What Can I Do to Improve My Experience in Physical Therapy?

physical therapist interview

The Patient Experience. Three very important words in healthcare today. There’s no doubt that there’s more emphasis on the experience of the customer now than in the past. Many reasons drive this: 1) patient choice in healthcare provider 2) competition 3) resources available for patients to research their healthcare provider. If you’re a consumer of healthcare services, you know that there’s likely a financial cost associated with receiving services, in addition to the cost of time and energy associated with accessing healthcare services.

As physical therapists, we’re fortunate. We have the unique opportunity to impact our patients’ lives in very significant ways. These include watching someone take their first steps following an injury; working with someone to return to the sport that they love; or helping our patients return to work following surgery. These are events and milestones that are “big events” in our patient’s life. However, even small events and milestones can be reasons to celebrate and this is a big reason why physical therapists become physical therapists! To improve other’s lives.

Wow…that all seems really positive! you might be saying, and it certainly is. However, one must consider the downside also. Burnout in the physical therapy profession can be staggering. It can sometimes feel like a “thankless” job with the occasional voice-in-the-head that says “if my patient isn’t getting any better, it must be because of my incompetence as a therapist.” Many physical and occupational therapists suffer in silence, with decreasing morale and passion for the job, eventually leaving patient care or the profession itself.

So…to get back to the first three words “The Patient Experience”. Certainly, as healthcare providers like physical and occupational therapists, we bear a certain amount of burden to ensure that you are receiving value for your time, money and energy spent on our services. We accept that responsibility fully and embrace it. Axes Physical Therapy stakes its brand reputation on the experience of our patients, our clients and our employees. We love it…the challenge of always getting better.

But, there’s a key person involved in the patient-therapist relationship and that’s YOU!!! Believe it or not, you (the patient) impact the “patient experience” as much as the therapist does. Your active participation in the therapeutic alliance with your physical or occupational therapist, in many ways, will dictate the experience you have while in therapy. Being open and honest about your expectations for recovery, your past experiences in physical therapy, and your perceptions about your role in the recovery process are critical. Additionally, your mindset at each physical therapy visit helps to set the tone of the session. A growth mindset (“I have control over my recovery”) vs a fixed mindset (“I have no control over my recovery”) will greatly impact your overall experience in physical therapy. Communicating with your therapist about “where you’re at” can be completely empowering for both physical therapist and patient.

It’s not easy…recovering from an injury, being in pain, or being unable to do the things you enjoy. We get it! We really do. In an effort to be fully transparent, we’re sensitive to the needs of our three most important customers…patients, clients and our employees…and are developing strategies to affect the experience of all three groups, starting with our employees, who are our most valuable asset. We love the emphasis placed on the “experience” in therapy because that’s where we believe we have the greatest impact on those we serve.


About the Author: Bruce Watson, MS, PT, is a physical therapist who suffered from burn-out and left patient care. After many years in the physical therapy industry, he’s served in multiple roles outside of day to day patient treatment. He brings a unique perspective to the Axes organization and has a passion for staff development, client experience and patient perception of the physical therapy experience.