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Five Tips on Recruiting and Retaining Millennial Physical Therapists


Thinking about Your first physical therapy career move? My advice for recent physical therapy graduates.

By Thomas Janicky, PT, DPT

At this year’s Graham Sessions, Jamey Schrier spoke about fear being a fierce detractor from allowing us to realize our life goals. It is safe to say that everyone has experienced fear in their life whether it was minutes before the interview for your dream job or seconds before the starting gun of a big race. We often easily have the ability to overcome the fear of things we can touch, see, and hear. It is the fear of things that we cannot see, touch, hear, understand, or predict that can triumph over even the strongest among us. Fear of the unknown is a crusher of dreams and can often force us into making comfortable choices, which can lead to complacency and mediocrity. It can stifle the ability to be disruptive in our clinical practice and in a market that requires innovation and fresh ideas. Comfort puts us into the mindset of “this is how we have always done it;” it perpetuates the use of outdated treatment practices and thinking that there is a one-size-fits-all model in the way we deliver our services. History has shown us that innovation is bred through risk taking, learning from failures, and from those who have harnessed the nurturing guidance of mentors who instead of teaching us what to think, teach us how to think. So why is it that a very small percentage of the human population are innovators?

More and more of those who identify as millennial are seeking and craving opportunities to break the mold of the outdated “career ladder” and create new and interesting opportunities for growth within our workplaces. We are looking for different ways to define success and that often does not mean landing a comfortable 9 to 5 job. We are not interested in perpetuating an outdated system and instead we look to create better opportunities for ourselves, as well as the employees, associations, and consumers we belong to and work with. Those who understand this will describe this behavior as creative, bold, “outside the box,” courageous, and innovative. Those who do not understand this behavior will describe it as arrogant, entitled, defiant, disloyal, and reckless. I am describing the millennial physical therapist.

Today’s practice owners are frequently coming face to face with the millennial physical therapist. I think it is quite funny when practice owners approach me asking for advice on how to communicate with “my kind” as if we were delicate organisms being discovered for the first time. As a millennial myself, I want practice owners, educators, and leaders in the profession to fear us less by understanding us a little more. I want them to realize that they can harness the power of this “reckless and fear devoid” millennial with mutual benefit for their practice and the growth of said millennial. In the long run, this could in fact lead to the development of both individuals and ideas that lead to innovation that could benefit the professional association, private practice, and the profession as a whole. It is with that idea in mind I wanted to share five tips for hanging on to your millennial physical therapist.

1. Let the baby bird fly!
Much like the mother bird pushing her young ones out of the nest, do not be afraid to push us outside of our comfort zones and come to solutions on our own. Put the spoon down and see what happens, but avoid being harsh if we fail and instead discuss it and help us learn from it. Perhaps given your previous experience you hold the piece of the puzzle that can turn our failure into a genuine learning experience. We all want some form of mentorship, and your experience is extremely valuable to us. I am pretty sure this is not just a millennial thing; micromanaging can quickly frustrate anyone. If you treat your employees like the paranoid mother in the passenger seat of her teenager’s vehicle, your actions will get old quickly. I am not saying that we do not need guidance or assistance, but freedom to make decisions and learn from our mistakes creates learning experiences and avenues for growth for both parties. After all, you want to encourage your team members to learn to make decisions on their own.

2. We really, really like technology!
If you have yet to discover the power of technology you are missing out on a huge avenue for patient/client/employee engagement. With a large percentage of the population now owning a smartphone, it is a poor generalization to say we are the only ones “obsessed” with technology. The truth is we grew up with it and we understand it and that perplexes those who were not afforded the same luxury. Take advantage of this opportunity; allow your millennial physical therapist to get creative in this avenue. Patients/clients will usually jump on board if you can offer them something that saves them time. A study conducted by the analytics firm International Data Corporation concluded that on average smartphone users check their Facebook 14 times a day,1 imagine the marketing opportunities your tech savvy millennial can have for your clinic. Don’t hate it, embrace it.

3. If you are in the business of perpetuating the same old ideas, you probably will not hold on to your millennial physical therapist too long.
Do not take this statement the wrong way, of course there are guidelines to follow and systems in place, but do your best to hear us out. Outside the box thinking leads to innovation in practice, it inspires new ways of interacting with patients/clients as well as referral sources. I would encourage all practice owners to eliminate words such as “cannot” or “impossible” from their vocabulary when interacting with millennials. Hear us out, and encourage us to present our case. If something is lacking, maybe you have the missing piece. Frankly, a millennial that hears these words often enough will mostly likely seek opportunities elsewhere in search of someone who can at least entertain their ideas.

4. Get ready to dream big! Millennials often set lofty career goals.
It has been my experience that many professionals discourage new professionals from embarking into private practice, entrepreneurship, or creating different ways of selling what we do to the public, when having little if any practice experience. Innovation comes from taking risks and as millennials we are absolutely fine with that. Personally, I would rather fail doing what makes me happy than succeed in something that makes me miserable. We are not interested in perpetuating the ideas of the ones before use but creating new experiences and opportunities.

5. If you have a “career ladder” within your business with a ceiling and/or attic, we probably will not stick around long.
Millennials crave something to work toward, and a career opportunity with endless room for growth is most desirable. This path does not have to take the form of a ladder and it probably should be more flexible. Not all of us want to become managers or chief financial officers; we are seeing millennial physical therapists finding new opportunities and passions in things such as community outreach/education, research, marketing, and public relations. Do not be afraid to tap into the nonclinical skills and passions that your millennial physical therapist brings to the table. This may allow your business to explore opportunities that it has not found or had the resources to explore yet. These are great topics to discuss at the initial interview. Ask your millennial physical therapist what they are passionate about and how they plan to be innovative in their new workplace.

Embracing the unique characteristics of your millennial physical therapist can facilitate unique and exciting opportunities for your private practice. Taking the extra steps to understand your millennial physical therapist can help create an environment that will keep them engaged and excited about the future.


1. Levitas, D. (2013, March). Always Connected How Smartphones And Social Keep Us Engaged. Retrieved March 20, 2016, from www.nu.nl/files/IDC-Facebook Always Connected (1).pdf. Accessed March 2016.

Thomas Janicky, PT, DPT, is an outpatient physical therapist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Private Practice Section (PPS) editorial board. He can be reached at tjanicky@gmail.com and on twitter @TJ_Janicky.

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