Employee Professional Development


What exactly is professional development and why is it important?

By John Lowe, PT

Managing any business entails being responsible for certain aspects of the business that are essential to its continued operation. These typically include making sure employees and bills are being paid in a timely manner, following up on the status of accounts receivable, dealing with landlords and other vendors, and in the case of health care facilities making sure that the facility is prepared to pass audits. Physical therapy managers are also frequently required to generate revenue. And last but definitely not least they have a responsibility to and for their employees.

Physical therapy practices, unless they are part of a large organization, typically do not have a human resources department. They may contract out some traditional business activities such as payroll, billing, and benefits; however, recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees are all usually part of the duties of the owner/manager.

Essential to any discussion of professional development is addressing the need for it. What is professional development, and how is it important to a business? Less experienced clinicians interviewing for jobs are usually interested in continuing education benefits and clinical mentoring to advance their treatment skills. This is familiar ground for physical therapists, and most practice owner/operators probably have some kind of a plan to address this. But there are other aspects of professional development that should be addressed in order to minimize turnover, engage the staff in the goals of growing the business, and brand a business as a good place to work. It also bears mentioning that the nonclinical staff are just as important as the physical therapists in making a business thrive and should be included as you create your plans.

Managing people can be the hardest part of running a business. No one became a physical therapist in order to be a manager. Physical therapists learn the value of effective communication with patients, referral sources, and reimbursement sources. Communication is never a one-way street, and nowhere is that more evident than when working with employees. Ask an employee (or potential employee) if they feel professional development is important and the typical response will be in the affirmative. However, a manager cannot (nor should a manager try) to set professional goals for an employee. Since goals are required to set up a relevant development plan, you as a manager can support your employees in developing effective goals.

Clinicians know they want to learn clinical skills, but other than that, they may not have given much thought to long-term professional goals. This is where managers can help be a catalyst and guide employees as they set goals for their professional development. Short-term goals may be items such as learning specific clinical skills, improving specific aspects of documentation, or in the case of nonclinical staff, taking on additional responsibilities such as being the point person with nonclinical vendors. Long-term goals might include where the employee wants to be professionally in one, three, or five years. Some people may value improving clinical skills above all others, some may be interested in a management track career, and other employees might want a combination of the two. But employees have to tell the manager what they want. Supervisors can encourage employees and assist them in goal setting, but for a goal to be effective it has to be meaningful to the employee, and they ultimately need to provide the motivation for achieving it.

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Employee development sounds like a great idea. Few would argue with that. So why doesn’t it always get done? Physical therapy business owner/managers are usually self-motivated and therefore it’s easy to assume that they (at least with their clinical staff) are hiring professionals and these employees should have a career plan. But that may not always be the case.

Harvard Business Review recently published a study of an analysis of databases for over 1,200 young employees. The authors found that dissatisfaction with professional development efforts was a primary reason for leaving organizations. Respondents felt in general that while many employers provide opportunities for advancement and increases in responsibilities, they were not receiving adequate training, mentoring, and coaching.1

Everyone seems to agree that fostering the professional development of employees is important, so what’s the problem? Forbes magazine listed several: Managers are focused on the day-to-day operation of their business and are less interested in long-term activities with less certain payback, some organizations create complex bureaucratic employee development exercises that ultimately just confuse issues and create work, and finally many managers feel there is just no time for it.2

Employer-employee relations are possibly the most difficult part of running a business. Personalities are different, and what works for one manager won’t necessarily work for everyone else. Equally important is the personality of the employee. Managers make mistakes handling employees and hopefully learn from them. That’s life.


1. Hamori M, Cao J, Koyuncu B. Why top young managers are in a nonstop job hunt. Harvard Business Review. July-Aug. 2012.

2. Lipman V. Why employee development is important, neglected, and can cost you talent. www.forbes.com. Jan 29, 2013.

John Lowe, PT, is an APTA member and long-time practice manager currently employed by WorkWell Prevention & Care. He can be reached at john.lowe@workwellpc.com.

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