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pick employee physical therapy
Take a peek inside my head during the hiring process.

How I Pick the Right Employee For My Physical Therapy Clinic

Guest poster: Keith Mahler, PT, MPT, CEAS, CCI


You’ve done it! You made it through PT school, and now it’s time to start paying off your loans. Off you go to look for a job. There are many opportunities for new grads in this changing healthcare environment.  It’s not all about the PAY.  You want a job that is challenging, fun and stable.  Frankly, you should have been looking one year prior to your graduation, but all is not lost if you’re a procrastinator.  Your pre-grad search can be helpful in making the right decision of where to work.  I’ve talked to too many first year PTs that have made the wrong decision.  They ask for guidance from me, and all too often, I tell them they need to stick it out for a year or so.

In your pre-grad search, you may notice trends of certain clinics consistently posting ads looking for a new physical therapist.  This can indicate a high turnover rate.  You don’t want to work there.  Your first two years out of school are a critical time in your development as a PT.  You need to work in an environment that fosters learning. Clinics with high therapist turnover and high productivity rates (e.g. 15 min treats) are not good places to learn.

My advice to you as a new physical therapist?

Think like a business owner when you’re applying for a job.  What value are you to the employer? Simply put, your employer is hoping you add to the bottom line, both long term and short term.

I’ve written this guest post for newgradphysicaltherapy.com so that you will have an honest perspective about what goes through my head during the hiring process.  While any boss longs for the perfect blend of creativity, intelligence and congeniality, at the end of the day, I have a clinic to run, bills to pay and patients to keep happy. In a word, I need you to be hardworking. The “treat and go home” mentality simply won’t fit my small business.

I run a small outpatient orthopedic clinic in San Diego.  I pride my clinic on providing exceptional patient care, a quiet and friendly workspace, and a close-knit staff of trusted employees.  It has taken some time to build the right team.  During the 12 years of running clinics, I have seen my share of employees.  While all of them have their strengths, many have not lasted because it simply was not a good fit.  The ones who have stuck around are willing to work, both in the clinic and out of the clinic, and they have reaped the benefits.

Do you know how much it costs, per hour, to add a physical therapist to a clinic?

This is just a partial list of the costs incurred by your employer:

base salary
health insurance
increased liability insurance
social security
worker’s comp
vacation coverage
increased support staff
documentation charges….

That means whatever I offer you as compensation has a nice chunk of extra cost to my clinic added on top.  When hiring, I factor in 1.6x your base salary as a true cost to me.  Therefore, a therapist wanting a salary of $35/hour would cost me $56/hour.

The average therapist is rarely 100% productive in a practice.  Therapist productivity rates typically vary from 66 to 80%, due to normal ebbing and flowing of patient load, cancellations, etc.  The money lost through unproductive time, along with declining reimbursement rates, often leaves very little profit for the clinic.  By bringing you on board, I believe I am investing in both the clinic, as well as investing in YOU.  For that reason, I expect you will do your part to make sure that it was a wise investment for both the employer and the employee.

That said, here are the top traits I look for in a new graduate PT:

1. Efficient Use of Time:

Are you the type to whip out your cellphone at the first sign of a patient cancellation? It may seem silly. It’s only a few seconds. Are you all about chatting with the office staff, rather than working on your paperwork?  This type of behavior speaks volumes as to how much effort you are willing to give to your employer and hone your skills.  Please don’t come to me later, asking for extra charting time.  If you’re booked solid and treating til the end of your day, of course you can have time for paperwork.  But if you’ve got gaping holes in your schedule, I would expect you can finish your paperwork.  Alternatively if you are caught up, there is plenty to learn.  Please work on something that will further your growth, or the clinic’s growth.

2. Willingness/Ability to Market:

This does not mean I expect you to fill every empty hour by awkwardly dropping into doctors’ offices and leaving business cards with unfriendly receptionists.  I find marketing to the public far more effective than cold calling a doctor.  If you’re a yoga teacher, and a person is in distress, send them to the clinic. If you’re a social butterfly, and you see someone on crutches, go talk to him or her.  Do you play on a softball team?  I’d be happy to sponsor your team if you’re willing to bring those weekend warriors in for treatment at my clinic. Think of marketing as your unemployment insurance.  If this is not your cup of tea, you may do better in a large, hospital-based institution.   As I mentioned earlier, the treat and go home philosophy won’t work in the private sector.  I like to say, “if you treat and go home, you might as well just go home” 🙂 

3. Evidence-Based:

I am proud to treat patients using evidence-backed techniques.  But I’ve been out of school for almost 15 years.  I do keep up with literature, and participate in research.  I enjoy listening to what is being taught in the schools.  As new graduates, you have a lot to offer to an existing practice.  Your didactic knowledge is current, and I am eager to learn from you, just as much as you likely wish to learn from me.  I expect that I, and all my employees, perform regular inservices. 

4. Willingness to Treat:

Even if your clinicals consisted of you spending 15 minutes with your patient and then passing them off to a tech for HUS (hotpack, ultrasound, stim), that’s not how we operate, and there are questions regarding the legalities, when it comes to medicare.  I learned some helpful lessons from physicians, who often dedicate a scribe to help with the documentation.  Note-taking is not direct patient care, which means that using support staff to help does not subject you to loss of your license.  You just review the documentation, make necessary corrections and sign. 

By this point, you may be wondering, “What’s in it for me?”

I expect a lot from my employees.  But in return, they receive excellent benefits, a generous cont-ed package, fun team outings, a genuinely caring and understanding employer, a warm family environment, and limitless growth opportunities.  I will invest in you if you invest in me. Remember, net worth rarely comes from wages, and net worth is not self worth.

Keith Mahler owns an outpatient orthopedic clinic in the Mission Valley neighborhood of San Diego, CA.  He invites you to contact him anytime at (619) 296-5780 or using his website
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About Meredith Victor Castin

Meredith Victor Castin
Meredith is the co-founder of NewGradPhysicalTherapy.com and the founder of The Non-Clinical PT. She is originally from Tyler, TX and attended UPenn for undergrad, before graduating with her DPT from USA (San Diego) in 2010. She has worked in outpatient ortho, inpatient rehab, acute care, and home health. She loves spending time with her husband and 3 cats, and enjoys creating art and weird music.

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