5 Lessons Learned as a New OncoPT

To my immense shock, I’ve been an OncoPT for almost 5 years.  Yea, this May marks my 5 year anniversary since graduating from PT school.

After almost 5 years of practicing, stumbling, researching, & now teaching, I’ve learned some pretty powerful lessons that I think every new OncoPT must learn to have a successful career.

While these aren’t the only lessons you’ll learn along the way, these are definitely some of the most impactful lessons a new OncoPT can learn from in their early career.

You will never have it all figured out.

Even after practicing for almost 5 years.  Even after preparing to become a board certified oncologic clinical specialist.  Even after teaching other PTs how to become a board certified oncologic clinical specialist, I still have so much to learn.  The reality is, OncoPT is always changing, & that’s a really good thing.  For so long, patients were told to rest after being diagnosed with cancer & to just be grateful they’re alive.  

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen an explosion of research & interest into oncology rehab, but we’ve still got a long way to go.  Heck, we’re still trying to figure out what parts of complete decongestive therapy are actually important & beneficial for treating lymphedema.  

Here’s what this means for us:

  • Don’t stress yourself out over staying on top of every new research article.
  • As you’re treating patients, identify 1 area you could use more information on.  Then, set aside a finite amount of time to read up on this area.
    • Suggested resources: APTA Oncology, Rehabilitation Oncology, Twitter, this podcast 😀

Have a plan B, C, maybe even D.

Things will rarely work out according to your perfect plan, especially in patient care.  There’s so many variables to consider, so many iterations of how things could pan out.  Don’t hold quite so tightly to your plan A.  

When I’m working with patients now, I have a general framework of what we need to work out once I’ve identified impairments.  It’s also critical to assess which impairments are the priority for your patient – they may not match your priorities, & that’s okay.

Here’s what this means for us:

  • Formulate a plan, but be prepared AND WILLING to adapt as you work with your patients.

Show up fully for every patient, every time.

You never know when this will be the last time you see this patient.

I think this is easier when you have a deadline.  (juxtapose pancreatic cancer w/young guy w/cancer)

Here’s what this means for us:

  • Be present.
  • Every patient, every visit, every interaction is an opportunity to show up fully.

Don’t compromise on quality care.

Even though we still have a lot to learn about oncology rehab, there’s absolutely one thing I know for a fact: cramming multiple patients into one session at a time is NOT quality care.  

Oncology patients are incredibly medically dynamic.  Firstly, cancer treatments can cause significant fluctuations in physiological responses to interventions.  Next, cancer itself can affect a person’s physiological functioning.  

And don’t forget about oncologic emergencies.  Oncologic emergencies can potentially affect any one of your patients.

Now while you probably know this & are VERY aware of it, PTs face tremendous pressure to maximize their productivity, which usually means double, triple, or even quadruple booking.

At that point, patients aren’t even getting care for their impairments.  Not just good care, care at all.  

And that doesn’t just reflect poorly on you, your team, or the company.  It reflects poorly on cancer rehab AS A WHOLE.

Here’s what this means for us:

  • Stand up for yourself & your patients.
  • Do not back down when you’re asked/told to compromise your care quality for the sake of dollars.

Find your tribe.

Finding a community to support you is important, especially as a new OncoPT.  Having a community provides a sense of belonging and connection, as well as a source of encouragement and motivation. Having fellow PTs to share your experiences and challenges with can help you feel less isolated and more supported in your journey.

A community can also provide practical assistance, such as help with problem-solving or reaching goals. Additionally, being part of a community can expose you to new perspectives and ideas, and provide opportunities for personal growth and learning. In short, a community can be a valuable resource for both personal and professional development.

Here’s what this means for us:

The first few years of being an OncoPT are challenging & full of growth opportunities.  Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the hustle & bustle of just trying to survive, we forget some of the critical lessons we learn along the way.

Don’t forget to reflect on all you’ve accomplished so far.

Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT.  And remember you are exactly the physical therapist that your patients with cancer need. So let’s get to work.

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