So, you’ve landed an interview for what you think may just be your dream job as a physical therapist. Now what? Whether you are entering the industry as a recent graduate, or you are looking to transition to a new position further along in your career, we are here to help.
We have a compiled a list of common physical therapy interview questions—and tips for answering them — to highlight your assets and help you impress recruiters and employers.
Why did you become a physical therapist?
Employers want to know why you chose physical therapy for a career. Maybe you or someone close to you had a great experience and a good outcome with treatment. Or maybe you’re driven by a desire to help others feel and move better, and being a direct part of that progress is rewarding.
Many physical therapists enjoy their work because it’s different every day, and they get to move around and be active—while improving the lives of their patients. Whatever it is that inspired your career choice, be authentic and speak from the heart.
How do you stay on top of the latest technology and treatments?
The field of physical therapy is continually evolving as new, evidence-based therapies and treatments become available. Part of your job is to ensure your patients have access to these treatments and benefit from these developments.
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) asserts that as health care professionals, physical therapists are, “obligated to engage in lifelong learning.” Do you belong to the APTA and other professional associations? Do you attend industry conferences and read the latest research? Do you have a mentor or serve as a mentor yourself? Respond to this question by sharing these and other ways you stay active and engaged in the physical therapy industry.
Are you interested in specific areas of physical therapy? Do you like working with certain patient populations?
At this time, the APTA offers 10 physical therapy specialties through the APTA specialist certification program. Obviously, if you’re applying for a position in any of these specialties, it’s clear where your interests and skills lie. But even if you aren’t certified in a specialty, you may have a passion for working with a certain patient population, whether that is athletes, children, or seniors, for example.
Talk about how you developed your interest and why you find working with certain patients gratifying. This will help you stand out from other candidates and ensure your career goals are a good fit for the position.
How do you create patient treatment plans?
At this point in the interview, it’s time to talk about the fundamental experience and skills that help you evaluate the patient to determine the appropriate course of treatment. Explain how you approach each patient as an individual, obtaining their health history and performing a detailed examination. Talk about the importance of short-term, achievable goals and how treatment plans should be fluid and flexible to reflect the patient’s changing needs.
What is one of the best experiences you’ve had working with a patient?
This question really is your time to shine (and even brag a bit.) Highlight an especially difficult case to show how you overcome challenges to reach a good outcome. Try the STAR technique: Situation, Task, Action, Result to describe your experience: from identifying the obstacle to using your training and skills to overcome it and achieve good results.
Maybe you had an obstinate patient who wasn’t all that receptive to physical therapy. We know that chronic pain or a physical setback can significantly impact a person’s emotional well-being. Use this question to show how your determination, compassion, and understanding helped you connect with your patient and become partners to reach physical therapy goals together.
How do you encourage patients to follow their treatment plan?
The reality is some patients are not compliant. They don’t do their “homework” or even keep up with their sessions. This question helps employers assess your interpersonal skills and the traits you have that motivate and encourage patients who may not be “on board” with physical therapy.
Mention some of the “soft skills” that help you make a personal connection with your patients and encourage them to trust you as the expert. Empathy, attention to detail, and confidence in your ability are just a few qualities that not only put your patients as ease and built rapport—but also impress a potential employer.
How do you assess a patient’s progress? How do you measure success?
Attention to detail is essential for physical therapists, especially when it comes to tracking a patient’s progress. Talk about the metrics and criteria you use to assess your patient’s physical therapy journey.
Share the practical ways you record patient growth, whether you use online programs or prefer to keep detailed patient charts on paper and discuss with them at the end of each session. Mention that you’re open to change in case your potential employer uses different tools to measure patient progress.
Therapy outcomes look different for every patient. For a student-athlete, success might be returning to play after an injury. For an older patient, that may mean rehabbing from a joint replacement procedure to a point that allows them to live independently.
Speak both in general terms of how you help patients progress in ways that make a difference in their everyday lives, and also talk about specific overall outcome measures you use to determine if a change has occurred.
How do you cope with stress on the job? What about conflict with a coworker?
No job is without its challenges. It’s how you manage hiccups and resolve workplace conflicts that sets you apart from the rest. Share some of the strategies you use to manage stress at work, and in your everyday life. Employers want to know you can handle whatever comes your way.
When answering these interview questions for physical therapists about how you handle conflict on the job, reassure the employer that you never discuss these issues in front of patients. Explain that you prefer to speak with your colleagues privately and discuss each other’s perspectives in a non-confrontational manner. The goal is to come together and agree on how to best move forward based on what is best for the patient.
What makes you a good fit for our team?
This is your opportunity to show that you’ve done your research. After you schedule the interview, take time to learn about the company. Who started the practice? What is their patient base? Do they focus on certain specialties? What is their philosophy toward patient care?
You applied for this job for a reason. Talk about why you want the position and how your training, skills, and values align with the role and the company culture overall. Visit the Upstream Rehabilitation career resource center to find out why more than 7,000 choose Upstream and to join our team!
- “Professional Development Lifelong Learning.” APTA, 30 July 2012, https://www.apta.org/apta-and-you/leadership-and-governance/policies/professional-development-lifelong-learning.
- “Apta Specialist Certification – Governed by Abpts.” APTA Specialist Certification – Governed by ABPTS, https://specialization.apta.org/.