Embarking on a new career as a chiropractor can be an exciting and rewarding experience. However, transitioning from classroom training to working with patients and running your own business is oftentimes easier said than done. From running a profitable business, to building rapport with clients and patients, many lessons simply can't be taught in a classroom—they need to be learned on the job. To help with this transition, we spoke with seven industry experts, and asked them to share their some of their advice for new chiropractors.
1. Figure out how you want to practice
Dr. Adam Lamb, Owner, Lamb Chiropractic
We are woefully ill-equipped in business skills getting out of chiropractic school. The number one question I ask all new chiropractors, chiropractic students or prospective students is WHY do you want to be a chiropractor? Motive is key. If money is your motive, then I wish you luck and suggest you focus on a personal injury practice.
If you genuinely want to help people, then the world is your oyster. First, you must carefully decide where you would like to practice, since once you start, it is very difficult to move/change locations.
Next, you need to know how you would like to run your office. Will it be an all-cash practice? Will you deal with insurance? Will you focus on personal injury, sports, pediatrics or would you like to be an all-around chiropractor seeking to help every person you come across to live life to their fullest? Will you need x-ray in office or is having nearby facilities adequate?
Associating can be a good first step if you have not gone through an externship program or if you are unsure of what to do. If you know how you would like to run your practice and want to do it on your own, but don't have the startup capital, the best way to go is find an established office that has a room to rent you a few days a week. There are many ways to market and this is something that most schools teach a bit of. In this technology era, it is important to have a strong Internet presence.
2. Deliver value to your patients first
Madeleine Silva, Author/Healthcare Speaker, FreedomSwitch
For years, I used to speak to the 12th quarter students at Life Chiropractic College West on the ins and outs of insurance billing. The very first question I always asked the room was "Who plans on going all cash and not take insurance in their practice?" Within seconds, 75% of the hands in the room would shoot up. Then, 6 to 12 months later I would get phone calls from those same students, now doctors, wondering if I could help them get started with insurance.
What changed? Once they started practicing, these new doctors were confronted by the reality of eliminating any obstacles for patients to sign up for care. After sitting through consultation after consultation with patients asking if their insurance would cover the care, and having patients get up to leave once they realized that they would have to pay out-of-pocket, these doctors were now eager to make the sales conversation with new patients easier.
But here’s the thing: the reason patients don’t sign up with you isn't because your services are too expensive or because you don’t take insurance—they don’t sign up with you because their perception of value of what you offer does not match what you’re charging. Therefore, focusing on the money conversation is a mistake.
Instead, you need to stack the value of what you offer so high that by the time you get to the money conversation, it’s a no-brainer "yes" for the patient. Increase the perception of value for what you offer and everything changes.
In chiropractic school you learned how to become a clinician but very little, if anything at all, is taught on how to create a thriving practice. Being a good chiropractor is not enough. Heck, being a great chiropractor is not enough. This is why so many chiropractors end up becoming the best-kept secrets of their city or town.
To avoid falling into the trap of invisibility, it's important to study, learn and then deliver what patients want from you. What patients want has radically changed because of digitalization. Information that used to only be available to doctors and hospitals are now readily available to everyone with just a few clicks on their phones. With over 84% of adults now researching their health concerns online and 94% of patients consulting online reviews before picking a healthcare provider, it’s essential for your future practice success that you have a strong online presence with an even stronger brand message.
3. Get involved with your community
Dr. Bruce Godfrey, Owner, Godfrey Chiropractic PC
My advice to new chiropractors is to expect that you're going to have to work hard for every new patient. This means going out into the community to give talks, working health fairs and meeting new people in any way that you can. I would recommend investing money only in advertising or marketing that puts you directly in front of people. Don't spend money on ads in print, radio, TV, newspaper inserts or yellow pages. Put your budget into social media management and a good website.
Take a class in business management. This is STILL not taught in school even though over 80% of DCs end up as business owners. The number one skill after knowing how to adjust a spine is knowing how to communicate with people. There are many practice management consulting firms out there, but they are all very expensive. There are other resources that are cost effective and teach the same skills as Perfect Patients with Bill Esteb. Join your state association, go to the meetings and be involved in the political process. Find a mentor who's been there and done that.
4. Do your due diligence on any personal injury attorneys seeking referral partnerships
Paul Cannon, Personal Injury Attorney, Simmons and Fletcher
One thing that needs to be emphasized to anyone starting a career in chiropractic is to research anyone seeking a referral relationship with you. Many of the injuries chiropractors see are people injured in car accidents and other types of accidental injuries. Inevitably, as a new chiropractor, you will be approached by attorneys who wish to refer clients to you and want you to refer patients to them.
There are lawyers out there who try to cut corners and skirt rules to get business. In many states this is not just a disciplinary matter, it is a crime you can do felony time for. As a new chiropractor, you need to be sure you are familiar with your state's allowed referral practices.
Look into an attorney you are considering doing business with by:
- Checking with the state bar website for prior sanctions
- Talking to other chiropractors and attorneys he/she does business with
- Having a frank discussion with the lawyer about both of your expectations
5. Evaluate your job offers carefully
Dr. Alex Tauberg, Owner, Tauberg Chiropractic and Rehabilitation
As a chiropractor just over one year out from graduation, I remember what it was like looking for my first job. My advice for new grads or soon to be grads is to not compromise your ethics. You are almost certainly going to be offered a job where they treat patients with unscrupulous treatment plans and use scare tactics to sell to patients. I know that I was. Those jobs may just offer you a very nice salary and lots of promise too. Well, unless you can sleep with yourself at night knowing that you are providing poor care in exchange for money, then don’t take that job.
Furthermore, watch out for the jobs where they offer you pie in the sky salaries based on how many new patients you bring in. Those types of situations are known to go south, as counting new patient numbers can be easily manipulated.
Finally, I advise you to get a lawyer. Too many of my friends signed contracts that a lawyer never read. I get it, you don’t have much money coming out of school, but if you don’t want to be scammed then you will need to have a lawyer review your contract before signing it. I lucked out and worked at a great place for a few months before deciding to go out on my own, but some of my friends where not so lucky. Best of luck with your decision and try not to rush it even though you feel like you need that job.
6. Start by working for someone else
Jeff Williams, Chiropractor, Creek Stone Integrated Care
As a chiropractor for over 20 years, I would tell new graduates that unless you have some sort of head start (such as a family member in the business), it is probably advisable to begin by working for someone else, and trying to soak up every bit of knowledge you can while you are there. Best case scenario: you become a partner or buy the practice. Worst case scenario: you learn how you do NOT want to practice, and you still gather valuable “knowledge nuggets”. Either way, you'll go on your merry way knowing more than you would have without the experience.
7. Learn from your failures
Dr. Sam Henley, Owner, Active Life Chiropractic
When I began running my own practice, the biggest surprise for me was in the logistical side of running a practice. In my experience most new graduates feel confident with seeing patients in practice, as most chiropractic schools prepare us for that. But running a business is more involved than most realize, and there are many logistical challenges to this. To help combat this, it's important to have a team of people in place to help you with things that you're weak in. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Perseverance, and being able to learn from your failures is important in developing your business acumen. In school, we typically hope to not fail at what we're working on, be it tests, labs, etc. However, in business we will do things that will fail. This can be an advertisement that doesn't get a return, or a patient that just doesn't seem to improve. In these moments the ability to accept and learn from your failures is key.