A Mindset Change
By Michael Quintans, PT, DPT
I have spent five of my first seven years removed from physical therapy school as a clinic director with two companies.
My first opportunity to manage an outpatient orthopedic physical therapy clinic was offered to me two years after graduation. The clinic was a year old and struggling to see more than 60 visits per week. Over the next three years, I worked around-the-clock hours, and, with the help of the late Jeff Ostrowski, we brought on three young, highly motivated physical therapists. Over that time, we overcame a deficit and earned over $1 million in EBITDA. There were plenty of lessons to be learned during this phase of my career. One of them came from Jeff himself regarding sustainability and working on your business, not only in your business.
About 15 months ago, I proceeded with a new opportunity assuming the same title as clinic director, except this time I was a partner. The term “partner” comes with a 90-page contract, tax forms, attorney fees, and more responsibilities. This time around, there was greater opportunity. I was able to assist in the development of the treatment model, clinic design, offer a vision, and hand pick my staff. Joining the worlds of physical therapy and sports performance training had also been a passion of mine. Now, I had the resources to actually do it. The new opportunity was off to a strong start, hitting the century mark in visits per week within two months of the start date, and added 50 more two months later. Our staff grew from three to nine in a matter of four months with ongoing discussions of expanding to new locations in the region.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was forced to furlough one physical therapist, two performance coaches, one patient coordinator, and cut hours of the other. We shut down all sports performance training activities in addition to losing 40% of our patient volume in less than one week. That first Friday afternoon after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 I saw my dreams begin to fade away.
I remember sitting alone on the floor of an empty clinic that had once been rocking with every treatment table occupied and several youth athletes training and at that moment you could hear a pin drop. My phone rings. My wife, who was one month pregnant at the time, an acute care physical therapist, informs me that she is being sent home as a precaution following contact with a patient who had been previously exposed to the virus. Minutes later, I hear the front door of the clinic open and close. It is my final patient for the low-achieving week. I rose up from the floor wiping any remnants of tears away from my face. The patient that had just walked in was a priest and a good friend of mine. He notices my despair and proceeds to ask me questions I wanted no part of, such as “Where is everybody? Will you be forced to close the clinic with the potential restrictions put forth? How is your wife? What is your plan to overcome this pandemic?” My answers were of no significance, but his response was.
He encouraged me to direct my energy toward faith, use the perceived failure as an opportunity to grow, develop my skills as a leader, and to be fearless in the face of adversity. That was all I needed to hear. I read, I listened, I asked questions, I accepted instruction. My mindset changed in that single conversation and my journey as a true leader really began.
I searched for guidance reaching out to my regional leaders and others that had been of great influence in my career. I requested recommendations of books, podcasts, TED Talks, and anything else that would offer any degree of wisdom that my mentors had benefited from. Most of these resources were books including but not limited to 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Think and Grow Rich, The Speed of Trust, The Power of Positive Thinking, Dare to Lead, Conversational Capacity, and Good to Great. I would listen to these books, then, later that evening, read what I had listened to earlier in the day. I found myself jotting notes throughout the books. These notes included thoughts, concepts, approaches, wisdom, and knowledge. My hunger for resources and perspectives on mindset helped me to put things in perspective.
I see my role differently now. I ask and listen before I formulate a response. I strive to empower my team of physical therapists and coaches by facilitating the creation of programs they design with my assistance. These programs were essential to motivating my team because they created the programs. Without their commitment, there would not be adequate buy-in to move the needle. Throughout this process, I have learned to create systems that allow me to maximize my time, enforce accountability, and create awareness.
Within six weeks following the initial national shutdown, the clinic volume returned to pre COVID-19 numbers. Ten months later, we are number one in the region with respect to visits-per-week, churning out 250 visits-per-week and continuing to help more community members in our region.
The process of becoming the leader I strived to be demanded daily reflection, relinquishing control, investing time and resources into my team, and mentoring growth as opposed to ordering tasks. Mindset shifts tend to occur most often during troubling times. The adversity we encounter during these times will present opportunities to make decisions. We can sulk on the clinic floor or persevere to greater heights than we ever thought possible.