I give this “5 L’s for Clinical Success Early in Career” to my interns about half-way through their internship that I wrote up a few years ago.  I am passing this on today to my current student and figured I would share with everyone too.

I would like to hear what your advice would be for new DPTs coming out of school now.  If you can, take a few minutes and jot it down in the comments.  I will then pass this on to future students too. It is a big world out there and having advice from others is always helpful.  I know I have benefited from surrounding myself with skilled and successful clinicians.

5 L’s for Clinical Success Early in Career

1. Likeability.

-It doesn’t matter how much you know in terms of anatomy, diagnostics and treatment approaches; if the patient does not like you, then success will be limited. The patient is who puts food on the table and we have to be able to adapt to each. This is everyday communication but I feel most comes at initial contact. There is only one chance for a first impression and this is where you should shine to “sell” yourself.

Remember these three quotes: 1. “Patients will not listen to you unless you pass the ‘likeability test'”.

2. “You will not be remembered by your clinical skills but by your level of service”

3. “Meet and treat them like they’re your Grandma”

2. Learn

-Use every chance possible, especially early in your clinical career to advance your knowledge. I feel this gets harder the longer you are out of school as you ‘forget’ how to study and the want is not as much there (because basically you move on from studying!). This doesn’t mean go after every continuing education course but just use everyday materials to find answers to questions as they arise in the clinic. I try to look up an answer immediately if possible.

-You AREN’T expected to know everything and you never will. Everyday is a learning experience and an adventure, you just build on what you already know. Personally, I like to use blogs, apps or simply wikipedia to get my information rather than just textbooks.


3. Listen

-Sounds simple but highly important. Rule of thumb is that 80% of the diagnosis and therapeutic approach is by listening to the patient. This not only gives you answers to how to treat, but to me, shows the patient that you care. I feel this is missing in healthcare now, especially due to time restraints in other professions. We have an advantage in physical therapy. We have the ability in terms of how we treat (hands-on, with a person for ~45 min and for a longer period of time) in comparision to other disciplines.

-Remember this: What patients really want is “friendliness and caring, friendliness and caring”. This comes with listening. Everyone wants to do business with friends. This will go a long ways.


4. Love

-Bottom line, you have to love what you do. Enjoying what you do makes you a better clinician. Patients can sense this too and I see that the interest you put into them makes your outcomes better too. This factor can be one of the most important as it helps you continue through the “daily grind” that can unfortunately can make you dread work. This not only affects how you treat your patients, but also how you interact with co-workers and other healthcare personnel at your facility.


5. Lean

-Find someone to lean on. Meaning, you need a mentor. I feel it is well worth the sacrifice if you can work somewhere in the first year or two out of school that you know has a clinician who specializes in a certain treatment or just someone with experience that will teach you. It doesn’t matter if the individual has a bachelors, masters or doctorate degree; experience will teach you more than formal education. Find someone that fits your personality. Listen to them when they talk about what works and doesn’t work based on past patients. Take it with a grain of salt but take it. Use this as an advantage point so you will be a step ahead of your peers throughout your career.


Harrison N. Vaughan, PT, DPT


  1. While these are fantastic tips for therapists early in their career, these are also great reminders for those of us who have been practicing for many years. As a therapist working in a university clinic, I have had many students rotate through. One of the biggest fears I see from them is a lack of exercise knowledge. They come armed with current research and new techniques, but they often lack the ability to develop and progress exercise programs. I have developed an online physical therapy exercise program composed entirely of professional videos that is proving to be a great resource for students and new grads. The ability to watch exercises being preformed, create protocols, save favorite exercises, and easily search through a cross-referenced library, makes it easy to help patients excel in their rehab. Have your fellow therapists check it out. http://www.gopt.com

    1. Hey Kendra,
      Thanks for your feedback and personal experience. I agree…some of the basics can be missing in the new wave of students. I’ll be sure to check out your site.


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