Introducing Your Career Compass

  •   February 1, 2017
  •  Leanne Loranger, PT, Practice Advisor and Mary Wheeler, Partner donnerwheeler

This month, Physiotherapy Alberta is proud to announce a new initiative called Career Compass.

Over the years, we’ve heard about the barriers physiotherapists encounter when attempting to move out of clinical practice and into leadership or other non-traditional roles, while other physiotherapists report challenges when attempting to identify “good” employment situations. We also know that there’s not a lot of physiotherapy-specific education about career planning offered during entry to practice education or afterwards.

How can we address this? Why would we want to? Physiotherapy Alberta is interested in supporting members’ efforts to provide quality care. We know that people who enjoy their work also tend to do better work, so helping people to find the right fit matters to us. We also know that there aren’t a lot of physiotherapists in high-level leadership roles in health-care organizations in Alberta despite the fact that physiotherapists bring a different perspective to health and health leadership, one that we believe is essential.

There are even fewer physiotherapists who have taken their skills and applied them outside of the “typical” physiotherapy career pathway of practitioner, leader, manager/owner. Yet, physiotherapists possess technical and non-technical skills that are transferrable to countless roles both within and beyond the health system. We believe that helping interested physiotherapists find a way into leadership and non-traditional roles will improve the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of health care in Alberta, and improve the job satisfaction of physiotherapists as well.

One thing is clear: not developing and acting on a career plan results in “career by drift.” You might end up in a great place, but then again you might not.

That’s where this new initiative comes in.

Maybe you are a new physiotherapist, or a new-to-Canada physiotherapist and you are struggling to find the right employment arrangement, one that matches your skills and interests and provides the support you need as you develop professionally. Perhaps you are a seasoned practitioner who’s wondering what’s next? Maybe you’d like to take on a new career challenge but you aren’t sure how.

Regardless of where you are in your career trajectory, this initiative is for you! Over the coming months we will be focusing on the steps involved in career planning and what you can do to counter career drift, charting a more intentional course to the career you want to have.

We have a lot planned, but first let’s hear from Mary Wheeler RN, MEd, PCC of donnerwheeler. donnerwheeler is well known within health care for their career planning, mentorship and coaching programs and services in Canada, the United States, Europe and South Africa. Their most recent book, published by Elsevier, is Taking Control of Your Career: A Handbook for Health Professionals. Mary will be guiding us on our journey to have, as she would say “a career by design, not drift.”


Many factors influence a health professional’s ability to thrive and grow with change rather than merely react against it. Most health professionals know they need to take control of their working lives and futures, but they often do not know where or how to begin. The focus of our work at donnerwheeler for the past 25 years has been on helping health professionals take charge of their careers and learn how to integrate career development into their ongoing professional and personal development. What we have learned over the past 25 years is that health professionals need and want help with this important part of their development, that they have dreams, goals, and ideas about their futures, but that they need a process to guide them in achieving those futures.

A career needs attention and nurturing. These articles are intended to provide you with the skills you need to care for yourself and your career. I will provide you with useful information, tips and strategies on how to take control of your career, wherever you are on the career continuum. These tips and strategies are for those who love what they do and want to continue to do it and for those who want to move in a new direction.

I would like to set the stage in this first article by answering three key questions. I will then introduce you to the donnerwheeler Career Planning and Development Model and over subsequent articles provide you with more detail on each of the five phases in the Model.  So this column is just a taste of what is to come. Let’s begin!

What is a career?

A career is more than a job, rather it is, as Frederic Hudson says, “an expression of how a person wants to be in the world.” A career is often described as one’s chosen profession, path, or course of life work. The work we do and the roles we play both inside and outside our workplaces are all part of one’s career. In today's world the term career is seen as a continuous process of learning and development. Activities that contribute to a career can include education, employment, work experience, community activities, volunteer work and leisure activities.

What is the Career Continuum?


Careers generally can be described as passing through five stages. Stage one, learning, is the beginner’s introduction to a profession. It begins with the first learning experience and is primarily concerned with learning how to “become,” for example, a physiotherapist. Stage two, the entry phase, begins when a newly graduated physiotherapist selects their first workplace. It is when she/he explores their various employment options and begins to think about areas of practice that could be both appropriate and rewarding. In the third stage, the commitment phase, she/he identifies her/his likes and dislikes in terms of clinical areas, geography, worklife, etc. In the fourth stage, the consolidation phase, one becomes comfortable with their chosen career path and with their relationship between the personal and the professional. This stage is notable for ones dedication to career, commitment to continuous learning, and focus on making a contribution to the physiotherapy profession, to health care and to society. In the fifth or withdrawal stage, one prepares for either taking on a new role in physiotherapy and going back to the learning stage or retirement where the individual begins to think about what might come after physiotherapy.

What is career planning and development?

Career planning is a continuous process of self-assessment and goal setting. It offers individuals the means to respond to both short- and long-term changes in their profession and in the health care system. The skills required to engage in career planning are those same skills one uses in their daily practice as part of planning and delivering quality patient care as a physiotherapist. Just as you develop treatment plans with and for your patients/clients, so too must you learn to design career plans for yourself.

As you move through your career, your skills develop, your needs change, and your goals and plans evolve. Career planning is thus both important and useful at every stage of your career. It is a dynamic process that changes and adapts to changes in you and in the world in which you live and work. The career planning and development model that follows will provide you with a framework from which to grow and develop as a professional and to build your career in a comprehensive way.

The donnerwheeler Career Planning and Development Model

Career planning and development is a process. Insistent rather than linear, it requires individuals to understand the environment in which they live and work, assess their own strengths and limitations and validate that assessment, articulate their personal career vision, and develop a plan for the future that is realistic for them and then market themselves to help achieve that plan.

Career planning and development is something you engage in as part of your everyday professional activity. You can use it to help you stay happy and challenged with the work you are currently doing or to help you make a career change.  


The five phases of the donnerwheeler Career Planning and Development Model include:

Phase One: Scanning Your Environment, where you take stock of the world in which you live.

Phase Two: Completing Your Self-assessment and Reality Check, where you recognize the attributes that make you who you are and expanding your view of yourself through reflecting on other’s perspectives.

Phase Three: Creating Your Career Vision, where you focus on what is possible and realistic for you, both in the short and the longer term.  

Phase Four: Developing Your Strategic Career Plan, where you identify the specific strategies you will use to take charge of your career.

Phase Five: Marketing Yourself, where you articulate who you are, what you want, and what you can do and persuade others that what you have to offer meets the current workplace needs.

Attending to your professional development is a time intensive process that requires reflection as well as planning. The donnerwheeler Career Planning and Development Model represents an approach whereby you can get the most out of yourself and your career while you give the most to your clients. Over the next couple of columns we will discuss the Model and how to use it in more depth. We will focus first on scanning, assessing and visioning; then planning and marketing.

Remember, the career planning process is really about the development of a life skill, one that you can apply not only in your workplace, but in your personal life as well.