Physical Therapy Residency: Tips for Applying and Interviews

Please see my first post for general information on physical therapy residency programs: “What are Physical Therapy Residencies All About”

In this post, I would like to continue the discussion of physical therapy (PT) residency programs and add some more specific tips for the application and interview process. 

I will share some advice from my perspective as a current PT resident, but perhaps more useful will be contributions from two current faculty involved in PT residency programs. These two individuals have been excellent professional mentors for me and were gracious enough to let me interview them regarding their involvement in residency. They are:

Dr. Kathleen Geist, PT, DPT, OCS  Director of Emory University’s Orthopedic Physical Therapy Residency Program

Brooke Prof Picture

Dr. Brooke Vaughan, PT, DPT, NCS Academic Coordinator of the Neurologic Physical Therapy Residency Program at Ohio University in partnership with Ohio Health

What Traits Does An “Ideal” Physical Therapy Resident Have?

  • “Growth-Mindset”

Dr. Geist: “We are really looking for people who have a ‘growth mindset’”

“We are looking for residents who are flexible enough to adopt new perspectives of physical therapy practice. We are interested in how much residents have pursued professional opportunities for growth and if they are willing to be in situations that push them outside of their current practice patterns and tendencies on how to treat as physical therapists”

  • Well-Developed Career Goals in Physical Therapy

Dr. Vaughan: “Applicants to our residency program must be able to articulate WHY they are interested in pursuing residency and what this experience will add to their career goals versus learning by doing within a standard new graduate clinic experience. Everyone who applies to our program is passionate about neuro-based physical therapy, but that does not mean that a residency is the best place for them to learn. We are interested in what they believe residency will add to their professional development as a clinician. How does residency fit into their 3 or 5 or 10 year plan as a physical therapist and how does it contribute to their professional goals within this field?”

  • Self-Motivated Pursuit of “Extra” Learning Opportunities (i.e., research, continuing education, professional conference attendance, volunteer experiences etc.) 

Dr. Geist: “We also want to see that potential residents have made efforts to become engaged in furthering their education with experiences such as diversity in practice settings, attendance of professional conferences, and pursuing opportunities that contribute to the profession outside of clinic work, such as research or teaching”

  • A Compelling Argument Why This Specific Residency Program Will Be A Good Fit for Applicant’s Goals and Needs 

Dr. Vaughan:  “The residency applicant must be able to make a compelling argument about why OUR residency program is the right fit for them. As the number of residency programs grows, each offers a slightly different experience for potential residents. We not only want to select residents that are qualified, but we really need residents to explain why they will fit well in our program. For example, if they are seeking research experience, our program may not be a good fit because we do not really emphasize that or provide structured opportunities for research. An applicant may be very qualified for residency, but we really need them to match well with what our program is offering for them to get the most out of this rigorous commitment.” 

Tips for Applying for PT Residency Programs:

Start early with applications:

  • Each part of the application takes some time investment to complete and each program will likely want you to respond to different essay prompts 

Letters of Recommendation:

  • Ask for recommendation letters with enough time for the person to write you a quality letter (and as a courtesy to them).
  •  Keep in touch with your clinical instructors (CIs) If you are thinking at all about residency! It can be especially helpful to have letters of recommendation from CIs associated with the institutions where you are applying for residency. 

Get experience outside of your DPT curriculum (this doesn’t have to be “forced”, think about what your interests are): 

    • Volunteering/community service
    • Research
    • Teaching
    • Leadership positions or involvement in community organizations

Pursue continuing education certifications (again, based on YOUR interests/subspecialty of interest) examples might be:

  • Dry needling training
  • Graston Technique ® certification
  • Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy ® (MDT)  
  • LSVT BIG ®

How many programs to apply for: 

  • Based on time/monetary demands for applications and the need to be discerning in the programs that you apply to, I recommend applying to anywhere from 2-6 programs. 

Tips for Preparing for PT Residency Interviews: 

Practice interview questions:

  • Have your parents/friends ask you questions regarding your professional goals, explaining your essay prompts, and reasons you are pursuing physical therapy residency.

Prepare and verbally rehearse interesting case examples:

    • You will likely be asked to describe patient cases that have been challenging and/or have made an impression on you either informally or formally as a case presentation during interviews.

Practice talking about yourself:

  • Practice confidently talking about your interests, strengths/weaknesses, interactions with professional colleagues regarding patient care, career ambitions and how residency helps progress you towards these goals. This can be hard to do initially, but will improve with practice!

Contact current or past residents from the program you are interested in:

  • This is perhaps the best way to get a sense for what a “day in the life” will be like during your potential residency. Most programs will be happy to have you talk with current/past residents and can share contact information with you upon request. 

*Note: Again, much thanks to these individuals for contributing their insights on the application and interview process for physical therapy residencies:

  • Jim Christoffel, PT, DPT, NCS served as a Neurologic Physical Therapy Resident with Ohio Health during the 2018-2019 year at Ohio University. He is now working at Kettering Health Network. 
  • Derek Piszczeck, PT, DPT is currently a Sports Physical Therapy Resident at Houston Methodist.
  • Rosey Erickson, PT, DPT, CLT is currently a Women’s Health Physical Therapy Resident at Duke University.

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