After undergoing three hip surgeries to shave down bone and help correct a leg length problem, Shenandoah University psychology major Warren Zeff ’17 needed physical therapy services.
The practice he turned to, Spine & Sport Physical Therapy, PLLC, on Warrior Drive in Stephens City, Virginia, is just about 30 seconds from his home. It’s also owned by Shenandoah University Physical Therapy graduate and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Kevin Forrer ’04, PT, DPT, OCS, and his wife, Jessica Forrer ’05, PT, DPT.
During his visit, Zeff warmed up under the supervision of Kevin Forrer and second-year physical therapy student Marissa Schneider, who was taking part in one of her clinical experiences. During the clinical experience, which had just started the week prior, Schneider had already done some stretching work with patients, made observations and helped take patients through exercises.
Kevin Forrer regularly oversees students at his office for clinical experiences in orthopedics-based practice because “it’s an opportunity to give back to the university,” and to help students as he was once helped by established physical therapists.
The Forrers are just one pair among many Shenandoah physical therapy (PT) program graduates who have started their own practices. While hard numbers aren’t available on the total number of Shenandoah PT graduates who have done so, the quality of their work is reflected by the words of PT Director of Clinical Education Melissa Wolff-Burke, PT, EdD, MS, who said, “I would send my mother to any of them. I feel that comfortable with the quality of patient-focused, evidence-based care our PT graduates provide.”
Shenandoah’s PT program will celebrate its 25th year of graduating physical therapists in 2018, Dr. Wolff-Burke said. Since its inception, the program grew from a master’s to a doctorate program and added a second campus in Leesburg (Northern Virginia). “The growth is a result of the dedication of the SU PT faculty and staff, and our national reputation as a student-centered, quality, PT program with a global focus,” she added.
“The obvious positive is that there's nothing like being your own boss.” — Kevin Forrer
The Shenandoah PT curriculum anticipates that students may one day own their own practices, and it prepares them well for the possibility, said, Sara Bolden ’04, DPT, who owns Women First Rehabilitation, a women’s health-focused practice in Woodstock, Georgia. “In fact, in one of our classes, we had to create a fictitious physical therapy practice from scratch. We had to come up with a business plan, financial estimates, budgeting, marketing, etc. Looking back, it was the perfect project! I felt like it produced blueprints for Women First Rehab. It gave me a real perspective on what was involved and the confidence to carry it through.”
In the years since graduation, Bolden has both opened her own clinic and penned a book, “What a Girl Wants: The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.” “Shenandoah encouraged me to step out and dream big. I would have NEVER opened my own practice had it not been for the required course that forced me to put effort into writing it all out on paper. Shenandoah has prepared me for teaching classes, speaking at seminars and addressing other professionals. Shenandoah has provided me the skills and know-how to put my knowledge as a PT into real-life scenarios. The professors at Shenandoah are always checking in with me, celebrating my accomplishments and encouraging me along this business-ownership journey,” Bolden said.
Mike ’05 and Kelly Payne ’07, both PT, DPT, who met during their doctoral studies at Shenandoah, own Carolina Strong Physical Therapy in Southport, North Carolina. They noted that Shenandoah’s private practice course was invaluable: Mike used a 20-step plan he learned about through the course to help start their business.
“We use an American Physical Therapy Association text called ‘Starting a Private Practice’ that covers many of the essential skills of opening a business,” said Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Ed Schrank, PT, DSc, ECS, who teaches the course. “We cover everything from site selection, financial analysis, obtaining business licenses, to types of legal structures. The course finishes with writing a business plan as a group.”
Bolden and the Forrers and Paynes didn’t walk out of school and into their own practices, however. They worked for others, and then made the decision to strike out on their own or with partners. Owning a practice, just like owning any business, has its positives and negatives.
Starting a practice is difficult initially, it requires hard work, patience, extra money and long hours, said the Paynes, who added that finding the right location for their practice was key – they are situated in a town with lots of active retirees and located next to a family practice which often refers patients to them.
The Forrers incorporate their family life into their practice, with their two children being regular presences there. Patients often feel like part of the family, said Kevin. The Forrers also split their schedules to accommodate their children’s school schedules and extracurricular activities.
Bolden notes that flexibility is a definite positive in owning her own business. “I love that I can work around my children’s school schedules. I love that I can create a healing and safe environment for patients. I love that I can offer special seminars, wellness classes and services that look at individuals…rather than body parts.”
“The obvious positive is that there’s nothing like being your own boss,” said Forrer, who connected with a business partner to open Spine & Sport in 2008. “By opening my own practice, I was able to set-up the practice the way I wanted, and operate the practice the way I believed would be successful, but also provide a high quality of care.” This year, that quality was noted in the “Trademark Who’s Who Top Doctors Honors Edition,” which added Kevin Forrer to its ranks.
For the Paynes, the positive aspects of having a practice include being patient-centered, rather than business-centered, working together close to home, making their own schedules, doing pro bono work whenever they like, and growing together, both personally and professionally.
As for the downfalls, Bolden, said they’re pretty universal to any business owner. “It takes time, commitment and money to run a company. It can become mentally and physically exhausting at times. It requires healthy boundaries, calculated business risks and a teachable mind to be successful.”
“The negative is that it’s very stressful, especially the first few years while you’re building the practice and praying that it survives and becomes successful,” Kevin Forrer added. “It takes a minimum of three years to establish professional relationships and referral sources, so a lot of planning with adequate start-up capital is essential to survive those early years.”
The practice-owning graduates are all deeply appreciative of their Shenandoah education, and Wolff-Burke is as equally complimentary of alumni. “Our students are very well prepared, clinically and professionally, to take on leadership positions in the physical therapy profession. It seems that in each class, we have many students who go into outpatient physical therapy practices, and we can count on two or more students who will eventually go into practice for him/herself.”
Will Marissa Schneider, in a clinical experience at Spine & Sport, be one of those? She’s not sure yet. “I’ve got to make it through, first,” she said, before flashing a quick smile.
A Partial List of Physical Therapy Alumni Who Own Their Own Practices:
Jennifer Gamboa ’95, ’05, DPT, OCS, MTC, Body Dynamics, Inc., Falls Church, Virginia
Anna-Marie Hammond ’08, PT, DPT, ATC, Elite Sports Medicine & Physical Therapy, Gainesville, Virginia
Karla King ’95, PT, MPT, Cert. MDT, and Suzanne Gregory ’95, PT, MPT, King Physical Therapy, Martinsburg, West Virginia
Ed ’01, PT and Amy (Swenson) Lihvarchik ’01, PT, They are SU PT grads and own APEX Physical Therapy in Phoenix and Glendale, Arizona
Trevor Ling ’05, PT, DPT, ATC/L, MBA, COMT, Astym-cert, Peak Potential Physiotherapy, Collierville, Tennessee
Karie Newman PT, DPT, ’01, ’04, Body Elite Physical Therapy, Winchester, Virginia
Leigh Roberts ’99, ’05, DPT, OCS, LAR Physical Therapy, Columbia, Maryland
Jeff Telemeco ’98, PT, DPT, COMT, CMTPT, Peak Performance Physical Therapy, Greencastle, Pennsylvania
Jennifer Thibodeau MPT ’99 (currently working on DPT), Personal Physical Therapy Services, Winchester, Virginia