your timeline is?” You’re like, “Probably by the end of my first year, I want to be exactly like you.” And it’s like, all right, well, it took us like 25 years to get here, but that’s fine. You can try to do it in 12 months. Realistically, but to have some good expectations and set yourself up.

Mike Reinold:
What an episode. This is going to be a good one. I mean, we got to promote this one out here because I like how we took that approach throughout that. And I like how Ryan said he started in high school. I think that really like made this episode pretty good. I just said before this, we got to keep our episode a little shorter today, and then we just destroyed that right out of the water. So, but I appreciate it, but Ryan, awesome question. Thank you so much. I hope this was helpful at whatever point you may be in your career. If you have more questions like that, head to mikereinold.com, click on that podcast link and please, please, please rate, review us, subscribe, whatever you’re supposed to do on iTunes, Spotify. And we will see you on the next episode. Thank you so much.