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“And just one more question: Why should we give you a place in our Physical Therapist Assistant program, Yolanda?” The assistant program director looked up from the list in her hands.
All eyes were on me. I paused, then said the first thing that came to my mind: “Because you want someone who will be successful.”
Two weeks later, I felt enormously proud when I got my acceptance letter in the mail. The application process had been rigorous, beginning almost two years before the program would start. I saw this opportunity as my way out of the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle I'd been living for too many years, as well as the fulfillment of a long-held desire to earn my college degree. No one in my family had one, and I wanted to be the first.
So you can imagine the despair I felt when, after months of an accelerated full-time program while being the only one in class who held a full-time massage therapy job in addition to the notoriously heavy workload, I graduated with honors — only to find that no one was hiring. I contacted the program director to ask for leads, and she sent me an email with one job listing looking for an experienced physical therapist assistant to work occasional weekends. Not a great gig, and they were asking for someone with experience, but I applied out of desperation. I got no response.
And so ensued months of submitting applications and talking to recruiters. I'd make sure to tell them up front that I was a new graduate with no experience, and they'd always assure me they could find me work, They never could.
The end of the phone interview would go something like this: Well, now that we have all your information it seems that we don't have anything for new grads. We have a job posting here for rural New Mexico, but they want two years of experience minimum. Sorry. Really? You have my résumé and cover letter, but you make me sit through an hour-long phone interview and answer a ton of redundant questions, only to tell me what I told you from the start — that I have no experience? It was infuriating, and it was the same story at at least a dozen agencies I contacted.
Finally, I reduced my job hunting efforts and instead focused on my job as a massage therapist. Every so often, I would go on a job website, but the pickings remained slim.
Over a year later, I saw an ad on an obscure site for a physical therapist assistant position in Beaumont, Texas. It said that no experience was needed, so I contacted them.
A couple of days later, I received a phone call from the physical therapist, Pamela, asking me for a Skype interview. She sounded nice on the phone and more down-to-earth than many of the PTs I'd met in the past, so I agreed. The interview went very well. She told me that their last PT assistant had also been an out-of-state recruit with no experience, and that was music to my ears.
As a single woman with a load of student debt, I needed some help moving 1,000 miles away to a city where I knew no one. Hesitantly, I asked whether or not Pamela's PT clinic offered relocation assistance, and she said she thought they could. Again, music to my ears!
So, naturally, when she called to say, “Yolanda, I think you would fit in great here. I'm offering you the job, and we can help with the relocation,” I was relieved and grateful. I hadn't necessarily wanted to move out of state, but the pressures of my growing financial burdens were taking a huge toll. I told myself I could do it, and I accepted the job.
This began the planning and packing process. I had a few weeks, so I began gradually, doing a little bit each day after work, until everything except my work clothes and toiletry items were packed.
I'd already run web searches on the company, the specific clinic, and the city of Beaumont. I got on an apartment-search website to look for a place near the clinic. I found one I liked, applied, and sent my $300 deposit when I was approved. I gave notice to my apartment manager and my boss.
But a week after accepting the job, the red flags began popping up.
First, Pamela had her corporate office email me my contract. When I got it, nowhere in it was anything about my relocation assistance, and the hourly wage was a dollar less than we'd agreed on. I sent them an email asking to have this corrected. They had to rewrite the contract and email it to me again, and the second, time they sent it they still got the amounts wrong.
This time, I called and left a message. Almost a week passed before they returned my call. I'm sure I let my impatience show in my voice at that point; after all, I was only one week from moving day by the time we got the contract sorted out, and I still had no way to pay for a hitch for my car, the deposits for my moving trailer, or the storage unit I would need for my furniture until I could come back for it. Adding to my stress was the fact that I was going to be late on my last month's rent, as I had to apply my rent money towards the down payment on my new apartment. My apartment manager was working with me, but still, the incompetence of my new employer was really starting to concern me.
Three days before my move, I still hadn't heard from Pamela or her corporate office, nor had I received a check in the mail. So, while on my lunch break, I gave Pamela another call. My call went right to voice mail. I left her a message stressing the importance of receiving the money before Monday to cover the moving expenses. She expected me at work in five days, so time was really running out. I mentioned that I had left messages but had not heard back from anyone and I was worried. The message was direct and firm, but not unprofessional.
The next time I checked my phone, there was a message from Texas. It was Phil from the corporate office, saying that after further consideration they were rescinding my offer because they no longer thought I'd be a good fit.
After all the back-and-forth and headaches of dealing with their reticence about holding up their end of the bargain, it was me who wasn't a good fit?
In that moment I felt relief, but I still did not appreciate the way they'd handled this. If they didn't want to give me the relocation assistance, they shouldn't have said they would. Pamela had been so nice and encouraging during our phone calls, and had seemed excited to bring me on board, so what had gone wrong? Obviously, there had been a communication breakdown. I had to know what happened.
First, I returned Phil's call and left him a message letting him know how upset I was that they had backed out last minute and that I had an apartment full of boxes and no place to live soon.
I listened to Phil's reply message sitting in my car in the parking lot. His voice was business-as-usual, with a hint of regret as he asked me to call him back. I didn't call him back until the next day; I needed time to calm down first. I had invested so much thought, time, and money into this new career and move, and nothing was lining up for me. It was a sad moment that symbolized the fruitlessness of my ambitions. Why had I chosen this profession again? What had I hoped to gain? This one incident was a defining moment, because my sacrifice in the name of this new profession was to leave behind a home I loved, the only workplace where I ever felt a real sense of belonging, and the only city I'd ever known, to pursue a goal that now appeared unworthy by comparison. I was all set to do it, ready and willing — and they rescinded the offer.
I was in the middle of a room stacked high with cardboard boxes when I returned Phil's call. He was pretty fast in letting me know that he misunderstood the situation, but that he would hear me out, as if I was the one who had explaining to do. My voice was level when I described how I'd been treated throughout this process. I said I was disappointed that Pamela had avoided my calls. Because she was the one who hired me, I felt the least she could do was explain this change of heart. At this, Phil's voice grew harder, even patriarchal, as he informed me that if I needed to communicate with anyone I would have to go through him and not his “associate.” It was a glimpse at the kind of company they ran — condescending to women.
It began to make sense to me what I had done "wrong." I had had the nerve to hold him accountable to his part of the bargain. He admitted that they'd made some mistakes on their end in communicating the details of our arrangement, and that after my last phone call he'd reconsidered his position — he felt after talking to me that his original decision to rescind the offer should stand.
I said, “I see what kind of company you're running now, and it's not the kind of company I would ever want to work for. This is for the best — I agree.”
I felt satisfaction when Phil stuttered his way off the phone. This wasn't the first time I'd had to stand up for myself to an individual with this kind of attitude. I don't go looking for misogyny, but I know it when I see it.
Later, I learned that this company had recently changed its name, and that under the old name there were plenty of negative reviews on Glass Door from former employees who did not recommend working there. Reasons ranged from shady business dealings and employee mistreatment to shoddy patient care. It was the validation I was looking for. I only wished I'd learned this sooner. I try not to be a spiteful person, but after everything I went through, I just had to send Phil that link to Glass Door. He didn't respond.
Since this experience, I've found a new appreciation for my current profession, and have let go of my ambitions to be a PT assistant. The field was never as booming as I'd been led to believe, and after two years of trying to find work, this experience was the last straw. I'd like to say my experience in this field was unique, but I know it's not. I don't regret my decision to go back to school, because it toughened me up in a way that I needed, but I do have to get creative each month just to make rent with all the debt I accrued, and it's not easy. It means overtime in a field that taxes me physically far more than most other fields would.
Still, I would rather do that than be in a perpetual state of limbo with regard to finding and keeping work in a career that should be more about patient care and less about fragile egos and money mismanagement. I am so much better off where I am, and I have a better idea now where my line is between finishing what I started, and cutting my losses.