The hallmark of physical therapy residency programs is intense mentorship to expand the resident’s clinical experiences and decision-making processes. A residency would also assist in further developing the resident as a clinician to better understand and treat patients with varying levels of complexity. As each physical therapy residency program focuses on a unique setting and individualized approach, various learning opportunities are available depending on the program.
My decision to pursue a residency program following physical therapy school was preceded by guidance from faculty members, previous clinical instructors, and self-reflection. Several months before the application deadlines, I began reflecting on what areas I wanted to grow in throughout the residency program. This process assisted in developing my program criteria when seeking out residency programs. Three of the main deciding factors included the culture of the mentorship, the opportunities for the resident to grow as a clinician during the program, and the setting/population of the rotation(s) within the residency. I was interested in programs that incorporated patient care, research, teaching, and also had a high emphasis on intentional mentorship.
Initially, I was interested in two different settings but ultimately decided to pursue a program in the acute care setting. Specifically, I was interested in obtaining training in areas that incorporated multiple patient populations with varying diagnoses. Additionally, having personal experiences within the field of oncology, I sought out a specific program which included an oncology rotation during the residency. This program also incorporates triple the amount of required mentorship for an ABPTRFE-accredited residency program, along with a high emphasis on functional-based research. Furthermore, the teaching component included in this residency program would assist in expanding my knowledge and teaching capabilities in an accelerated and individualized manner.
I decided to apply to six different residency programs (3 in outpatient orthopedics and 3 in acute care) and utilized the time between application deadlines and interviews to determine which setting I wanted to pursue. The application processes were highly time-consuming, as each application included various essay portions. Additionally, I was able to highlight volunteer, leadership, and award opportunities throughout my application in various components. Lastly, I asked both faculty mentors and clinical instructors to write my letters of recommendation for the residency applications.
At the time, it was highly overwhelming to have applied to six different programs. However, looking back, I am thankful for the many interview experiences this provided me. I remember reading the email that I received an interview for my top choice, and I constantly re-read the email throughout the day to ensure I read it correctly. This was my third interview for a residency program, yet by far the most challenging that I had completed. It began with a virtual tour of the facilities and a question-and-answer with the current resident. I appreciated this component as I was able to conceptualize the culture and learning environment instilled in this residency program. Having past interview experience, I felt as though I had a better grasp of what I was looking for in a residency through not only the curriculum but, more importantly for me, the intentional community of the residency mentors. Through discussion with the current resident, it appeared to me that the faculty mentors not only truly cared about her pathway to becoming a more well-rounded clinician, but also her overall well-being and ability to balance the rigorous nature of the residency program. The next portion of the interview included a case study, where I was given time to review a case and take notes, followed by questions from the faculty mentors regarding the case. Personally, this was a very challenging component for me as I had difficulty answering some of the case study questions. However, it was through this difficult time that I was able to further witness the encouragement and exceptional mentorship skills that were present in the faculty mentors. Because I felt as though I did not perform well in the case study, I remember telling myself to take some deep breaths and show my true personality and willingness to learn throughout the remainder of the interview. The last portion included a more typical question-and-answer session. I was able to highlight various volunteer opportunities that I have been involved in, my reasoning process in deciding to pursue residency training, and the extensive research project I have been involved in facilitating throughout physical therapy school. The program director informed me at the conclusion of the interview that I should hear from them within several days regarding my acceptance or denial from the program.
After completing the interview, I remember running into a faculty mentor, who had written one of my letters of recommendation for this program and who had been highly influential and encouraging in my desire to pursue a residency program in the acute care setting. We discussed how I felt the interview went and she reminded me that whatever happens has a reason and I have put significant physical, mental, and emotional effort into this process and should continue to believe in myself. Several days had passed since the interview but I had not heard any news. Nearly one and a half weeks later, I received an email from the program director that the HR representative had been out of the office, but they would like to extend the offer to me. I happened to be at the APTA-MI Student Conclave that Friday afternoon, when I received the email. I could not have asked to be surrounded by more supportive faculty, friends, and classmates at this time. After the initial sense of shock, I felt a peace come over me and the stress of the past several months of applications, interviews, and decisions on acceptance melt away. I am thankful for the exceptional guidance from numerous faculty members and clinical instructors that I have received throughout this process.
I am looking forward to pursuing an acute care physical therapy residency and learning in an intense and individualized manner. One of my contributions to the physical therapy profession in the next several years will be to further the research on specific populations or diagnoses, which do not have a significant amount of data yet in that area. Becoming more involved in the field of acute care physical therapy will also allow me to utilize the skills learned throughout the residency program to benefit the patients we serve. As the residency will assist in expanding my knowledge and confidence in physical therapy, I will continue to advocate for the field of physical therapy to expand the knowledge to the general public.
Kelsey Florian, SPT is a third-year physical therapy student at Grand Valley State University and will be graduating in July of this year. Following graduation, she will be pursuing an acute care physical therapy residency on the east coast to further expand her clinical decision-making processes along with her teaching, research, and clinical experiences.