Laura A. Schindler, PT, DPT
Laura A. Schindler, PT, DPT, is the founder and owner of Advanced Physical Therapy Solutions in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Practice: Advanced Physical Therapy Solutions, Fayetteville, North Carolina, Single location, 24 employees
Years in practice: 13.5 years
Most influential book: The Fortune Cookie Principle by Bernadette Jiwa
Favorite vacation spot: South Topsail Island, North Carolina
Favorite movie: The Shawshank Redemption
How do you like to spend your free time? I love to retreat to my garage studio to work on a variety of cheesy crafts. I’ve dabbled in stone and tile mosaics, found object collages, and recently I’ve been learning the art of wood turning on a lathe.
What do you like most about your job? My first love will always be treating patients. But now I’m at a point in my career where I am spending more dedicated time working with younger clinicians, mentoring clinical and leadership skills. I continue to work on investing in my staff so that they have the resources to achieve the professional and personal goals they have set for the next one to five years. Happy employees make happy customers.
What do you like least about your job? The nitty-gritty details about all the rules and regulations dealing with being a small business owner and practicing in today’s health care environment.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned? It takes years to build up trust, and about 10 seconds to lose it.
Describe your essential business philosophy: Treat the patient well, and the rest of it will take care of itself.
Describe your management style: I vacillate between macro- and micromanaging. I micromanage the patient experience in that I want every patient to walk/wheel away from a treatment session saying “Wow, that was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to come back!” I macromanage my staff in that I lay out the expectations for behavior and performance and then I get out of the way. I have learned over the years that I need a great #2 person to help me with the details so I can spend time working on idea generation and the visionary things necessary to move my company forward. I continually work to instill an “ownership” mentality in my employees so that in everything they do, they work and act like it’s their practice and they own the results of their decisions and actions.
What is the best way you keep a competitive edge? Treat your employees as your most important customer. Happy employees make happy patients, and those happy patients become our community ambassadors. Doing good work and being ever mindful of how our patients “feel” when they are in the clinic makes our patient experience the competitive edge.
How do you measure your success? I measure success by how I feel at the end of the day. Did I leave feeling like someone was better off because of something I said or did that day? I didn’t open a private practice to make money hand over fist. I opened my low-volume practice to be able to go home at night retaining some sanity and feeling like I made a health care experience meaningful and memorable for the patients I saw that day.
Goal yet to be achieved: Have a leadership team in place, operating expertly so I could take a three-month leave and come back to a thriving culture and climate in the clinic.
Best decision: Investing in a leadership coach and developing a leadership team in my company. It has dramatically changed the climate in the clinic and the overall company culture. Spending the dedicated time and putting in the hard work to collaboratively articulate the mission, vision, and values of our company ultimately resulted in some who didn’t share those values leaving of their own accord. That’s always preferable rather than having to terminate someone.
Worst decision: Hiring a warm body because I needed a person to see patients. That person wasn’t a fit with our culture. It made for a rough year and ultimately resulted in termination of that employee. Lesson learned: I’d rather work shorthanded and harder than work with someone who doesn’t fit the culture and live the values of Advanced Physical Therapy Solutions.
Toughest decision: Terminating an office manager who was taking advantage of the company. It meant a whole lot more work for me, but that person was toxic to my employees. Lesson learned: Being a private practice owner means you must keep your eyes and ears open to everything.
How do you motivate your employees? I try to tailor motivation to each individual employee. That means I have got to learn what each one appreciates. For some it is one-on-one time with me; others, it’s a high five in the hall. A handwritten note of appreciation, or a shout-out in a staff meeting for something remarkable, can let them know how much I appreciate them and what they do for our company. I keep a running list in my head to make sure I check in with everyone at least biweekly. I took home a great quote from the recent PPS [Private Practice Section] meeting: What we appreciate, appreciates.
If you could start over, what would you do differently? In reality—nothing. It’s all unfolded exactly as it was supposed to. Nothing about owning a private practice is easy. Not. A. Thing. But being a part of a community of private practice owners, having people to reach out to bend an ear or pose a “What would you do?” has made all the difference.
Describe your competitive advantage: From Jack Welch’s famous quote: “Our how is the source of the competitive advantage we have in this community—our people and culture are our competitive advantage.”
Describe your marketing strategy and highlight your most successful action: Strategy: Do good work—treat the patient well—say thank you. Without a doubt, most of our market strategy is spent on doing good work—providing amazing care and customer service—and genuinely thanking the patient and the person who sent them to our clinic. With limited funds for marketing and limited hours in the day, each of our employees is a marketing specialist, from the front desk to the aides to the clinical staff. You can’t put a price on a word-of-mouth referral. My most successful action has always been a handwritten thank you note. Not a text, not an email. Handwritten, sent via snail mail.
What unique programs do you offer that set you apart from the competition? We have two clinicians certified in the Big and Loud program for Parkinson’s disease and two certified lymphedema specialists treating many variations of lymphedema. We offer pelvic pain programs for women and men along with pre- and postnatal pregnancy programs. Oncology prehab and rehabilitation incorporating active surveillance. Several group classes catering to our discharged patients, one specializing in osteoporosis, have been very successful for us.
What are the benefits of PPS membership to your practice? The biggest value of being a member of PPS for me is access to successful business owners and entrepreneurs. I am forever indebted to several women I have met because of my being a member of PPS. Sue Stoval, PT, DPT, was generous with her time and wisdom when I reached out to her as a part of Members Mentoring Members when I was contemplating opening my business. Helene Fearon, PT, has always been a conversation or email away as I struggled to learn and follow all the rules of the Medicare system. Janet Shelley, PT, DPT, is my mentor on speed dial for all things dealing with the daily ins and outs of running a smart business, billing and coding, as well as being a good boss and leader. I hope I can repay those and many other women by paying it forward to new Section members who might reach out to me with questions in the future. I am particularly impressed with the work of the marketing committee and the content they have made available to PPS members. I feel that the PPS annual meeting is a wonderful opportunity to connect with colleagues around the country to share ideas and collective problem solving.
What worries you about the future of private practice? Finding ways to have sustainable compensation in an era of declining reimbursement. I also worry about being able to find new graduates who can afford to work in a private practice given the debt that they have incurred getting through school.
What are you optimistic about? I am optimistic that the APTA and PPS will continue to advocate for issues germane to my private practice. One of the most pressing issues is changing the Tricare regulations about PTAs (Physical Therapist Assistants) given the breadth of that insurance presence in my community. If passed, we would have more opportunities to serve patients in our community, especially with our specialty programs, using the assistance of the PTA. It would also allow my business some growth opportunities when the PTA legislation passes. I am also optimistic that with the ongoing leadership training that we are doing that we will be able to operate more efficiently and improve our bottom line.
What are your goals for the next year? Finish the small expansion for our women’s health services and lymphedema programs. Complete our leadership training program with a new vision for the future of Advanced Physical Therapy Solutions. Continue to look to invest in new graduates and experienced clinicians who fit with our culture and live our values. Continue to expand on our relationship and involvement in our community. Wood turn a perfect 20-inch salad bowl!
Where do you see the best opportunities for your practice in the future? Continuing to invest in new graduate employees. Their success will ultimately lead to the success of my company. Continue to explore and expand cash-based programs in the clinic. Expand our group class offering, adding at a minimum Tai Chi. Continue to refine and expand our specialty program offerings for patients in our community.
What do private practitioners need to do to thrive in today’s health care environment? Be open to and willing to change. Change how we invest in and value our employees. Change the long-standing pay for years of experience and move to pay for performance and patient engagement/outcomes. Be open and vulnerable to engaging new market segments and specialty programs with your practice. There are numerous opportunities out there to find, attract, and retain patients who are not moving well. Established private practices need to reflect on what has made them successful thus far and integrate that into the changes that are inevitable in the future. Take care of the patient; the rest of it will take care of itself.