How I Became a Private Practice Owner 3 Weeks Postgraduation
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
I wish that I could say that the top reason I started my own private practice so soon after graduating was because I had this entrepreneurial drive that compelled me to innovate and grow businesses. While these were contributing factors in my decision to take the leap and become a private practice owner, they weren't the main reasons. Rather, it was out of necessity that I decided to open my own clinic. Let me explain.
I use the word necessity because during clinical rotations and in physical therapy school, I saw clinics and facilities that maintained a high volume of patients, while also not addressing population health of their communities. That alone set alarm bells off for me. These same facilities also were asking all the wrong questions when it came to the health and goals of their patients. It was after enough experiences like this that I decided that I didn't want to work at a traditional outpatient orthopedic clinic, and wanted to provide care for patients the best way that I knew how. I decided to open my own clinic.
My clinic was called uMove Physiotherapy and Performance; it was a cash-based (out-of-network) model based in Columbus, Ohio. I leased space out of both a CrossFit gym and a strength and conditioning gym. I sought out legal advice to make sure that I was in the clear as far as my plan and approach and 3 weeks after graduation, I hit the ground running. Yes, you read that right, 3 weeks after graduation I was a private practice owner. Most of my time was spent working in the CrossFit gym, offering monthly talks to their members, and being at the box (CrossFit's name for their gyms) treating patients 3 to 4 hours a night for 3 to 4 days a week. I went out on this limb by myself creating my own website, doing my own marketing, and setting up workflows for various aspects of the business—where I had little to no idea of what I was doing.
If you're wondering whether I made a living from uMove alone, I'll admit that I didn't. I was a bartender and a manager at a local wine bar 2 days a week. I also did some freelance work in website design. Combined, the income was just enough to pay for my living expenses and continuing education courses.
Not unlike many #FreshPTs, I struggled with honing my treatment skills. I constantly faced obstacles in my new role as a business owner. And most notably, I dealt with the daily highs and lows of whether or not I was a good enough clinician, whether or not I was going to have enough money to pay rent, and what that student debt I had amassed was doing to my long-term financial health. I found myself really struggling with uncertainty.
I think it's safe to say that that same uncertainty hits all new physical therapy professionals. When the real world finally knocks on your door and demands payment for what seems like everything, and you're a practicing physical therapist executing everything you've spent years learning in school, it is truly either put-up or shut up. As new professionals, we quickly learn that we must become a provider for ourselves and potentially for a family as well. This may seem like a concept that transcends generations; I believe it largely does. Yet for new physical therapy graduates, it is the constant tug of what the world and education have taught them about where they can incite change and progress, and where the world and education have left them in terms of their own health (health encompassing far more than just physical). Education is supposed to better our lives, not force us into a job that stifles our desire to treat and help our patients and communities. At times though—like when you're staring down a mountain of student loan debt—it may seem like the only option. It doesn't have to be though. Our knowledge, creativity, and desire to help our patients to our best ability, doesn't have to be compromised because of time constraints and demands of one's responsibilities. Let us not forget our most important goal: to improve the health and quality of life of our patients.
How does all this connect? Well, I often get asked about the lessons learned in my short tenure as a private practice owner, most especially, what my successes were, what worked, and what didn't work. My first response is always the same, it's possible. Don't feel like money, time, and your lack of confidence in your new skills should deter you from pursuing this path, if it's really what you want to do. I also remind them that I'm not sure if my model, my way of doing things is the best way or the right way, but for now it's what works for me, and it helped me get my clinic off the ground. Finally, I ventured out to start my own practice, but if I had to do it over again I would collaborate from the get-go with professionals (physical therapists and others) who have the background, knowledge, and skills that complement my strengths and negate my weaknesses. When I opened my practice I felt like it was me against the world, but it doesn't have to be that way. We, as physical therapy professionals, have 1 goal: to get our patients better, whether we work side-by-side or in silos, but I'm now a believer in the collaboration and team approach. I'm glad that I chose to open my own clinic and I've had the experiences along the way.
I'll note that in its short life uMove evolved and is no longer an entity. I am now onto 2 new ventures. The first is a partnership opportunity with a business called Recharge. It is, I believe, the best solution I have seen yet for health care that puts physical therapists at the forefront of population health at a global and local level. Recharge is similar to my initial model founded with uMove, with the key change that we're physical therapists who not only own the physical therapy clinic space, but also own the fitness space as well. That space allows us to not prioritize one over the other, but rather allow the health of individuals and their goals for their own health to dictate where they fit best in the Recharge model. Our goal is to help communities large and small improve their health and fitness with physical therapists at their side. The second is an opportunity to become a member of a continuing education venture with the Institute of Clinical Excellence. I couldn't be more thrilled about each of these opportunities.
In the last 8 months of my professional life I've started my own practice and participated in 2 other opportunities—all in less than a year postgraduation! I'm still blown away at how far I've come and am so excited about what's ahead.
For those of you still on the fence about whether or not to set out on your own path, I say give it a shot. I truly believe it is possible to pursue your own venture right out of school. I also believe that when doing so you need to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, what type of business you want and how it will function, and don't be afraid to collaborate when necessary. Just make sure that you continue to pursue your business and professional desires and goals. Finally, just know it's a lot of work, but if you put in the work, time, and effort required you're really setting yourself up for success. As one of the most well-known brands would advise, if you want to open your own clinic, just do it.
Ryan Smith, PT, DPT, ATC, was owner of uMove Physiotherapy and Performance in Columbus, Ohio, and is now chief operating officer of Recharge. You can find him on Twitter at: @RyanSmith_DPT and Instagram at @ryansmith.dpt.