Fertilize Your Career: How to Turn Mistakes into Growth Opportunities


Spring is in the air, which means it’s probably time for planting, weeding, seeding, & all the gardening things.  Or so I’m told…I have a knack for killing plants.  So if you’re here for gardening advice, this is the wrong podcast my friend.  But if you’re here for some honest OncoPT conversations, you’re in the right place.

So while I’m not out there fertilizing gardens, this episode is going to be some fertilizer for your OncoPT career.

As we’re emerging from what felt like a crazy winter, there’s a lot of opportunity to stretch & grow this spring, especially in your clinical practice.

But you may be hesitant to try new approaches for one simple reason: you want to avoid making mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong: we all want to be the safest PTs possible with our patients.  But sometimes you can confuse the pursuit of safe practice with being overly cautious.  Too cautious, even.  And this can actually harm our patients, more than help them.

Making mistakes is actually a really important part of growing.  Mistakes teach us not only what NOT to do, but also what TO do instead.

One incredibly memorable mistake I made as a student PT was documenting an entire evaluation on the wrong patient’s chart.  To fix this mistake, I spent several hours after the clinic closed to re-document everything on the correct patient chart.  So now I double check the chart I’m documenting in every single time.

While annoying, this is a pretty innocuous mistake.  Nobody died.  Nobody was in danger of dying from this mistake.  

But what about in patient care?  You may be saying, Elise, patient care is way different.  Someone could totally die.  

As my good friend Tori put it this weekend, everybody’s dying, just at different rates.  

Jokes aside, in cancer rehab, there is an overwhelming amount of fear & uncertainty when working with oncology patients.  Maybe this is due to the scariness of cancer, maybe the fear of God put in us by PT school professors discussing the dangers of modalities & cancer, maybe the apprehension of treating patients with bone metastases.  All of these are valid to a degree.  

But what I see more often in cancer rehab is underdosing & not challenging our patients enough.

And this is actually holding our profession back.

Shit is the best fertilizer.

I’ve heard this quote multiple times in my new favorite podcast, House of Herby.  The first time I heard it, I totally laughed it off.  But the most recent time I heard it, that quote hit very different because I understood the context & the meaning.  

In gardening, farming, etc., manure is frequently used to help plants grow because of all the nutrients it has.  

But shit is also the best fertilizer in OncoPT.  What I mean by shit, is trying different approaches, interventions, perspectives, even if they don’t seem like the conventional way of addressing xyz impairment.  

Typically, there will be one of two outcomes: it works or it doesn’t work.  If it doesn’t work, then we try something else next time.  But if it does work, we’re helping our patients.

And these seemingly harebrained ideas, the implementation of new approaches, are how we advance cancer rehab.

So I want you to change your concept of mistakes: instead of mistakes, look at these as learning opportunities, as innovation occasions!

I want you to get out there & try new things, curate opportunities for innovation in your practice by thinking outside the box.  What “shit” can you try that could potentially really help your patient?

Here’s how I want you to approach your practice:

Step 1: Cultivate curiosity

Curiosity is key to turning mistakes into opportunities for growth. Curious people tend to ask more questions, seek out new information, and are more open to new experiences. When you’re curious, you’re more likely to seek out feedback and reflect on your actions, which can help you identify areas for growth and development.

Step 2: Reflect on your “growth opportunity”

Taking the time to reflect on your mistakes and what you can learn from them is crucial to personal and professional growth. Reflection allows you to examine your actions, thought processes, and decision-making skills, identify areas for improvement, and develop strategies to prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future.

Step 3: Learn from the growth opportunity

Embracing your mistakes can help you develop a growth mindset, increase resilience, and ultimately improve patient outcomes. When you make a mistake, it’s an opportunity to learn and improve your practice. By embracing your failures, you’re also more likely to take risks and try new approaches, which can lead to innovation and improved outcomes for your patients.

Step 4: Collaborate with colleagues

Working with others, including other PTs, doctors, and nurses, can help you learn from mistakes and grow in your career. When you collaborate with others, you have the opportunity to share your experiences, ask for feedback, and learn from others’ perspectives. This can help you develop new skills and approaches, and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

Best of all, by sharing your mistakes, this absolutely helps others not make the same mistake, but to also consider what are some other innovative ways to help similar patients!

Step 5: Celebrate & share your successes

Acknowledging and celebrating your successes, no matter how small, can help you build momentum and confidence in your career as an oncology physical therapist. Celebrating your successes can help you stay motivated and focused on your goals, and remind you of the progress you’ve made. This can also help you build a positive mindset, which is important for facing challenges and overcoming obstacles in your career.

When you approach mistakes as growth opportunities, it only helps you become the best physical therapist possible for your patients.  If you’re NOT making mistakes, I challenge you with this: you’re not practicing big enough.

It’s very tempting to skip out on these steps

We have a typically very risk-averse culture in health care, especially physical therapy.  It’s tempting to keep your mistakes secret & hidden.  But by sharing what you’ve learned, you help the next generation of PTs learn from your mistakes, curate a culture of curious collaboration, & better help patients get the care they need.

If you’re serious about turning your mistakes into growth opportunities, I highly encourage you to write a case report.  There’s still so much we don’t know about cancer rehab – case reports are truly the first step in advancing our knowledge.

And if you want to actually start & FINISH your case report, you need my new & improved Case Report Writing Workshop.  

You’ll learn how to write a high-quality case report that meets the rigorous standards of ABPTS with my Case Report Writing Workshop. This 8-hour course covers the fundamentals of case report writing and includes various exercises to get you started on the writing process. Perfect for physical therapists looking to complete the ABPTS Specialty application.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Former student Sheree says:

“Before taking the Case Report Writing Workshop, I felt overwhelmed & not knowing how to start. After taking the workshop, my thoughts were more organized & I could then know how to complete the task. I would not have included a CARES statement if I did not take this class. I did not have to do any rewrites on my case study. I felt it was a very intensive class, but well worth my time.”

And yep, it’s approved for 8 CEU hours for PTs!  Case Report Writing Workshop is open & ready for you to dive in right now at TheOncoPT.com/casereport.

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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