As she closed a 36-year career as a Physiotherapist this August, Terry Lerner realized she had learned a thing or two that may be of help to others. 

After graduating from the University of Alberta in 1983, she started her career in a hospital setting, rotating through all the outpatients, inpatients, home care and extended care. Now, a few decades later, she has done everything from private practice to paediatrics. 

Finishing my career is as scary as starting it after being a physiotherapist for 36 years!” she shares. “I have enjoyed my career; leaving will be like losing part of myself.

We asked Terry what she wished she had known when she began as a physiotherapist. Like any career, there’s always something.

She shared, "Looking back at my younger self, I was lucky that I had some great clinical supervisors who passed on some words of wisdom that really helped me in my career. I wish to share and be that person to someone else."

7 Tips For Those Starting Their PT Journey

Here is some great advice from Terry, for those starting their PT journey:

Tip #1: Do not ask a patient to do anything you are not willing do yourself.

Tip #2: If you do not have a diagnosis, do not treat it.

Tip #3: Never be afraid to admit when you are wrong or when you do not know the answer. Clients are more than happy to see you look in a book.

Tip #4: Do not make your patients dependent on you. When I took my MacKenzie Series, the instructor stated that 80% of back pain resolves in four weeks. We are creating dependencies if we are treating clients for years. We need to give them control of their rehabilitation and be responsible.

Tip #5: Always do a full assessment: do not let your patient or your work environment rush you.

Tip #6: Remember the client you assess is injured, maybe scared, unfamiliar with you, and maybe even the environment. Do not make judgments about them on your first visit.

Tip #7: Don’t stay at a job you hate, especially when it is affecting your personal life. 

What do I wish I knew back when I got started?    

Lesson #1: I wish I knew how to say no. I still have problems with that. Working extra shifts or squeezing in extra patients often goes unappreciated by your boss, and even more frustratingly, by the client. 

The number of clients I have stayed late for who then ask for me to look at another body part, and then not even thanked me for staying late, is way too many.  

Lesson #2: Look after yourself as a physiotherapist, both mentally and physically. Working with clients can be draining: we touch them, spend time with them and hear all their stories. Remember, we as physiotherapists know where to refer and when to refer for assistance. When you get a physical injury, make an appointment to see a co-worker, or even better, go to a different clinic. 

Do not just band-aid your problems!  

Lesson #3: Do not give everything to everyone! There are times in your career when you will be overwhelmed with clients, children and parents needing you. Do not give everything to everyone! Do not be afraid to have help; even if it means getting a house cleaner so you can get an hour to yourself. I bought a robot vacuum and I go for a walk while it vacuums the house and I get some time for me!

Plans for Terry’s future involve camping, lots of family time, looking after herself and being creative with sewing clothes, playing guitar, cooking and gardening.


We wish you all the best in your next season, Terry!