Mentoring graduates in private practice

A drawing of thought bubbles in a colourful array of purples and greens.

Mentoring graduates in private practice

A drawing of thought bubbles in a colourful array of purples and greens.

If graduates are to successfully transition into private practice and remain in the profession, structured mentoring is essential, explains physiotherapy practice owner Greg Goh.

Recently, the hiring landscape has shifted favourably for practice owners.

We are starting to see a higher percentage of physiotherapy graduates enter the private sector instead of the public health system (Wells et al 2021).

This is a welcome and much needed shift from the hiring drought we all experienced in previous years.

However, it poses a question: Are we ready and equipped to help these new graduates thrive in private practice?

The transition from tertiary education to a full-time job can be a daunting leap.

When that is combined with high expectations about quickly building a patient list and delivering sound, evidence-informed physiotherapy interventions while also forming a strong rapport with patients, it is no wonder new graduates can feel overwhelmed when jumping into private practice.

It is imperative that, as practice owners, we help to guide our new graduates through this transition and set them up for success and career longevity in the future.

However, this will take more than just offering them semi-regular professional development sessions and/or ad hoc mentoring sessions.

Practice owners need to have a structured mentoring program (focused on both clinical and non-clinical aspects of physiotherapy) tailored to encourage graduates to begin to develop towards their full potential.

As well as making it easier for new graduates to settle into their first year of work, this will help to retain them in the long term.

There are many benefits of having a structured mentoring program within your practice, but here are four of the major ones.

Accelerated career development

The majority of graduates we will hire over the next five to seven years will be generation Z.

Workers in this generation place a high value on career development and about one in five state that they would choose an employer based on their skill-building opportunities (Handshake 2022).

A structured mentoring program gives you the opportunity to really get to know and understand your new graduate—including their goals and values—so that you can provide tailored and specific mentorship (another thing generation Z values highly in a workplace) to help them reach their goals.

Whether those goals are to pursue further study, to achieve a specific work- life balance or to own their own practice, we are in a strong position to help nurture and guide them on their career journey.

And with an increasing number of professional development opportunities available, such as special interest groups, titling and specialisation, there are plenty of avenues for new graduates to take ownership of their career development.

A great place to start is to ask during mentoring sessions, ‘Where do you see yourself in three to five years (professionally and/or personally)?’

Most will likely look at you blankly, but the idea is to get your new graduates thinking more broadly about where they want to go within the profession.

This will help you tailor your advice and mentorship to the individual and the skills they need to develop.

Skill building with your team ultimately strengthens your practice because each member can contribute according to their own specific goals and interests.

Improved employee retention

While it is good that we are starting to see more graduates enter private practice, we must also make sure that we are retaining them.

A 2022 LinkedIn workplace report found that companies with a highly rated training program had a 53 per cent lower attrition rate (LinkedIn 2022).

Similarly, a survey by Deloitte showed that employees who said that they planned to stay with their current employer for more than five years were twice as likely to have participated in a mentoring program (Deloitte 2016).

Any program you put in place should be approached with a long-term view because you are building skill sets that will help grow your practice in the future.

Giving your team opportunities and the space to explore other interests or passions, within either the clinical or the non-clinical (ie, business development, leadership or communication) realm, not only deepens the collective skill sets of your practice as a whole, but also allows an outlet for individual creative personal growth.

As long as you are able to guide the exploration of these interests in alignment with your practice goals and objectives, this will help keep your team members engaged and passionate about their careers, which subsequently improves retention.

The cultivation of a learning culture

One aspect of truly great practices is that they are constantly growing and evolving.

A structured mentoring program helps to cultivate an environment where growth and learning are more than just optional—they are integral aspects of your practice culture.

This allows your new graduates and other team members to direct their own professional development instead of you having to constantly push them.

Another benefit of cultivating a learning environment is that it increases peer accountability by encouraging your team to share and help each other with difficult or complex patients and to grow from the collective team experiences.

This leads to a deeper level of trust and a stronger overall team culture.

You can start by getting your new graduates to shadow your more senior clinicians in their treatment sessions.

This gives your senior clinicians the opportunity to practise and develop their mentoring skills and to share their clinical knowledge while also exposing your graduates to varied examples of how to run an effective treatment session and to new techniques that they can use in their own sessions.

Better service delivery

The final benefit of having a structured mentoring program is that it will ensure a consistent and high standard of service delivery in your practice.

A study in 2021 showed that a structured program for new graduates helped accelerate their skills and confidence in delivering clinical care to patients (Chipchase et al 2021).

While your program should have an element of flexibility to adapt to your team members’ interests within the larger vision of your practice, it should also have specific foundational aspects (clinical and non-clinical) that are taught to everyone.

This allows you to set a solid baseline of consistent high-quality service.

Here are five steps you can take to start a structured mentoring program in your own practice:

•    List five to 10 skills (clinical or non-clinical) that your practice already has at an exceptional level and why they matter. These will form the foundational aspects of your program, which you can teach to your team.
•    Ask your senior physiotherapists and administration team which areas or skill sets (clinical or non-clinical) your practice as a whole could improve on. Make a plan for building up these areas or skill sets through either in-house or external trainers.
•    Block off mentoring sessions with your team (if you don’t already do this) and start helping them to set goals based on where they see themselves in one, three and five years’ time. Encourage them to think broadly about who they want to be, professionally and personally.
•    Have your new graduates start shadowing your senior physiotherapists once every few weeks and schedule a follow- up to help them consolidate and apply what they have learnt.
•    Just start with something—don’t wait to have all the pieces in place. Great mentoring programs don’t happen overnight, so make a start and then workshop it along the way. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Perfection is the enemy of progress’.

>> Greg Goh APAM is an experienced physiotherapist with a private practice, Back In Motion, in Mount Barker, South Australia. Greg is also a leadership consultant and is passionate about developing the next generation of leaders within the healthcare industry.


1.    Chipchase, L., Papinniemi, A., Dafny, H., Levy, T., Evans, K., 2021. Supporting new graduate physiotherapists in their first year of private practice with a structured professional development program; a qualitative study. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice, 57, Feb 2022, 102498.
2.    Deloitte, 2016. The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Winning over the next generation of leaders. 
3.    Handshake, 2022. The class of 2023 forges ahead: Short-term anxious, long-term optimistic: six things to know about the next cohort of college job seekers. Network Trends. 
4.    LinkedIn, 2022. The transformation of L&D: learning leads the way through the great reshuffle. LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, 2022. 
5.    Wells, C., Olson, R., Bialocerkowski, A., Carroll, S., Chipchase, L., Reubenson, A., Scarvell, J.M., Kent, F., 2021. Work-readiness of new graduate physical therapists for private practice in Australia: academic faculty, employer, and graduate perspectives. Physical Therapy, 101 (6), pzab078.


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