Networking: What is it? Why do it?

Catherine Ortega, EdD, PT, ATC, OCS
Posted 4/ 3/24

imagery for Networking: What is it? Why do it?

Before entering the profession of PT, most of us probably did not think about a network as anything beyond some entity that puts out programming on a television or streams content for us to watch our favorite series. However, a network is a group of interconnected people or things, and networking is when one interacts or connects with others to exchange information and social contacts.

You may be thinking, “So what? Who cares? What does this have to do with me?”. Well, a lot, really. Establishing a professional network is a huge asset that will benefit you throughout your professional journey. While some may only view a network as a way to move into leadership positions in an organization, it is primarily a means of support and potential job opportunities.

I recently asked a friend who had moved from the east coast to the southwest why he did so. He said there was a really good job that he was interested in, that paid well, and so he moved. He had attended a conference and a colleague introduced him to the president of a company who told him about the opportunity and asked him to apply. Voila! He found a wonderful job and is happy in his new location. He never would have thought to look for that position nor would he have had the opportunity if he had not gone to that conference and had a colleague with a connection. This highlights the inter-related relationships that come from a network. One connection leads to another and another and therein come the possibilities and opportunities.

How does one start? Where would you begin? One key way is to stay in contact with people in the profession whom you have met. Stay in touch with clinical instructors that you have appreciated or faculty that have mentored you. Try to attend a state or national conference, if you can, at least once per year. While attending a session, there will be people with shared interest in the topic and you can exchange information to stay in touch and learn more about the topic. When you attend an in-person continuing education course, talk to others about the topic about which you are learning. This will help you find people in the profession who are in similar or dissimilar practice settings, but that share interests in an area. By getting to know people, you begin to build your network of colleagues; those that you can talk to about a clinical issue or opportunities that may arise to collaborate.  

Establishing a network by connecting with other PTs and PTAs is especially important if you are interested in being of service to the profession. A network of individuals establishes connectedness which helps communication about opportunities to serve, but also about issues that are important to the profession and to patient care. This network will make you aware of possibilities and important issues that you may be able to impact or collaborate with others for solutions.

Another way to get connected is by joining the American Physical Therapy Association, (APTA) and “cruising” the APTA website ( When joining the APTA, you automatically become part of your local state chapter which will help you meet people in your area. There are many Special Interest Groups (SIGs) where you can find information not only about your practice setting, but also other professionals with whom you can share information and garner practice tips for effective patient care. Joining a SIG where you have a common interest is an easier way to start meeting other professionals. By exploring these groups, you will get a better idea of your interests and will meet more people to expand your network. 

If you do not have a professional mentor, get one. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor that you can turn to for direction and advice with your career. Think about previous faculty or clinical instructors to whom you might turn for advice. Ask them if they would be comfortable for you to call or meet upon occasion to bounce ideas about your career. A mentor can contribute to your network, enhancing your connectedness to people in the professional community. A mentor relationship can be short-term, 6 months, a year. This relationship does not have to last a lifetime and might have a couple of established goals at the onset, which when reached, can end the relationship. A mentor relationship can be a critical step in establishing a professional network since oftentimes their network becomes inter-connected with yours. That said, it is not uncommon for some mentor-mentee relationships to last a lifetime. An ideal mentee-mentor relationship is symbiotic whereby the two-way exchange of ideas and experiences will typically benefit both people. A long-term mentor-mentee relationship can develop into a friendship and continue through your career. Again, this typically occurs when both the mentor and mentee have a stronger connection with mutual interest in topics and the career pathway. 

The profession of PT is a person-oriented profession. You would not have gotten to this point without having good interpersonal skills and communication skills. Creating a network does require that you use these skills to talk with people, however, establishing the connection allows for easy expansion of the connectedness. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with perceived pressures to “meet people”. When you have a common interest, which you find when you attend meetings and educational sessions, the conversations become easier and the connections happen. Be ready to share contact information with a professional email address and be open to ideas and learning. You will quickly see how your network develops and expands.