Career goals are the objectives you want to achieve as a physical therapist. They are realistic, achievable milestones that inspire and motivate you to advance your skills and training. Here, we discuss strategies for creating and reaching short- and long-term physical therapy career goals to take your career to the next level.

Why Are Career Goals Important?

Without goals, it is easy to feel “stuck” and disenchanted with your job. Disenchantment and poor job satisfaction lead to burnout. Burnout is especially prevalent among healthcare workers who are facing sector-wide staffing shortages and the challenge of meeting the needs of the aging U.S. population.

Setting PT career goals helps to prevent provider burnout, because therapists working toward specific targets are more likely to be engaged and invested in their work. In fact, there is a name for this connection: achievement orientation. According to this theory, “a person who exhibits achievement orientation is likely to want to excel, succeed, have the drive, and be passionate about their goals.”

What Are Common Career Goals for Physical Therapists?

Whether you are a recent graduate or an experienced physical therapist, you may be wondering what makes a good PT career goal. Here are a few examples of career goals for PTs and tips and strategies to make them a reality.

Goals for PT careers might include:

  • Building a larger patient base
  • Earning a higher salary
  • Becoming certified in any of the 10 physical therapy specialties
  • Joining a professional organization like the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)
  • Attending at least one state or national PT conference every year
  • Returning to the classroom as a clinical instructor
  • Finding or becoming a PT mentor or career coach
  • Continuing ongoing professional development to advance your skills
  • Becoming proficient in new PT treatments and techniques
  • Finding a position in a clinic with a positive and supportive work culture
  • Build your practice throughout partnership with a leading physical therapy brand

Take these examples as inspiration—not as a mandatory blueprint for your own journey as a physical therapist. It’s important to remember that your career path is just as unique as you. Every physical therapist has their own values and priorities.

Tips for Reaching Your Goals for Physical Therapy Careers

Now, let’s focus on practical ways to set and achieve realistic and meaningful goals for physical therapists at every stage of their career.

1.   Identify Short- and Long-Term Goals

Let us say your ultimate goal as a physical therapist is to partner with a national brand that has the tools and resources to help your own business thrive. That’s going to take time, experience, and resources.

Certainly, partnership is a viable, long-term career goal, but there are several steps to get there. Short term goals can include shadowing an Upstream Rehabilitation partner to learn more about our practice model, researching the different brands to find the right fit for your practice, and deciding what type of role you want to play in the daily operations.

Short-term goals are those that can be achieved within six months to three years. They pave the way for those future, long-term objectives. Take time to reflect and imagine how you want your career to look in a year, five years, and decades down the road. Identifying these milestones is the first step to mapping out how you are going to get where you want to go.

2.   Write Your Career Goals Down

Now it’s time to put pen to paper. There is a strong body of research that shows people who write down their goals in some form or another are much more likely to achieve them.

Writing down your goals provides visual reminders you can refer to and review daily. Consider posting them in an area where they will be seen often, like in your daily planner, on a vision board, or taped to your refrigerator.

Putting goals on paper also enhances the brain’s encoding process, which transmits the things we perceive to a specific part of the brain to be analyzed. Here, the brain determines what to store and what to discard.

When you describe your PT career goals in written form, you are less likely to forget them. Remembering your goals helps you stay focused and work with intention toward what you want to achieve.

3.   Assign Action Steps for Each Goal

Action steps are also essential for achieving PT career goals. Think of goal-setting as a map to get from Point A to Point B. Just like in real life, we rarely travel along a straight path and getting your destination involves multiple stops and turns.

Breaking larger goals down into smaller steps makes them seem less impractical and more manageable. Set a realistic timeline for each goal, and make sure to take your current commitments into account to ensure you have the time and resources to pursue them. Time, expenses, and work and family obligations all play a part in determining how and when to pursue your goals.

4.   Review Your Goals Often

Goal-setting is a fluid process. After spending time in the field, many physical therapists find a passion for working with certain patient populations or treating specific conditions. From the time your graduate, your goals are likely to change as you learn more about your own strengths and interests as a provider.

To stay focused and motivated, take time each week and every month to review your immediate goals and action steps. Revised it as needed to ensure your career map continues to reflect your long-term professional goals.

Setting goals should always be rewarding and fulfilling. As you cross off each completed action step, be sure to celebrate every win along your journey to become the best provider possible and improve the lives of the patients you treat.

5.   Work for a Company That Supports Your Goals

When setting career goals, it is important to work for an employer that encourages your growth and sets you up for success. We spend the majority of our lives at work. It should be a safe, positive, and healthy space.

Look for a company that aligns with your personal and professional values and provides avenues to expand and explore your skills as a physical therapist. Upstream Rehabilitation and our family of PT brands firmly believe in leverage the collective skills of our team while respecting our individual goals and encouraging every employee to realize their mission.

Since 1995, we have been committed to offering extensive opportunities for our team members to grow personally and professionally. Upstream empowers associates through building an equitable workplace, closing the gender pay gap, and providing career advancement and leadership opportunities for all. Last year alone, we promoted 770 associates in clinics across the country.

We know that physical therapists who have high job satisfaction and feel valued are more likely to provide superior care—and that leads to better patient outcomes.

6.   Visualize Success

Research confirms many high-achievers have something in common. They visualize success. Mental strategies like visualization, positive self-talk, and relaxation can help everyone from students to athletes and employees of all types overcome obstacles and realize their full potential.

When you imagine achieving your career goals and what that looks and feels like, you create an emotional connection to these results and become invested in the process of obtaining them. That emotional connection is the “glue” that helps us manifest the career and the life we want.

Let’s go back to that goal of partnering with a brand like Upstream Rehabilitation. Imagine your business in vivid detail. What is your role in the practice? Who are your associates and how can you help them grow? Imagine your patients and all the ways you improve their lives through movement therapy.

Are you inspired to take the first step to reach your career goals? Upstream Rehabilitation can help you get there. Visit our online job board to browse opportunities near you.