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Journey of a DPT Student

Big Decisions

Published March 25, 2014 12:14 PM by Lauren Rosso
Well, it's about time to start seriously considering what in the world I'm going to do with my life (and where). Anyone who can count their time to graduation in weeks is likely feeling the same way. With exactly four weeks left until I finish my clinical rotation, I'm starting to feel major pressure to find a job, pick a city, and think about the future. I always knew this point would come, and as exciting as it is, the significance of these decisions has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.

I'm realizing that I may not be able to have everything I want in one place. I grew up in Pittsburgh, but moved out of town for quite a while during college and post-college soul searching. In coming home, I had the great fortune of spending time with my grandparents, being around for weddings and holidays, and reconnecting with both family and lifelong friends. In the past three years, I've seen how wonderful it can be to be "home."

I was very optimistic at the onset about the job market in Pittsburgh, but it seems that my optimism may have been off base. I'm having a hard time finding my "dream job" here as there are very few inpatient rehab positions (maybe I'm being unrealistic -- I really want to work with the brain injury population, and I imagine there just aren't that many positions in general). It's just not going to happen here. So while my family, friends, boyfriend, and love of the city remain in Pittsburgh, I can't help but wonder if I would be better off in another place.

I'm at a crossroads. Do I choose my career over everything else? Or do I just hope that by taking a position here, it will work out in the end? I've worked for three years to put myself in a position to be the best possible candidate I can be. It's a tough reality when your visions don't quite match the opportunities that are available to you.

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I'm going through this process now of trying to get my life together and establish my future career. I finished my last clinical a few weeks ago at an inpatient rehab facility on the brain injury unit and enjoyed my experience there. Now, my graduation is in 2 weeks and I've been searching for job opportunities in hospital settings. I'm realizing that it's difficult to get an inpatient rehab PT position as a new grad, so I'm looking into acute care openings. Luckily, I'm not tied down and limited to one specific city, so this allows me some flexibility. Recently, I am feeling more pressure with my classmates already getting interviews and job offers, but so far I've been told by hiring managers that it's a bit early for me to apply for positions at hospitals since I don't take my board exam until July. I understand I'm not going to get my dream job as a new grad, but I am hoping to get a job offer from a hospital with a mentor program and opportunities for professional growth and development. Fingers crossed!

Caroline, SPT, ECU April 19, 2017 10:41 AM

Hey Lauren, while reading your post I felt I could really relate to your state of mind when you wrote this. I currently am a few weeks away from graduating from PT school and it is settling in the many decisions to consider. I have been in the search for a job and between my search and those of all my classmates I haven't seen anyone get their "dream" job. There always seems to be a balance between what is best for me professionally and what is best for me personally. I am hoping to find a job that has a mix of both but also understand as a new grad it will probably not be my forever job. Learning as much as possible is still a high priority for me and probably more important at this stage. I hope that you were able to find that job that was everything you wanted or maybe even something you didn't even know you wanted. Life is scary for people at this stage and while there a billion different things to be concerned about with finding a job and graduating I am trying to remember all the hard work it took to get here and enjoy finishing with all my friends.

Liz, SPT April 20, 2016 3:37 PM
Greenville NC


Wow I know you are no longer feeling like this and are hopefully in a job that you are happy with! I am currently feeling this way starting the application process for my first real job, seeing my peers take jobs, and realizing how real and close graduating is! Unlike your situation, I find myself unsure of a dream job location or setting. It has left me with an overwhelmingly large amount of choices! I am glad to have so many opportunities, but also fear that my indecisiveness will lead me to put off job applications and cause me to miss out on a great opportunity. It is time for me to take action! I hope that you found a job that fulfilled your passions in physical therapy. Thank you for sharing your experiences and giving great advice to so many students in similar situations.

Kara, SPT March 28, 2016 8:25 PM
Greenville NC


I am currently in the same situation that you found yourself in two years ago.  I just finished up my last clinical rotation and now have less than two months until graduation and two months more until I can take the Boards.  For the first time in my life, I have no idea where I will be six months from today - where will I live, where do I want to work, what kind of setting will I choose?  These are all of the questions that I have been getting asked as I am wrapping up PT school, and all questions that are running through my head all of the time.  I have just started seriously looking for jobs, and have started to search in Raleigh, but have considered other towns and something that my CI said to me.  After seven years of undergrad and grad school with limited say in schedules, classes, etc, this is the first time that you have ultimate say in where you end up.  I think it is best to consider what you definitely can not live without out, and what you can live with for the short term if your dream job in the perfect location is not available when you are.  Once you make a list of your must haves in a job, you can better make a decision on what will make you happy so that your first job will be one that you can be proud about and happy going to each day.  Whether you choose location or therapy setting, make sure you are making the choice for yourself so that your job will be something you enjoy doing.

Katie, DPT Student March 21, 2016 1:10 PM
Greenville NC


I can definitely understand where you are coming from in your job search.  I am very close to graduation as well and I have become very stressed at times as I begin my job search.  I would also want my "dream job" to be in an inpatient rehab hospital where I can work with different patients and be somewhat close to home.  As I have talked to people around me, I have heard them constantly saying don't be concerned with getting the "dream job" for your first job because that will come later.  This is a very hard thing to accept because we have worked so hard and long and we all deserve the best job we can find.  So it is hard to "settle" when you see amazing job opportunities.

As far as being close to home, this has been a real challenge for me because I am from a small town and don't know how many jobs are truly available.  Also my fiancee just acceptance a residency that is only about 2 hours away from home so I have had to redirect my job search slightly but in the end I know it will all work out.  We have chosen a great profession and we will all find jobs that are good fits for us even if it isn't the "dream job" right away.

I wish you all the best and congratulations.

Izzat April 28, 2014 9:29 AM


I agree with some of the comments already made.  Go for something that will give you a variety of experiences.  Acute Care is the best option because most departments have you rotate through different units and that exposure will give you a broad knowledge base that you can apply to any specialty.  If you can't find something really close to home, go within driving distance.  I settled over 25 years ago about 3 hours from my hometown and that is very doable.

Good luck!!!

Lisa, Pediatric long term care/school - PT dept. supervisor, New England Pediatric Care April 14, 2014 8:46 AM
N. Billerica MA

I, too thought I'd be able to find a dream job in my home state (and Utah was just named APTA's top place to work/for jobs! haha) but, the market here is over saturated with PT's and no jobs. Three years after graduation, I cannot cover my student loan payments so, I am uprooting my family to leave the state.

You know what you want to do so, go for it! Even if you have to leave for a while, if you love what you are doing you can be happy anywhere. Good luck!

Tiffany, PT, DPT April 13, 2014 2:34 PM

Hi Lauren, I graduated many years ago but lots of memories have been generated by your blog.  I strongly suggest that you look for the job that will give you the most in terms of a variety of patients, availability of mentors/supervisors/teachers, etc., and whatever you can get to transfer all that book learning into actual treatment experiences.  Even though you have gone through your clinical affiliations as a student, it is a whole different ball game once you have a "real" job.  It is so crucial to have a few years under your belt before deciding a specialty and those initial years after graduation is the time to do that.  You may have to go out of town to get that, but in the end it will be the best thing career-wise and will give you that foundational knowledge that will be critical in your overall development.  Best of luck to you!  You are embarking on a great journey and I can tell you after 40+ years of experience, it gets better all the time!!

Nancy, Pediatrics - Physical Therapist, Regional Center of OC April 11, 2014 3:23 PM
Santa Ana CA


You can travel, meet some great people, get some valuable and varied experience. Expand your career with a great learning experience. Intensive Rehab facilities are great places to work. Jackson, Mississippi, has one of the best TBI programs around. Traveling for short periods might be the best thing for you. I loved it. Now, finally a job opened, close to home and my various experience paid off. I am working at a small, but great rehab short stay facility in Mobile, AL. BEST WISHES!

Don Meadows April 11, 2014 11:11 AM


I also am only a few weeks from graduating and have begun the "dream job" search. I, like you, find myself weighing the option of what I want in a career and the comfort of home. Over the last 3 years I have said I would go wherever for the right job in the right location. I had no intention of going back to my hometown of Charlotte, simply because it's just become too overcrowded for me. Of course though, in time things happen that shift our opinions and lead us down different paths than the ones we think we're suppose to go down.

Much like you described, the comfort of home has been pulling me in. My grandmother passed away 2 days after my husband and I moved back to Charlotte for his job. Luckily, I was there to talk with her and tell her goodbye in her last moments. It was then that I really began to think about how just 2 days ago I was living 4 hours away, and I could have missed out on this moment with my family. Since then I have also welcomed a new nephew into my life. I want to be a part of my nieces and nephews lives, and when I have kids I want them to be able to interact with their family, and not just at Christmas.

And then of course there is the whole job thing. 7 years of college and 2 years as a rehab aide. I've worked hard for it. I should be able to get the perfect job I want, right? Of course! And some day, I'm sure I will. But I have begun to realize that it doesn't have to happen RIGHT NOW. We live in such an instant gratification society that we are conditioned to think something is wrong if we don't see immediate results. We forget to take time to enjoy the process. That first job may not be the "dream job" but if we allow it, then it can be a stepping stone to that ultimate goal. And who knows, you may find something new along the way that will change your whole plan and put you where you really need to be!

As hard as it is, thats the mentality I'm trying to take in this process. My biggest fear is getting "stuck" in a situation or job that I don't like. Luckily we have picked a profession that gives us lots of options and routes to take. Its just up to us to recognize whats best for us at any given point in time!

Good luck, enjoy the process, I wish you the best!

Constance Giles, , SPT ECU March 28, 2014 12:48 PM
Greenville NC

 I knew when I was in P.T. school I wanted to work in the school system, but those jobs are hard to come by.  I took a job in acute care (the opposite end of the spectrum!) for almost 2 years until a school position came open.  Believe it or not, my time in acute care helped me become a better school therapist!  In acute care I worked with patients with orthopedic, cardiac, and neurological diagnoses which gave me knowledge I can apply to the kids I now work with who also have orthopedic and neurological issues.  I also work with kids who are very medically fragile-some even come to school on vents.  My experience working in the ICU with patients who were ventilated has helped me feel at ease working with kids at school who are on vents.  You can learn from any job that you have and transfer that knowledge to your "dream" job when it becomes available.  As you begin your first job, it will be nice to be close to family and friends for encouragement.

Kelli, PT MPT March 27, 2014 7:16 AM

Morgan and Olivia- thank you for the advice and encouragement!  I have an interview set up on Friday that could put me on the right track, so keep your fingers crossed for me.  It's amazing how we all end up going through the same thing in one way or another.  Thanks for reading!

Lauren Rosso March 26, 2014 6:40 PM

Lauren, I am about to graduate in May and the weeks are drawing near. I have debated back and forth about doing a residency versus starting to work right after graduation. Also, living in an area near family and with limited job openings in sports PT, I do not want to settle for a job position that is not exactly what I am looking for. After talking to some highly influential therapists about my current situation and wanting to stay in this area near family and friends, I have decided to begin working somewhere that allows me to be mentored without being so over-booked with patients every day that I am not able to learn from others. Also, have a direction. Start working on ways to set yourself apart from other new graduates that give you an advantage in the areas you ultimately want to pursue. For example, participating in continuing education courses immediately after getting licensed and start taking the steps necessary to get specializations and certifications so that the “dream” job will become more and more of a reality.

Olivia Ratcliff, PT - SPT, ECU March 26, 2014 8:37 AM
Greenville NC


You are not alone. I think everyone starring at the future feels the way you do. At the end of a three year process I think we get sucked into the idea that our perfect job is going to be waiting for us at the end of school, just waiting for us to accept it. But in reality, we may have to take a job that doesn't fit the dream job mold. What makes me nervous is, what if the job I think I want isn't what I want at all? What if I would be better suited to work in a different area than what I have planned? Like you, I have many questions about the future. I have decided that the right job will come along and I have faith that it will come at just the right time.

If I could offer you some advice, I would suggest assessing what your life would look like if you choose your location just based on your job. I think you have to weigh what is important to you. I know for me personally if I loved my job, but had nothing to come home to at night or on the weekends I would be miserable. I think with the career we have chosen you can have your cake and eat it too! I think you can find a job you love and be in the location you desire. It may not be the first job you take, but it will all work out. I wish you all the best as you search for a job and I hope you find what you are looking for.

Morgan , SPT March 25, 2014 9:11 PM
Greenville NC

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