The second I recognized Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On was playing through the car speakers I began to sing.  My mom told me how great I sounded as I belted out each line.  Three days later, middle school began and with it so did my first choir try-out.  The teacher had each student come up, sing a line from a song, and then proceeded to place each student into alto, bass, or tenor groups based on his or her tone.

I confidently walked up, I sang my best Celine ballad, and I left her speechless.  She disapprovingly looked at me and after a long pause told me to pick whatever group I wanted and to try and sing softly.  I learned two things that day.  A mother is blinded (or in this case deafened) by love and sometimes we inaccurately base opinions of ourselves on faulty information (my mom’s compliment in this case).

As a new graduate, I was again given a false sense of security in my skills as a clinician.  In PT school, professors raved about our program, my clinical instructors were impressed by my performance, and my patients loved me.  Had I not done a residency program, I would’ve stayed average, and I wouldn’t have known it.  Upon graduation, I originally thought I was an outstanding clinician.  It was the residency that exposed me to just how much I did not know, so that I could start on a journey toward learning what I should know.

I would have continued to provide average (not excellent) care, blame a tight ITB (if you do this visit  ITB), assign 3 sets of 10 reps to every exercise, and maybe (but hopefully not) crutch around on modalities.  I would not only have been average, but I think I would have continued patting myself on the back for a job well done.

There are however, two foolproof ways to know if you are average (before you become the comedic entertainment on American Idol try-outs).

Surround yourself with people better than you

It’s like being the high scorer in backyard basketball games and then being in utter shock when you’re blocked every, single lay-up during high school try-outs (this may or may not have happened to me).

Sometimes we do need to compare ourselves to others.  This is not to make ourselves feel bad about where we are, but rather to show us where we can be.  You cannot improve a strong lay-up on someone 6 inches shorter than you and you cannot improve your PT skills until you realize your own shortcomings (pun intended).  I was essentially surrounded by giants and my residency blocked many of the lay-ups I shot for the first few months, but without a residency you can still expose yourself to people who can help you improve.

  • Go to continuing education to learn new skills, but also meet and connect with more experienced clinicians (getting drinks and talking about the dumb questions asked doesn’t count)
  • Follow blogs, research journals, and clinicians you admire
  • Find a mentor either in person or virtually
  • Find a residency or fellowship

Reflect honestly

Your patients love you.  You listen to their problems, you never lose your smile, and they know you are trying to help them.  But, are you getting them better or are they telling you that because they don’t want to let you down?

Dig deeper than the opinions and the subjective reports of your patients or even friends—sometimes they give loving feedback like mothers.

Weekly or monthly ask yourself the tough questions.

  • What are my objective patient outcomes and are they improving?
  • Have I improved myself? How?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • Am I doing my best… or am I just doing what’s good enough?

If you do these two things you’ll have a better idea of whether you are great or average.  The good news is that once recognize a problem it is easier to fix and you’ll be better off.  I’m still average or even below average at plenty of things, but because of doing these two things, I continue to improve and I’ve never once found myself singing Celine at the microphone of a karaoke night (you’re welcome world).

Figure out how close you are to just average because you cannot get better if you don’t know

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  1. What a well written article. What makes your observation even more important is that our society promotes and accepts average. We should all strive to be a better version of ourselves on a daily basis.

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