My Back Pocket

I have a piece of paper in my back pocket.  My figurative back pocket, that is.  In reality, the paper sits in a green file folder marked, “PT License.” The paper was issued by the state of New York.  License #020405.  I received it after successfully completing an accredited physical therapy curriculum and passing a board exam.

Lucky for me, a person only needs to pass the board exam once.  Then, should she decide to resign from her first physical therapy job less than three months after she started it, never to look back, she can pay a few hundred dollars every few years and keep that piece of paper – in her back pocket.  In case she ever needs it again.

Ten years after it was first issued, I used that license as it was intended.  I sought out a part-time physical therapy job and was amazed – and a bit shocked – at how easy it was to get a job in a profession I hadn’t practiced in ten years. Five months later I was accepted into a doctorate of Physical Therapy program.  In both cases, I convinced others of something I wasn’t sure was true: that I wanted to go back to physical therapy (or, in the case of the latter, that I wanted to teach future physical therapists).

In December of 2009, I resigned from my second physical therapy position.  I completed my first doctorate course successfully, but didn’t take another.

That same year, New York State implemented a continuing education policy for physical therapists. So when I renewed my license this past summer, they could have asked me to prove that I had completed that requirement.  They didn’t ask.  But I had.  Teaching Anatomy and Physiology to freshman nursing and physical therapy students meets the requirement, and I did that for three years.


“It was easy when I was in PT School,” I told my friend Saturday afternoon.  “I just put on my lab coat, put my stethoscope around my neck, and went as a PT.  Or a doctor.  Or whatever people thought I was.”

I was visiting my friend at work that afternoon and had two Halloween parties on my agenda for that evening.  I’ve always wanted to be a flapper for Halloween, but never think about it early enough to pull it off. And my default Halloween costume? The last time I’d worn that lab coat was in 2009, and I was pretty sure I donated it to Good Will since then.

“I’ve got a lab coat I don’t use,” said my friend.  Conveniently enough, she’s in the medical profession and I was visiting her at work.

“Perfect!” I was all set.

Back at home, I got ready for the party, came downstairs and declared to my housemate David that, for Halloween, I was going as one of my past lives. “Why is it you’re not a physical therapist?” he asked.  I sat down.  This could take a while. Mostly because I didn’t really know myself.

Leaving my first PT job had little do with actually practicing PT.  Lack of confidence played a role.  As did my desire to explore all the world had to offer.  Less than a week after leaving that first job, I found myself in the familiar gray and green uniform of the National Park Service.  Six months later, I was roaming the streets of Paris, Venice, and Rome.  And six months after that, I was living in Boston volunteering for a year with Americorps.  The list goes on and on.

I left that second PT job because I didn’t really want to work in a nursing home.  The only reason I chose to apply there was because the want ad said that I could call to inquire about the position. I wanted to be able to explain my absence from the profession before submitting a resume.

“But you have a license, right?” said the woman on the other end of the line.


“Then it’s not a problem,” she said.

I thought it a fluke.  But as I look back, I’ve had numerous PT’s say they’d hire me in a second – most having no knowledge of my skills as a therapist.

Which reminds me of a corporate job I was once hired for. They didn’t care about your skills – or lack thereof.  Those are teachable, they explained. What isn’t teachable is a good personality. Which, apparently, I have.

So here I sit, contemplating it all again.  Third time’s a charm? Perhaps.  Weeks ago I printed out the forms I’d need to get a license in North Carolina.  They sit on a shelf in my closet. Maybe I’ll pull them out.  Maybe.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    some thoughts, off the cuff:
    Paradoxically, a steady (ugh) job might bring more freedom, not less, if you can choose the hours and circumstances, which you can in PT. Talk to Jay. And a job with caregiving and lots of human interaction sounds just like Rebecca.
    The freedom comes from less energy needed in drumming up other sources of income. All you have to do for an interview is to be yourself, it´ll take about 30 seconds for the other side of the table (or phone) to be convinced, since such decisions are essentially emotional.
    Then you´ll be free to continue fulfilling your dreams

    1. Thanks Chris. I contacted Jay a while back and then second-guessed myself. Will think about that again:)

  2. jenn from galloway says:

    It’s always wise to have a fallback… and it’s never too late for a second, or third, or fourth career as you know so well.

    I’ve always felt that we had a bit of this disinterest, or whatever it is, in common, but I lucked out and found a specialty in PT that I adore. If not for my lymphedema/ oncology practice, I honestly don’t know if I’d be doing this anymore… I couldn’t stomach ECF, had no interest in rehab or subacute, acute care was fun for a while but was repetitive, outpatients are tolerable but ortho is NOT my cup of tea. Home care was a lot like acute, but in someone’s house. Sometimes that was great, sometimes not so much. I had great stories, but not always a drive to continue.

    I’m blessed to have found my niche, and always thought you might just find yours. I think it might be like mine, among the roads less traveled, but no less meaningful. Women’s health, oncology, wound care, cardiac, who knows? But it’ll be here, when and if you’re ready.

    1. Jenn –
      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. This is just what my mother was saying too. All through PT school I wanted a neuro affiliation, but was never able to get one. I was at a rahab facility that had a neuro team, but I was assigned to ortho, and even when I asked to just spend a day with neuro I was turned down. I loved being in OP ortho as an aide, but that was more about the team who worked there than the work itself. And that’s HUGE for me – I can’t work in a place where the general attitude is one of complacency, which I’ve seen too often in my work in medical facilities. Thanks for the listing of some specialties. And thanks for reinforcing that idea.

  3. Well, I guess I should address you from now on as ,Dr. Rebecca….(the little girl in the 3rd row from the door, in my 6th grade class)……..I love thinking about you as “Dr. Rebecca “….love it. I am happy that you are investigating all roads before you…..It is the best thing one can do with life……find what you really, really love, and then make money at it. I fortuneately decided at 5 years old that I wanted to be a teacher….and did it….did not make money in the catholic schools, but loved my job….I guess I will be off now, and wait for your next message..
    Mrs. F…

    1. Hi Mrs. F – Thanks for always being so encouraging to all of us. I didn’t remember where I sat in your class, but that was the year I got glasses for the first time. Big, pale pink frames. I never felt self-conscious wearing glasses because I remember walking in with them the first day and you just thought they were fabulous.

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