That really IS the question.
As second year students here at Duke DPT we have been surrounded with reminders and opportunities to start “paving the way to our future” as physical therapists. For some, this comes easily and fluidly. For others, it seems like a daunting task.
I mean, it almost seems as if you are expected to already know what type of physical therapist you want to be, where you want to work, who to talk to, what to put on your resume, what to get involved in to PUT on your resume, and how to even brush the surface at knowing all of the resources we have to start putting a name to our professional identity.
Sure, we have our professional development class where we learn so much, but I find that defining my professional identity has not been the easiest thing to do. As a type-A student, it’s easy to expect something like this to come quickly. So, I’ve taken a step back to reflect on and utilize the resources that are right under our noses to begin personalizing our professional identity.
Approaching this task in a step-wise fashion can provide a foundation for us to reflect on what the concept of a professional identity means to us and what it could look like individually. If we begin with envisioning ourselves as a physical therapist first and build on that with resources that we have at here at Duke and within our profession, I firmly believe that we will all be able to develop a strong, impactful professional identity.
The first step is to reflect on the persona you would like to exude as a physical therapist. Here, it’s not exactly necessary to know EXACTLY what type of physical therapist you’d like to be but start to think about the characteristics you would like your patients, colleagues, friends, and family to think of when they think of you as a healthcare provider. This reflection can start to guide you in the process. This may be the hardest, most time-consuming step but it is the most important. With this you can begin to explore the different directions you could take as a student and then as a future physical therapist. This concept coincides with the brand you want yourself to portray. You could start by answering these questions put out by Forbes magazine to begin to develop your brand.
Those are some thought provoking questions right?! As you grow throughout your career and through life your brand may change based on a multitude of factors. The next step that could be helpful in processing the unknown of the future is reaching out to faculty and mentors you have in life and in physical therapy. Ask them to tell their story and hear about their journey. Ask them about their ups and downs. Ask them for advice. Ask them what they wish they would have known or done if they could be in your shoes once more. The Duke DPT faculty we are surrounded by have so much wisdom about physical therapy and life. They are a priceless resource that we should never forget.
Our profession does a wonderful job at providing resources for students and practicing clinicians to utilize via the APTA. Whether or not you know the setting you want to practice in, opportunities to learn and be involved with professional conferences at the state and national level are readily available. This can provide a platform for learning and networking for current and future job and professional opportunities. The APTA website for Current students, http://www.apta.org/CurrentStudents/ is a great place to start searching for a place to begin this part of your professional journey.
It would be remiss of me if I failed to mention the power of social media in this day and age. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and even your own personal website can be powerful tools to strengthen the power of your brand and professional identity. Once you begin to develop your personalized brand, you can use your social media platforms to supplement your professional identity. Physical therapists, the APTA (@APTAtweets), and the APTA Student Association (@APTASA) are very active on twitter. Starting to get involved in a professional manner on social media platforms is an easy way to learn about current topics amongst our profession and develop your personal stance on these topics.
As mentioned previously, the journey of developing your professional identify is a process that cannot be rushed or forced. Embrace the time it takes and welcome the reflection that goes into it. If we utilize and explore all resources that are at our fingertips, I believe that we will be able to learn so much about ourselves and our profession.