5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Graduated

Posted By: Andy Barker

What I do now is certainly very different to what I did when I first graduated.

The way I structure my patient assessments, plan rehab, talk to patients, the end stage rehab exercises and tests I use…

Pretty much everything I do is nothing like what I used to do as a new grad…

And certainly nothing like how I was taught at University!

11 years after graduating I have learnt a lot and continue to learn with every patient and athlete I work with.

I am still as passionate to get learn as I was back then, as I want to improve my skills as a therapist and continually strive to be the very best at what I do.

So many of the struggles and challenges I had as a new grad were unnecessary and if I had my time again I would do so much differently.

Here are 5 things I wish I had known when I first graduated that would have made my life so much easier…

And if you can get your head around these, they will make your life as new grad, or student, so much easier too!

#1 ‘Experience’ Counts For Nothing

There is no worse feeling than lacking the confidence in your skills and your own ability, feeling like you are holding back giving a diagnosis, or not giving a prognosis, just in case you are wrong…

Or worrying what you say will come across the wrong way to the patient or player in front of you. 

When I first graduated I thought that I just needed to see more patients, see more injuries and get a few years under my belt…

Before I could really start to get consistent patient results and start progressing my career.

You probably think the same thing right now.

But this is one of the biggest errors new grads make.

You don’t magically become a better therapist when you have been qualified for 1 year…

3 years or 5 years.

You become a better therapist by actually learning how to find your patients real problem and then knowing how to fix it.

You can do that as a student or new grad.

You do not need years of ‘experience’ you just need to be able to make sense of your patient assessments and have the hands-on treatment skills and rehab skills to take a patient through a full rehab plan.

Don’t waste the first 5 years of your career getting ‘experience.’

Spend it helping patients get back to full health or helping athletes overcome injury and get back on the pitch.

#2 Question The ‘Why’ In What You Are Doing

If you can’t explain why you are doing something then you should not be doing it.

This is clinical reasoning in a nutshell.

Every therapist knows what clinical reasoning is, yet why is that we often do so many things, be it a special test, treatment technique or rehab exercise, even though if we really thought about it…

It makes no sense???

I’ll be honest it took me a few years to figure this out.

I started my career mostly copying what I had learnt from my early mentors I worked with in sport.

In fairness, it got results, well most of the time…

But when some of what I was doing started to be less effective, I started to question why and I had to find another way.

Do you find yourself doing the same treatment techniques for the same joints…

Or prescribing the same rehab exercises over and over again for different problems…

Even though your assessments do not indicate that technique or treatment.

Sometimes what you do seems to help, some times it does not, even when patients might present with similar symptoms.

This problem is evident more than ever particularly with all the ‘Insta Physio’s’ showcasing all kinds of fancy rehab exercises that look great on the gram, yet often lack much substance…

More concerned with how many extra followers their post will get them rather than explaining what and why they are doing.

Even worse than this, so many therapists copy these exercises because they think they are ‘high level’ or that they are exercises you should be using because other more ‘experienced’ therapists are using…

But you lack any sort of clinical reasoning as to why you are actually using them and if they are the right exercise for the patient or athlete that you are actually treating.

Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and if you can confidently reason why, you will not go far wrong.

#3 Make A Plan & Get To Work

Whether it’s a rehab plan for your patient or your own career plan the key to a successful plan is firstly, to actually have a plan…

Where You Are Going WRONG With The Shoulder

Then start taking steps towards along the plan, towards your goal.

It still amazes me that so many therapists, students and new grads, have big career goals, like becoming a top sports physio, or opening their own private practice and having several therapists working for them…

Yet have no plan in place to achieve this!

It wasn’t until I graduated that I really realised how easy it can be to progress patients and athletes quickly, and safely, through a full rehab plan, when you have a clear rehab plan.

And the same can be applied to your career.

I left Uni and went straight into full-time sport, working with the Leeds Rhinos, at the time the most successful rugby club in the UK.

It was only when I started that I realised that my dream job was only one step away and as soon as I realised this I started to try learn all skills and the knowledge I needed to make that next step.

In effect I just made a plan.

I made a plan that would help me progress to put myself in the best place possible to take that next step, if and when that opportunity came.

I had great help around me to to guide my learning and it paid off as 15 months after graduating I was promoted to become the Head Physio at the Leeds Rhinos, the job I had dreamed of doing since day one of physio school.

Aim high, make a plan and then get to work.

#4 Believe In What You Are Doing

If you think your patient or the athlete you are working with is not quite believing what you are telling them when you give them a diagnosis or tell them how long their injury will take to get better…

Then you are 100% right, they don’t believe in what you are saying.

But it is no surprise.

I was the same when I graduated and looking back now, I doubted my ability because I did not have a structured way of carrying out my assessments, treatments and rehab plans.

I jumped on every single course going to try learn ‘more’ when in fact what I really needed to do first was just get better at what I was already doing.

I did not need a spinal manipulation, dry needling or advanced ACL rehab course (all courses I did as a new grad by the way)… 

I just needed a simple structure to my subjective and objective assessments and a logical rehab plan that I could use for any injury, however simple or complex.

If I look back now it is laughable at how complicated I made these simple things and how confused and frustrated I made my early months and years as a new grad when it could have been so much easier.

The biggest benefit in nailing down my assessment and rehab planning is that I gained full confidence in what I was doing.

I was confident when I gave a player or patient a diagnosis and I could clearly tell them how long their injury would take to get better and the steps they needed to take to get them back to full fitness.

If you are confident in what you are doing this shines through to your patients and they feel and see that confidence.

Only when you can do this will patients actually believe in what you are telling them and actually start to respect what you are saying and actually do the rehab exercises that you set them. 

#5 Have Someone In Your Corner

I knew when I graduated the transition from student to becoming a fully qualified therapist would be tough…

But I just did not realise just how tough!

Thankfully I had a great mentor during my early couple of years to show me the ropes and help me dodge all the big errors and pitfalls that many of the therapists I graduated with were falling into.

My mentor at the time was a couple of steps ahead of me and had been exactly where I was, a fresh faced new grad physio just out of Uni, keen to learn and get going, but very raw and inexperienced, just a few years before.

He had already walked the path that I was just starting out on and could tell me exactly the best way to overcome the challenges I was coming up against right now and better than that…

The challenges I would likely come up against down the track, so I could learn what I needed to do before these problems even happened. 

If you are doing it alone it is tough.

Maybe your at sports club and are not getting the support you need, you might even be the only member of medical staff there…

Or maybe you do not get the support from the senior staff at your clinic or hospital that you thought you would and the guidance you need.

Having someone who has been where you have and that can guide you and provide the support you need, is vital for you to avoid mistakes…

Grow your confidence….

Improve your skills as a therapist…

And start making the career progress you really want!

If you don’t have someone in your corner to help you out and are going it alone it might be a long, frustrating and lonely path, and I wish you all the best!


P.S. I mentor therapists just like the Andy Barker that graduated from the University of Bradford back in 2010, therapists that are keen to learn, that want to get better and are willing to put in some work to get there.

If this sounds like you then get in touch.

My membership is now closed but you can join my waiting list here so when any places open up you will be the first to find out.

Just fill out the application form here (it’s at the bottom of the page) and I will add you to my VIP waiting list.