The non-clinical spotlight series exists to shed light on all of the interesting non-clinical career paths that physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals have taken. Today’s spotlight focuses on Michelle Stewart, who went from physical therapist to Clinical Consultant at WorkSTEPS®.
What is your full name and title at your current job?
Michelle Stewart, PT, DPT
Clinical Consultant at WorkSTEPS®
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
Texas Tech Health Sciences Center (Odessa Campus), 2014
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
When I graduated from PT school, I dropped my resume off at every PT clinic in Odessa, Texas.
I had a couple of interviews, but the place that I liked the vibe of when I walked in never called me back, so I called and asked to speak to their director. Turns out, the front desk put my resume in the stack with those applying for receptionist and tech roles.
I had an interview the next day and was offered the job on the spot. The clinic was primarily an orthopedic practice with five other PTs and five PTAs. We saw most payors, but due to the location, we saw a lot of Worker’s Compensation claims. Also, because of the type of work these people did, most of them were legitimately injured and wanted to get back to work.
The clinic also had a large cash-based revenue stream from performing WorkSTEPS® pre- and post-employment testing. Turns out that one of the co-owners of the clinic invented WorkSTEPS® in the 1980s, and this was the flagship clinic, performing anywhere from 60-100+ tests per day.
This was great for the therapists because we were encouraged to treat our patients as they needed to be treated with NO productivity requirements—plus blocked time for documentation each week.
For most of my time there, I had a dedicated, full time PTA. Together, we would see 12-18 patients per day while helping out with employment testing in our down time. As a brand-new PT, I had no clue how amazing this was.
I probably would have worked there for the rest of my career, but after about 3.5 years, my husband received a transfer with his company back to our hometown of Wichita Falls. Tx.
What did you do after that, and for how long?
When we moved “home,” I began working at another, much smaller, private practice clinic. I brought WorkSTEPS® with me and got the clinic started with pre- and post-employment testing, but on a much smaller scale.
The clients at this clinic were primarily VA, Medicaid, and Medicare. The patient load was much heavier and I did not have a PTA, nor did I have blocked out time for documentation.
I frequently came in an hour or more early each day to get caught up from the day before.
When did you realize you wanted to do something non-clinical?
After I worked at this new clinic for a while, I started thinking that this type of pace and clientele was not for me. I got a call from the owner of my last clinic, who also happened to be the CEO of WorkSTEPS®, wanting some help on a batch hire for a large WorkSTEPS® corporate account.
My boss agreed to let me go help out. We performed almost 200 employment tests in a day and a half.
As we were wrapping up, I told the CEO that I wanted to work for him full time. He said it would probably be a year or two before they could bring someone else on full time, but he would let me know.
A couple of months later, I got a text from him offering me a position, and the rest is history.
Are you still treating patients?
I am strictly non-clinical. I do go out and perform our test on candidates if one of our accounts wants to onboard several employees in a matter of days and we don’t have a provider in the area that can accommodate the volume.
How long have you been a clinical consultant with WorkSTEPS®?
I have been in this role since June of 2018.
What was the interview like for the role?
I was hand selected, so there was no interview process for my clinical consultant role.
Did you get any special certifications or training?
Most of my training was on the job. However, I had extensive knowledge of the product, as I had worked in the flagship WorkSTEPS® clinic and was seeing up to 100 WorkSTEPS® clients per week at my first job.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
People have a hard time understanding why I would choose to not treat patients anymore.
People aren’t generally negative, but if I get the feeling that they don’t get it, I list all the awesome benefits (working from home, not having to live and die by a day that is scheduled by the half hour, opportunity to travel, etc.) and they usually see why I would choose this path.
What’s a typical day in the life like for you as a clinical consultant?
There really is not a “typical” day.
I work predominantly from home, and I spend my time answering protocol questions and training providers via phone or e-mail.
I also work to develop training and processes to help our providers perform our test. I do travel to give trainings on a fairly regular basis.
What are some of the challenges and rewards of the role?
Challenges: Working from home can get lonely. I had no idea how much I would miss real human interaction. I talk on the phone all the time, but there is not the chit chat with patients or co-workers that I was used to having in clinical settings.
Rewards: I love teaching. As I mentioned before, I did some CI work, and even when I worked as a PT tech during college, I trained other techs. I love it when I am training, and can tell that people are just getting it. I also love being able to develop tools/processes that simplify what our clinicians need to do.
How do you think working as a PT prepared you for this role? Which skills transferred?
The basis of our test is founded in general PT assessment principals. It would be impossible to do this job without a strong background in outpatient orthopedics.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
It’s pretty comparable to other jobs I’ve had.
I do sometimes answer phone calls and emails (though I try not to do the latter) in the evenings and on weekends. However, I much prefer this to getting to the clinic at 6:30cam to do documentation, and I rarely feel like there is anything “hanging over my head,” like a stack of evals that need to be completed.
What type of person do you think would do well as a clinical consultant?
- You need to be able to think on your feet. Every time my phone rings, I have to switch gears from what I was doing to listen to what the person on the phone needs from me—and be able to give him or her an accurate answer.
- You have to be disciplined to stay on task, even when you are home.
- You have to be willing to travel and be away from your family.
- You also need to be good under pressure. When giving trainings, there are often times that providers will throw out questions or scenarios just to try to get you off your feet.
- You have to be able to take a breath and gather your thoughts without seeming frustrated or frazzled.
Do you work remotely or on-site?
Both. While most of my work can be done from my home office, there are times when I go into the office for meetings, and sometimes I do batch hires on location for different employers.
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
Right now, I am really happy where I am. This is a small company that is going to continue to grow, and I am excited to grow with it.
Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
Work hard and do more than is required at every job. You never know who is watching, and when—or where you may meet them down the road. They will always remember your drive and work ethic.
Also, if there is a job you think you would like, then pursue it.
You don’t have to do what everyone thinks you are supposed to do.
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
We really need to get direct access in EVERY state. It is time that PTs are recognized as the experts we are.
We also must stop shaming the DPTs because they came into the profession after others, and discrediting their degrees just because they lack experience. The doctoral degree is the road to direct access. If PTs don’t acknowledge each other, how do we expect other professions to take us seriously?
I also think we have to figure out the problems we have with managed care and the ridiculous amount of time we spend doing notes. If we could spend more time with patents, and less time in front of our computers, everyone would win. I wish I had a solution to this problem, but unfortunately, I think it is going to take widespread policy change.
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
ALWAYS be open to anything, and if you want something ask for it! I would not be in this position if I did not directly ask for a job. No one can know you are interested if you don’t tell them.
Thanks for your insight, Michelle!