Too many new doctors believe that it is too hard, too expensive or they don't know some secret that will help establish a successful practice. However, if you have a good business plan and good credit you should be able to succeed on your own.
From experience, I’ve learned that running a chiropractic practice is similar to running almost any other business. The challenge is keeping costs down while maintaining the highest levels of service. You have to keep not just patients/customers happy but your staff too.
Before you open your business, here are some things to think about if you’re considering starting your own chiropractic practice.
Get started right away
In hindsight, if I were to do it over, I would have established my own practice from the start rather than working first as an associate for two years. As long as you do your homework, your likelihood of success is high.
Early on you’ll need to:
- Decide where you want to practice
- Perform demographic research
- Know your scope of practice
- Plan out a budget
- Estimate your needs
It is best to start conservatively in respect to square footage, equipment, services, and staffing when you first start out. How soon you open your doors can vary though. This depends on the time it takes to get your license. But if your timing is right and you pass all the requirements for licensure, have a business plan and a location you've already researched, it could be as little as 2-3 months. If you wait until after you graduate to start planning, it may take longer.
Gain office experience before you graduate
In order to gain an understanding of how a chiropractic office runs, you don’t necessarily need to work there as an associate chiropractor. There are plenty of other positions available at chiropractic offices that will help you gain valuable business knowledge. These positions can often be done on a part-time basis while earning your degree.
I was 29 when I graduated and already had experience working for several chiropractic clinics. I was fortunate to have filled several roles including therapy, front desk, and marketing in two different established chiropractic clinics. This gave me a step up when I decided to open my own clinic.
Before graduating, there are plenty of outside learning opportunities students can pursue whether it’s working, observing or shadowing at a chiropractic clinic. Students should seek part-time employment in a clinic type that most interests them first. If a job is not conveniently located, or quickly found, then reach out to a clinic that interests you and volunteer or ask for an opportunity to shadow.
The NUHS Alumni Association and the Illinois Chiropractic Society are excellent resources and have many leads to help you find a receptive clinic or doctor that is willing to mentor and guide you. You should also take advantage of being a student member of both the American Chiropractic Association and your local state chapter.
Hone your communication skills
In addition to your skills as a chiropractor, communication skills can be surprisingly important, if not equally important. Not only do you need to be able to successfully communicate your treatment plans to patients, you also need to be skilled at helping your patients understand why they should follow your care plan.
As a business owner, you’ll also have to work with a wide variety of professionals who will support your business. This may even include government officials.
The most frustrating part of opening my first practice was getting the village to approve my signage. I tried for 3 months to submit my plans and get them approved by the assigned village committee without attending the meetings. I found out it kept getting rejected because there was a dispute about the exact tint of the color. I eventually showed up at the meeting and stated that I respectfully would defer to their best judgment, and it was approved the same night.
Superior communication skills may also help you with negotiating costs on everything from rent, equipment, services (housekeeping) and insurance. If you have worked in a field where you have gained some of this communication experience, you’ll have an even higher chance of success.
Location, Location, Location
An entire book could be written about this topic, but from a business perspective, you should first decide how you want to practice. In the chiropractic profession, scopes of practice can vary greatly from state to state. Ideally, you want to choose a state that allows you to practice within your chosen scope without having to employ other (costly) professionals.
Another important item to consider is where you have the most support from family and friends. During the often time-consuming process of starting a business, this can go a long way. Within that vicinity, you should perform demographic research. Basically, this is what you want your patients’ demographic to look like whether it’s based on age, income, access to care or local culture. It’s important to find suburban or urban locations that can support the type of practice you plan to open.
Consider buying an existing practice
Compared to opening your own practice from scratch, buying an existing practice can be an easier option if the opportunity arises. However, it’s important to maintain the same hours and philosophy of the prior practice at least initially
To make the practice more your own, institute change towards your vision in a thoughtful and gradual manner. It also makes sense to purchase a practice that is already aligned with your practice ideology. This way you have cash flow out of the gate, which can be used to offset expenses
If this is a route you’re considering, try NUHS’ Classified Ads, which students and alumni frequently use to buy and sell practices along with equipment.
Starting your own practice and “being your own boss” can be challenging at times, but it is also a very rewarding endeavor. It is particularly satisfying running a profitable business, responsibly and ethically. The positive impacts I make in my patients lives, my staff, my community and family comes back to me 10-fold every time.
Whatever type of practice or specialty you plan to pursue, it is best to be as prepared as possible. Otherwise, the learn-as-you-go method can become costly. This is why for some it makes more sense to start their careers as an associate at a chiropractic clinic, which can help new graduates gain more business knowledge.
At National University, on the other hand, you'll learn everything you need to know to get started as soon as you graduate. As part of NUHS' newly redesigned business curriculum, students will learn the nuanced aspects of how to start, manage and grow a practice. To learn more about our chiropractic program's business curriculum, visit the NUHS website.
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