You are not only the letters after your name.
Here in Canada we put a lot of focus on designations. Maybe it’s the same for those of you in other countries.
You see business cards with lots of letters after people’s names, showing what education or accreditations they’ve received. These same designations go at the top of resumes, are splashed onto websites, and are featured on Linkedin profiles. Sometimes you even see them on Facebook pages, put prominently alongside someone’s name to show you they mean business and this account won’t be all cat photos and snaps of their lunch.
Not that there’s anything wrong with cats or lunch. Or for that matter, designations. This is not a letter where I’m going to crap on getting higher education. After all, I have a science degree, a diploma in massage therapy, and have taken plenty of other continuing education courses. I don’t regret any of it.
Of course, designations are really important in health care. They’re essential, even. They’re a big piece of helping to protect the public from poorly trained practitioners. If you’re an RMT, PT, RN, OT, DC, or other regulated health professional, you should be proud. It takes a lot of work to get to where you are.
But where people get stuck is they start acting like their education ends with that designation. Or that they need to take a bunch of extra courses in other to ‘measure up’ to their peers. Or they start comparing educational requirements - RMTs, having only diplomas, can’t possibly do work as effective as PTs, who have Masters Degrees.
Sure, there is a bit of truth to all of that. If someone comes to you with a condition or problem you can’t effectively treat or aren’t trained to, you should be referring them on to someone else. But this letter is not referring to those ‘out of scope’ situations.
I’m talking about the doubt that can set in as to your limitations as a clinician and small business owner. Doubts that set in because you start comparing yourself to others who work in health care and feel inadequate because they have more hours of formal education than you do, or more designations, or earn more money.
I’m talking about our society’s obsession with formal education and how it tends to ignore the importance of real world learning.
Experience teaches us a great deal. It gives us real world perspective and shows us how to handle situations you simply couldn’t foresee happening while you were in school. It gives us lots of practice interacting with clients and problem solving on the fly. It allows us to learn a ton from the people who know a condition best: the patients you see who actually have that condition. It gives us opportunities to work with peers who have more experience than we do, and to learn from them in a really hands-on way.
No amount of education can replace your experiences. No amount of education can replace passion and drive.
A therapist who has real passion for his or her career will try to learn everything he or she can. That could include reading books, learning from client situations, conferring with peers, and yes, even taking CEU courses on topics he or she wants to learn even more about (and more on that CEU topic next week).
An RMT who takes that approach to his or her career - one that is focused on learning at all times, not just with formal education - will go really far. It isn’t reasonable at all to say that all RMTs are ‘less’ than all PTs or OTs or anyone else with a Master’s degree as the requirement to enter practice. Because that’s just it: it’s the entry to practice, not an entire career.
So that’s my reminder for this week, because it’s so easy for us to forget these things when society is so focused on formal education. You are not a piece of paper. You are not a designation. You are not a bunch of letters after your name. You are not simply a piece of paper you got that you hang on the wall. You are made up of all of your experiences, not just your education. The shape your career takes is completely up to you.