How to Handle Any Surgical Case as an Occupational or Physical Therapist - Hand Therapy Secrets

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How to Handle Any Surgical Case as an Occupational or Physical Therapist

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I remember the first shoulder patient that I treated in outpatient.

I was asked to cover for the day in outpatient and I could pretty much “fake it ’til I make it” with some of the hand diagnoses, but I didn’t know anything about shoulders.

I have worked with “shoulders” in SNF or acute care, but in outpatient, I always felt that there was a different expectation because they were not “stuck” inside the hospital.

In outpatient, they have the choice to leave, and you know it.

So I started by copying what the other therapist in the clinic would do. I looked at the chart to know the diagnosis and see what past exercises they did. Hot pack, ultrasound, pulleys, manual treatment, theraband, but then want? And how do I provide manual treatments? And god forbid if they asked me a question…how was I going to answer it?

Do you ever feel lost?

I remember feeling lost and overwhelmed with what I was doing in the clinic because I just knew it wasn’t great. I knew I wasn’t great. And I wanted to be great. I wanted my patient to feel like I was helping them. I wanted my boss to see that my patients wanted to be with me.

Do you want to be great?

I wanted to study and get better. I was told to read the protocol book and read the rehab of the handbook….but man? Where to start?

I’m going to date myself, but back then, there was no google, and there was no YouTube. So I felt lost from lack of access to information.

You now have access to so much more information…all the social media platforms, Google, YouTube…the amount of information you have access to is completely overwhelming. So it’s possible that you can feel lost in too much information. And please know your patients have access to much more information.

That’s why I think OTs must become critical thinkers. Being able to think through a problem takes practice and time. It’s not just watching one video or taking one class. It’s about your commitment to continuing to learn even if you think you know it already.

Here are 3 things I’ve learned and am reminded of every time from having conversations with so many therapists and non-therapists.

1. How many more degrees do you need?

Therapists always tell me that they may go back to school to get a higher degree so that they find work easier or improve on the gaps in their knowledge. However, most tell me they want to teach at some point in their career.

More degrees do NOT fill the skills gap. On the contrary, it often shows you might be overqualified in the “getting degrees department” without the “know-how” to actually fix someone’s problems.

Formal education will only take you so far.

2. What’s your purpose?

Two non-therapist friends I spoke to recently told me that during the pandemic, they decided to go back to school to finish up their bachelor’s because they just wanted it but didn’t know what else they were going to do.

As OTs, we already have a master’s level degree. If you are looking to get more degrees or more certificates, know what you want to be able to do with that. Understand how you can earn back your investment.

It’s time and money. Money, you can earn back. But time wasted, is gone forever. With a CHT speciality, used correctly, you’ll earn back what you invested in time and money when you know how to leverage those letters.

I hope that I can be that example for you.

3. Will you make an effort?

If becoming a specialist is what you want, what are you currently doing to work towards that goal?

Another way is “how have you invested in your growth this year?”

It’s one of the questions that I always ask during my interviews. I’m looking for effort. This week, I interviewed for a higher-level position. Just because you have experience or are good at one thing, that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop learning.

As you get further and further into your career, it’s important to put away your pride and ego and make the effort to continually grow and learn.

When things are good, things are good. When there’s a downturn in the economy, that’s when your skills will be put to the test.

There’s a saying….” when the tide goes out, is when you see all those swimming naked…”

Don’t get found out with key skills!

Watch the video on how to solve any hand case that comes your way.


Ask yourself and be honest what you want to work towards in your career! There’s so much that we can do as OT’s and CHT’s…honestly, it makes me excited!

if you are not getting results or don’t feel like you have the skills or confidence to help people as effectively as you want, let me help you with my coaching programs. Get Started Here!

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Hoang Tran

“I help Occupational Therapists develop their skills and grow their confidence in Hand Therapy. No matter where you are on your journey, build a happy and fulfilling career of your dreams. I’ll help you.”