By Allan Besselink, PT, DPT, Dip. MDT
Many recent physical therapy (PT) graduates may dream of starting their own practice after earning their physical therapy degree. Compared to working as an employee in a clinic, owning your own PT practice gives you more autonomy, helps you grow as an entrepreneur and clinician, and offers the potential for higher income. However, starting a business can be challenging because it requires long hours, filling out more paperwork, and learning a whole business skill set on top of your clinical skill set. Remember that you don’t have to do it all by yourself; it is vital to take advice from your mentor and hire experts to help.
Here are a few valuable steps to take to open your own practice.
- Start with market research. Research who your patients would be, who needs PT in your area, why they need it, what types of PT they need—and what it would take for them to choose your clinic. Also, check out your competitors: their size, structure, locations, services, and length of time in business.
- Select your specialty. Do you want to focus on sports injuries, workplace injuries, pediatrics, geriatrics, or post-surgical rehabilitation? Will your practice be solely focused on PT, or will it offer other modalities within an interprofessional care team?
- Decide on the primary business structure. Do you want to start and run the business on your own, go in together with other physical therapists, open a franchise, or purchase an existing private practice? Another option is partnering with a gym or a large corporation that wants to offer PT onsite. Research the options and their tax implications.
- Choose the method of compensation. Will your practice be cash-based or insurance-based? Also, will your office manager handle billing, or will you use a third-party service? There are pros and cons to each option, so do your homework.
- Develop a marketing plan. Start with choosing a business name and getting a logo and business cards designed. Map out a strategy involving digital channels such as a website, social media, and possibly a blog. And don’t forget print materials such as brochures and postcards and, if feasible, radio or television ads. Consider creating a customer incentive/loyalty plan. Meet with local physicians to let them know about your services and make it easy for them to schedule patients with you.
- Create a business plan. A business plan serves as a roadmap for your business. It can help you secure funding and keep you on track with your goals. It should describe your services, competition, marketing plan (see above), operations details, management team, and financial summary. Be sure to include insurance costs for your clinic.
- Secure financing. Once your business plan is in place, you can secure loans or investments from banks, angel investors, family members, and friends. Consider crowdfunding. Other options include borrowing money against your personal retirement accounts or taking out a second mortgage but be careful not to get in too deep.
- Determine your location. Start looking for your space after you know how much startup money is available. Think about factors like visibility, proximity to potential referral sources (e.g., doctors), ease of parking, how much space you really need (with room to grow), length of lease, too-close proximity to competitors, and renovations required.
- Fill out all the necessary paperwork. Set up a professional limited liability company (PLLC) or other business structure. Get your EIN from the IRS, make sure your therapists’ license is up-to-date, purchase professional liability insurance coverage, and set up a business bank account and credit card. Consult with an attorney to make sure you understand HIPAA.
- Begin searching for and hiring staff. Spread the word to colleagues who are good physical therapists. Hire an office manager who is competent, kind, and friendly and who can be the face of your practice.
- Design the space. A professional architect and designer will help you maximize your square footage while capturing your vision of your clinic. Plan the floor layout for a positive environment and an efficient patient flow.
- Purchase the equipment you’ll need. Make a list of the physical therapy equipment you will need, such as treatment tables, ultrasound units, TENS units, laser therapy units, exercise balls, resistance bands, and more. Don’t forget you will also need to purchase new computers for staff and comfortable furniture for the waiting room and staff.
- Find the right software. To keep track of patient scheduling, records, and billing, consider software programs such as an electronic health record system, a payment platform, scheduling software, accounting software, and possibly customer relationship management software.
- Celebrate! You’re almost ready to open the doors to your own physical therapy business. It’s no doubt been a lot of work, but you are learning as you go, and you’re about to enjoy the rewards of true career autonomy and practice ownership!
The largest PT school in the United States,* the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a hands-on Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Practice with mock and real patients in our state-of-the-art simulation centers and learn anatomy with our high-tech tools. Prepare for clinical practice with a wide range of patients, as well as advanced roles in research, practice leadership, and policymaking. Residential and Flex (online/weekend) paths are available.
*Based on total DPT degrees conferred, as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data is captured by IPEDS through interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
Allan Besselink, PT, DPT, Dip. MDT, is a physical therapist and assistant professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in Austin. Dr. Besselink is a graduate of Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. He has been in Austin, Texas, since 1990. During that time, he has developed a unique perspective on sport- and fitness-related injuries and primary prevention for both the recreational and elite athlete. He is the author of RunSmart: A Comprehensive Approach to Injury-Free Running. He is also one of 400 practitioners internationally that have attained the Diploma in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy from the McKenzie Institute International in New Zealand, the highest level of training and achievement in the McKenzie Method. His clinical practice is one of the few in the world that specifically focuses on the application of MDT to a sports population.
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