Last May, I attended a graduation event for one of my mentees, JC. The event is the culmination of his three years of physical therapy education. As I sat in the audience listening to speeches, mixed with the sniffling of family members, I wondered: “What did it take for him to get to this point?” As a PT educator, I know what it takes for academicians to take a student from program admission to graduation. As his mentor, that graduation event allowed me to reflect on my question.
I learned that guiding someone to become a physical therapist might have to start at a very young age. However, for others that I had mentored, the “lightning bolt” that can spark the dream of becoming a PT might come later in life. In JC’s case, he was born to a family of therapists; both of his parents are PTs. He initially did not want to be a PT. At age 9, he wanted to pursue a career in computers and to create video games. I can still remember his mother rolling her eyeballs on that one. But as a mentor, my role was to encourage him and neutralize his mother’s seeming disappointment and to reassure her that this might still change.
I also learned to be ready and available for many phone calls during his high school years: assignment and project consultations, requests for my presence and participation in extracurricular activities, need for volunteer and observation hours and to give advice on young adult issues and in weighing decisions regarding college degrees and where to attend.
During my mentee’s pre-PT college years, phone calls and consultations were less but I observed that the levels of these consultations were more intense and extensive. I attribute these intensified conversations to our focus on being very deliberate with each step and decision in preparation for applying to a PT school. We also focused on making sure that this was the career path that he wanted to pursue. At this time, other mentors became involved, including those that provided him exposure and understanding of other PT specialties.
Applying to a PT program contributed further to our intensified mentor-mentee sessions. These sessions included preparing program applications, advising on interviewing skills and providing moral support and facilitating recovery from the sting of unsuccessful PT applications. As a mentor, I learned to teach him the concept of “it was not meant to be and a better ‘fit’ is waiting; it’s a matter of finding it.”
During PT school, I witnessed my mentee’s transformation from a novice first-year PT student who stumbled on physical therapy terminologies to an entry-level third year student who engaged in meaningful PT conversations. Topics that we discussed ranged from basic anatomy to issues faced by the profession. At this time, most of our consultation sessions centered on his research topic. I remember meeting some of his classmates during APTA conferences as they prepared for their poster presentations.
As JC walked across the stage and his professors “hooded” him as part of the event’s rites, I realized that my role as mentor is not finished yet. There will be additional consults: preparation for the licensure exam, applying and interviewing for his first job, providing emotional support for any unsuccessful job applications, and evidence-based management of select patients.
So, if it takes a village and countless hours to raise a child, it also takes the same to “produce” a physical therapist. In return, you get the assurance that the profession will be in good hands in the future, that you had imparted your values to a new generation of practitioners and the promise of a dinner on your mentee’s first paycheck. I hope that JC gives me the choice of where I would like to spend that dinner. I know it won’t be in a Chinese buffet restaurant.
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