There I was.

Less than one year out of graduating with my doctorate degree, down on the bathroom floor, kneeling in a pair of khakis, holding my breath, scrubbing the inside of a toilet and wondering how I got here.

Even though the above statement is accurate, your assumptions might mislead you, so let me explain.

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Last spring, I graduate from Drexel University with my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. I graduated at the top of my class (which I realize doesn’t matter at al) and even delivered a graduation speech. I was standing on stage in a suit, addressing my classmates, and I said something to this effect…

Like Henry David Thoreau once said, “it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” It’s all about perspective and the best part is that you can choose what you see. Our profession, and life in general, is filled with uncertain times and when you’re not sure what to do next, just do the next right thing.

Fast forward one year to the spring of 2019, panic surrounding the COVID pandemic is hitting it’s peak and I’m replaying those words in my head as I clean bathrooms and wonder what’s going to happen next. To be clear, I was still employed at the outpatient clinic that I had been working. However since we had less than a handful of patients coming to the clinic, instead of treating full time, we were tasked with cleaning the facilities and doing whatever needed to be done. I was more than ok with that and that’s what this blog is about. This blog is about the things I’ve thought about and the lessons that I’ve learned as a healthcare professional going through some unusual times.

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Title Means Nothing

I’ve heard conversations about how our title as “doctor’s” should somehow entitled us to certain benefits and circumstances. I’ve never agreed with those sentiments because to me, title means nothing and actions mean everything. To be frank, the title of “doctor” means next to nothing to me. Sure, I went through a lot of school and put in a lot of effort to get where I am, but those things are in the past. I’m about earning it every single day and scrubbing toilets reaffirmed that for me. Nothing is below me and I’m not define by my title. Rather, I’m willing to do what needs to be done. Whether it’s treating patients, answering phones, taking payments or even scrubbing toilets, and I’m not tied to a specific role because of my title. I’ll do whatever needs to be done and I will do it very well.

Do It Well

From time to time, my parents will tell me stories about how I used to love everything and anything “construction” related as a child. They talk about how I used to walk around the house at three years old with a tool belt “fixing things” (hitting them once with my toy hammer). My mother likes to point out that I wasn’t very good at fixing things. Well, over the years, that three year old child has grown into somewhat of a nut when it comes to doing things well. Whatever you do, do it well. The past few months cleaning bathrooms (among other things) have presented me with opportunities to do a really good job at things that I’ve never done before. I went from pouring all of my energy into treating patients to pouring cleaner down toilet bowls. Both those things had my full attention and effort. I have to say, the bathroom was very clean over the past few months and I was proud of that.

Find Opportunities

I think it’s human nature to be shell-shocked when big changes happen. This year brought the change of a lifetime with COVID-19. It turned our world upside down and I think that paralyzed most of the world. It would have been easy to sit back and twiddle my thumbs at work with only about 5% of my caseload coming into the clinic. However, between the occasional patient and the scrubbing of toilets, I saw opportunities open up and I wasted no time taking advantage. The best innovation sometimes happens in the middle of chaotic and uncertain times. During the first few months of COVID, I led a project to create 500+ Youtube videos to replace our archaic home exercise prescription system. I’m happy to say that the project was a success and there are way too many videos of me out there on Youtube. The lesson here is that there are always opportunities if you look hard enough. Even in the toughest times, there is a way forward and there are chances to make things happen. Look for them.

Stop Complaining

This one goes out to everyone who has been complaining since the spring. There is a time and a place to mourn, but at a certain point (five months now), we have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start making moves. I have peers and friends who have lost jobs, been sick and lacked direction during the pandemic. I’ve listened to them and tried to help give practical and encouraging guidance. However, some of them just can’t get out of the self-sorrow hole that the circumstances have created. The message that I have for those people is this; life’s not fair but it could always be worse. Everyone is dealing with something, and a lot of those things aren’t fair. But then again, we can’t control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond. Whatever it is that you’re dealing with, feeling bad for yourself isn’t going to help the situation and there are worse things in the world. It sounds like tough love, but it’s true. Take ownership of what you can control, make an effort to move forward and try your best to find practice gratitude (there is a lot to be grateful for if you look in the right places).

Have Some Fun

Whether you’re treating patients, sitting at home or cleaning bathrooms, there is always a way to have some fun. That’s it. Whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t forget to have some fun. If you’re in the right mindset and if you look in the right places, it’s there to be had.

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I’m no longer cleaning toilets (except at home) and I’m excited to be seeing patients. However, a weird part of me will miss the change of pace that COVID first brought to the clinic. I wanted to document the things that I thought about as I did things I never thought I’d do. I want this blog to reach someone who thinks that they deserve something because of their title; you don’t. I hope that these words make it to the person who just can’t see a good way forward; there is. I wish that this writing touches the people who aren’t sure what the next step is; it’s the next right thing.

“Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”

Walt Disney

I hope you’re healthy and are staying safe!

Thank you for reading!

Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT

IG: @joerinaldi.dpt

18 comments

  1. Thank you. Great read. I agree with everything you said. I graduated in May with my DPT as well and found myself delivering UberEats until I could find a job. Everyone should have to work like that at some point in their life. It creates humility, perseverance, and patience. We should always be as kind to the custodian as the physician, as good to our coworkers as our patients, and love our neighbors the way we love ourselves.

    1. Sarah! Thank you for the kind words and for sharing your story and perspective. I agree 1000% with you and I’m so happy to hear of your positive outlook 😊

  2. Once again…awesome. Your message is truly inspiring. Thank you Joseph Anthony for helping me SEE the glass half full that I’m LOOKING at 🤓.

  3. Thanks for the great read, I really couldn’t agree more about the work ethic. I love how you turned something many would complain about and make it empowering something you can be proud of.

    I was a janitor at one point of my undergrad and I took the same attitude my whole life.

    Best of luck in your future!
    Kyle,

    1. Kyle! Thank you so much for taking the time to read, to comment and to share your encouragement! I appreciate it a lot and I’m smiling right now thinking about how you’ve done the same thing. Best of luck to you as well!

      Joe

  4. Thanks for sharing… I once worked in a small therapist owned practice where we folded linens that we washed ourselves. The owner would pick up cigarette butts left in the parking lot. Stay humble. Stay versatile.

    1. Theresa, thank you for reading and for sharing that story! It inspires me to keep doing the little things well, serving others with a humble spirit and doing what’s right needs to be done even if it’s not what I’m used to. I hope that you have such a great weekend!

  5. I hope your parents don’t read this blog. How much did it cost them for you to get your degrees. Heck I could have taught you how to clean bathrooms, I learned that in the Marine Corps; even learned how to wax floors.

    1. Well I’m the one who paid for the doctorate so I definitely felt it when I was cleaning bathrooms. But hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do and I’m not upset about it. I hope you’re doing well! I miss you and Aunt Ellen and hopefully I’ll get to see you guys sometime soon(ish)

  6. Joe – Great blog on your experience. It really brings to light on how every task (cleaning a toilet, treating a patient, working behind a counter, etc.) should be done will full effort to do the best possible job that one can do. Long time reader, first time leaving comments. Thanks for this and keep up the great work you are doing.

    1. Hilario! Thank you so much for following along with the blog and for commenting. I really appreciate your support and I hope that you have such a great day!

  7. I so appreciated reading this. I’ve been a DPT for 10 years and often find joy in the slower paced moments we’re I can bask in the glory of writing a good note just for the sake of writing a good note. I work in outpatient orthopedics and was lucky to have only had my hours cut by 50% rather than lose my job. Our clinic is usually buzzing with patients, clinicians and personal training clients in our fitness division. That came to a fast halt in March. There’s beauty in the small things, folding a load of laundry, cleaning tables/ equipment, and yes even cleaning a bathroom or two. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Lindsay! Thank you so much for reading and for comment. I appreciate hearing your perspective and I agree that sometimes the joy is in the slower pace and smaller things (like writing a great note). Have a great week ahead and keep up the great work!

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