In all my previous work in nursing facilities and hospitals, I've always felt that my patients had very few resources available once they returned back home, particularly if they weren't home-bound and didn't qualify for traditional skilled home health, which led me to the idea to open my outpatient clinic.
I held my grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony on my 26th birthday last year, and my life has never been the same since.
Location, Location, Location
Initially my best friend (and fellow SLP) was going to go into practice with me. I mentioned my plan/idea to her over dinner one night, and she wanted in. She lived in a town about an hour away from where I lived, so we decided on a location in the middle of both of us in the town of Owasso, a suburb of Tulsa, OK.
However, my friend then quickly discovered that she wasn’t ready for the private practice leap just yet and decided to pull out, and I’d already signed the lease on the building in Owasso. So, this is how I ended up in my initial clinic location. I began marketing both in Owasso and Tulsa as I searched for my first patient referrals, but I quickly came to learn that I would have much more clientele in Tulsa, as it’s a much larger city with a much higher elderly population (which is my primary target demographic). Most of my patients right now are commuting to me from Tulsa or surrounding areas, and in fact, I have even lost some referrals due to patients being unable to make the drive to Owasso. Looking back, a little more market research on location before opening would have been a good idea.
Recently, one of the geriatric doctors I’ve become acquainted with as a result of my marketing attempts contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in renting a suite in his new office building he purchased in central Tulsa. This time, I carefully researched the market and made an informed decision to move my practice to Tulsa. Currently, I’m waiting on his new building to be renovated, and as soon as it’s ready for occupancy, his practice, mine, and several other geriatric professionals will be moving into this centralized location to offer multiple geriatric services under one roof.
My advice for anyone beginning a private practice would be to research the market (looking at factors like city population, target demographics, proximity to other related healthcare professionals, etc.) when choosing a location, as location is a critical factor in how many patient referrals you will receive. Thinking this through and thoroughly researching locations ahead of time can save you a lot of time later compared to transitioning to a new office space after everything is already set up with your initial address. However, in my case, I met the doctor that I’m joining forces with throughout my networking efforts after I’d already opened the clinic. So, if you’re already open for business and you feel that your location is less than ideal, all is not lost. Sometimes, initial opportunities can lead to other better opportunities. Focus on networking, and move when you find the ideal location.
This journey has been very exciting and at times exhausting as I've learned to wear so many different hats and take on so many new roles. I'm no longer just a speech pathologist, but am now also an office manager, web designer, billing agent, marketer, receptionist, etc. It's been such a learning experience in the first few months, from navigating the insurance maze to learning how to educate physicians about my services (after finding in my initial marketing attempts that many local physicians were unaware of what SLPs do). My advice to those starting new businesses is to expect to become really good at multitasking for a while until you grow enough that it makes sense to spend the extra money to hire help for some of these services. I personally have done everything myself that I possibly could in order to start my business debt free, as this is something that was important to me after just having paid off my student loans right before opening the clinic. Investing time into learning to do as many of the business aspects as you can on your own can be a huge money-saver for a new business owner.
Transitioning Into Full-Time
Knowing I had a lot to learn and that it would take time to get everything running smoothly, I chose to begin my practice part time while continuing to work full time in the skilled nursing setting about 30 hours per week. Around the six month mark, I began getting more referrals and transitioned into PRN at my previous full time skilled nursing position and began taking on more clients at my own clinic. I would advise new private practitioners to start out part time while maintaining other steady employment at first, as this helps counteract the start-up costs and expenses while getting everything up and running. It takes time to get everything set up, become in-network with insurance companies, etc., and during this time, you may not get many referrals (as many patients will not want to pay cash when they have insurance), so it’s good to have backup income initially until the set-up phase is completed.
The Journey Continues
The first few months of business for me have been such a learning experience- at times challenging, but overall an incredible adventure. I've enjoyed this new chapter of my life so much and wouldn't trade the knowledge I've gained or my experiences with my wonderful patients for anything. I'm thankful for a great first year of business and am excited to see what the future holds for my growing practice.
Tiffany Turner, M.S., CCC-SLP is the author of several clinician resource materials, which are available for purchase on her website, www.tulsasnr.com. During her clinical fellowship year, Tiffany had limited therapy materials or funding for materials. Therefore, in addition to opening an adult rehab clinic to fill a need in her community, one of her goals has always been to provide affordable, practical therapy resources to other clinicians, which she is happy to now be able to do.