The Best Courses for New Physiotherapist Grads: What Seasoned Clinicians Say

Isn’t it tough starting out?
You’re fresh out of physiotherapy school. You’ve passed the PCE, but now the real adventure begins. And the question inevitably comes up: which courses should I be taking?

New Physiotherapist Grad Course Recommendations: Where Do You Start?

So off I went to look for some answers. I asked a variety of clinicians and even sought some input from physiotherapists on Twitter. You never know what people will share with only 140 characters! I hope that you find this article of value and will feel free to ask questions at the end of the article. Let’s start with Chris Zarski…

Chris Zarski remembers what it was like being a new grad. Today, he runs a clinic in Camrose Alberta and is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Physical Therapy (University of Alberta). But back then, he had that curious mix of excitement and terror that many new grads experience:

Upon graduation, the initial excitement of a pay cheque was quickly trumped by the fear and reality that I was now expected to know what I was doing. Like most new grads I quickly turned my focus to taking any and every course possible. I spent the first two to three years racing to spend every free dollar and weekend I had on postgraduate courses. Manual therapy, acupuncture, IMS, manipulations and the list goes on and on.
I can honestly say that I enjoyed every course I ever took and can look back and say that I learned something from every one of them. I can’t say that one is better than the rest or that a new grad should go down one path over another, but here is what I can offer: Don\’t over do it with the courses too early. The best course to take is experience.

Zarski believes that in the beginning, hands-on experience trumps specialized courses, and he’s not alone. Physiotherapist and Practice Support Advisor at Physiotherapy Alberta, Leanne Loranger agrees:

My number one advice to new grads is before you spend a bunch of time and money on more coursework, go and treat patients for awhile!

Looking back on their own start in the field, most physiotherapists concur that it’s all about getting to grips with the basics and finding ways to implement the theory in the real world as soon as possible. Zarski goes on:

Surround yourself in a clinic or work site with mentors and colleagues who are willing to support you. Before you try to get good at everything, be sure that you are good at the basics. Assessment, education and therapeutic exercise, along with the basic skills you learn in University need to be mastered before there is any benefit in taking other courses that add to your tool belt. Don’t feel pressure to over work yourself and take courses every other weekend.

As a new grad I knew that urge all too well. There’s a tremendous internal pressure to take many courses. In orthopaedics this could include your orthopaedic level courses as well as ART (Active Release Therapy), Graston or specific acupuncture/dry needling courses. Seeing a wide variety of patients will help you begin to see patterns and give some much needed mental ordering of everything you’ve learned in school. You’ll be able to see patterns emerge in the patients you see which help to reduce the generalized stress that comes with clinical practice. And after some time you’ll feel more comfortable evaluating your own knowledge gaps and make more appropriate course selection decisions.

Physiotherapy Mentorship

As already mentioned, mentorship is an important factor in early career professional development. While it’s necessary to have a solid foundation in the basics, it’s also important to build other soft skills such as good communication, motivational interviewing and caseload management (among other things!). These soft skills are often very specific to the encounters you have in your clinical practice and having someone to work with can make all the difference. Discussing and observing seasoned clinicians treat patients can give you much needed guidance in understanding the nuances of good patient care.

Loranger reiterates the importance of non-technical skills:

Rushing around trying to get extra credentials early on isn’t going to help you get the most important skills, the patient handling and communication skills or the non-technical skills that are so important and will serve you for the rest of your career.

Regardless of whether you\’re working in public or private practice, participating in a formal or informal mentorship relationship can help you get your career off to the right start.

When I began working in the outpatient department at a local hospital, I met with one of the seasoned clinicians every Friday afternoon for an hour in the hospital cafeteria (over a cup of hospital apple juice!). With my laundry list of patient cases and questions in hand, we talked through differential diagnoses, treatment parameters and patient personality challenges. Having a caring, empathetic clinician work through some of those early anxieties made my growth as a clinician a little less bumpy.

Orthopaedics Physiotherapy Courses

If you’re planning to go the orthopaedics route, Sean FitzGerald, a physiotherapist and clinic owner has this to say:

I take students on a regular basis and I usually suggest if they are heading into orthopaedics to take the level courses offered by the orthopaedic division of the CPA. The first one is review but the level 2 and 3 courses are invaluable as a clinician. Your assessments improve as well as your success treating patients.

Alana Shannon is a physiotherapist in private practice and recommends the Orthopaedic Division courses, specifically the Level 1 prep course and Level 2 (both upper and lower), which she believes give a good opportunity of integrating school learned theory with practice.

Other orthopaedic course favourites include:

Cardio-Respiratory Physiotherapy Courses

If you’re interested in furthering your education in cardio-respiratory (CR) care then you’ll want to read what William Tung recommends. Tung, a Professional Practice Leader in Cardio-Resp at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton suggests looking at the CR courses offered by the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA).
He also suggests courses by Mary Massery who offers a 3 day course “If You Can’t Breathe, You Can’t Function.” This course dives into a variety of cardio-pulmonary topics. Finally, for those wanting to increase the comfort level working in the ICU improvement, he recommends a course offered in Toronto by the Toronto General Hospital.
Loranger also recommends The Lung Association’s RespTrec courses which come highly recommended for training in asthma and COPD, as well as patient education and interviewing skills.

Conclusions

I hope that as a new graduate you found this article to be of practical value. There’s nothing more daunting than finishing school, feeling inadequate and then sorting through course descriptions trying to decipher what you need to get through that first year.

If I could give one recommendation it would be this:
Find a workplace that offers some form of regular mentorship. It doesn’t need to be formal (although it helps), but having the undivided attention of a seasoned clinician on a regular basis is foundational. If nothing exists where you work, hone in on someone that you feel has a balanced view (an appreciation of both soft and technical clinical skills) of clinical practice.

Good luck as you begin the adventure and don’t hesitate to fire off a question below and I’ll make sure to answer!

About the Author:

Andrew Koppejan, PT

Andrew Koppejan, PT

As a physiotherapist with more than thirteen years of clinical experience, I’ve travelled a unique path of self-discovery and clinical experiences that has brought me to a place of clinical flow. I help movement clinicians move from a place of frustration to flow in their clinical practice.

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