The topic of physical therapy residencies came up on a DPT student facebook page and I decided to share a brief article I wrote for the Wisconsin Physical Therapy Association’s student corner. Enjoy and comment.
Residency education in any section whether it be orthopedics, cardiopulmonary, sports, neuro, etc offers a competitive edge to clinicians, particularly entry level DPTs. Fast tracking to specialization, direct mentoring, opportunities for research, teaching responsibilities are not typically offered in most places of employment (especially to new grads) and rarely if ever provided in combination. Additionally in certain areas of practice (pediatrics, cardiopulmonary, women’s health and clinical electrophysiology) it is rather difficult to obtain the necessary hours needed to sit for board specialization. For those sections residency training is almost necessary to practice.
That being said if you are unsure after graduating as to what sort of clinician you aspire to become or what area you want to practice in, I would caution against pursuing a residency. As with a residency you are in effect “building on” clinical skills and knowledge more so than “building up”. The extent of that will vary from program to program and amongst sections but in general I feel that is the case; and as sparse as the spots are nationally, they very well should be. Residency training is not mandatory and neither is specialization, although that hopefully may change. So as with anything in life if you are uncertain, avoid making a rash decision and wait. Along those lines if you do decide after graduating and passing the NPTE that you do not wish to pursue a residency immediately, I would strongly recommend limiting that waiting period to 3 years post graduation. By that time you should have your own identity as a clinician, earned at least your first promotion and possibly been a clinical instructor. Instead I would then consider sitting for whichever board specialization you desire as an independent.
In choosing a residency I feel that the best programs are affiliated with a DPT program or a university. Private clinics lack the opportunities for research, teaching and collaboration with other providers that all university based programs offer. Again the importance of this varies between residents but I feel that a program should offer more than just mentoring. A residency should offer pathways to different aspects of the field and develop a therapist into a leader in their section not solely a “clinical expert”. Again this is my opinion alone, talk to other residents in order to gain as many perspectives as possible which will help you make the best choice for YOU. Ultimately it’s your professional life, goals and aspirations.