This week’s non-clinical spotlight focuses on an OT who took the entrepreneurial route, creating her own CEU platform called ARC seminars! Learn how she got started in this spotlight!
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What is your full name and title at your current job?
Emily Cahalan, OTR/L, CLT, CBIS
Co-founder and CEO of ARC Seminars
I co-manage the site with my partners Ruth Polillo, PT, and Allison Frederick, CCC-SLP
Where are you located?
We are incorporated in Delaware, and provide live, in-person courses all over the Northeast: NJ, DE, PA, MD and NY. However, all of our courses are live-streamed and we have lots of self-paced courses that can be taken from anywhere! We are nationally accredited (by AOTA, ASHA and many PT states), so we get course attendees from all over the US.
Where did you go to OT school, and what year did you graduate?
I went to the National University of Ireland, Galway, and graduated in 2009.
What did you do when you first finished school?
When I graduated, I worked in community care in Ireland for two years, before moving to the USA and beginning my career in inpatient acute rehabilitation.
I have been working mostly in inpatient rehab since then, becoming certified as a Lymphedema Therapist and Certified Brain Injury Specialist along the way.
Inpatient rehabilitation is fantastically varied, and it never ceased to amaze me how wide your skills could expand in this field alone.
What did you enjoy about working in rehab? What didn’t you enjoy?
I love working in rehab—it is such a hopeful area to work in. Seeing patient progression and aiding people to gain their independence back is extremely rewarding. I still love working in this field!
However, there are a lot of barriers—time constraints, documentation and productivity goals, and so on—that I found can really limit a clinician’s creativity in this field.
As I worked my way up into leadership roles, I saw how patient-centered goals can really become secondary to meeting the numbers that are set by administration or insurance, and that is frustrating and saddening.
When did you decide to go non-clinical?
I have always really enjoyed teaching, and also really love expanding my own education. When the opportunity to get involved with a start-up company came up, it was exciting to think about empowering other clinicians with the various skills and education that I had gotten so much from.
We at ARC decided to do some market research and started visiting rehab facilities—acute and sub acute—across Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These sessions were focused on asking therapists about their preferences for continuing education, and specifically what kinds of conditions, topics, or skills they found to be intimidating or challenging.
This way, we formed a picture of the pain points that therapists and nurses were experiencing and were able to build some of our curriculum from those areas. Topics such as edema, cancer care, wound care, and dementia were some of our earlier courses developed based on this feedback, and the structure of the education was carefully modified to include some of the learning techniques that worked best for people (and avoid the pitfalls that they report from other seminars!).
Swinging by to do these ‘lunch-and-learns’ with therapy departments has been so helpful that we kept them up all over these states—and it is still one of my favorite parts of the job!
Where did you get the idea for your business?
Myself and two of my colleagues were finding ourselves getting frustrated with continuing education courses we were attending, year after year, that taught great info but that were ultimately not usable (for practical reasons) back in the clinic. As senior therapists, we found ourselves continually encouraging and mentoring clinicians to expand their treatments.
What is your business, and what types of products or services do you offer?
ARC Seminars is a continuing education company. Our mission is empowering clinicians to treat intimidating conditions! We are run by a PT-OT-SLP team, so our courses are uniquely focused on rehab, and on being both practical and immediately usable in the clinic.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I work per diem in an inpatient rehab, at least one-two days a week—but managing the daily operations of ARC Seminars takes up the most of my time!
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
Absolutely none! Online reading and videos, webinars and most recently, Meredith’s great Therapy Blogging 101 course have been the only training I have done. The learning curve has been really steep, though, and there is a lot to pick up.
When did you start your business?
We formed ARC in October 2016, and taught our first CEU course in August of 2017. Since that time, we have expanded to having over ten live and online courses, one of which is a certification course- and we are continually adding to the directory. Pretty rapid progression!
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
Running the office, managing the website and blog, and helping with course development fill a lot of my time. Going to conferences and marketing events are also a big part of my role.
ARC Seminars also hosts or manages lots of community events per year, including health fairs, fundraisers, charities and more!
As therapists, we are so keenly aware of the lack of health awareness in the community, and part of how we want to distinguish ourselves from other companies is by giving back to the community, especially those in the areas in which we educate clinicians.
What are some of the challenges of your role? What are the rewards?
It is a steep learning curve to begin a start-up, and a lot of hard work to keep it going, especially when we were all working clinically at the same time. A lot of nights and weekends have been (and still are!) required!
It has also been personally challenging to grow my confidence enough for networking and sales events, as I am naturally pretty introverted—but having a strong mission at heart has made it easier as we are all naturally passionate about why we are “doing what we are doing!”
The rewards of the feedback and testimonials from students about the education we provide, however, have been absolutely phenomenal. It is amazing to see our mission come to life! I also have been so fulfilled to see some of our course developers and presenters bloom in their educational roles. Seeing something that we imagined grow from scratch has been gratifying and humbling.
How do you think working as an OT prepared you for this role? Which skills transferred?
I always consider OTs to be pretty flexible, adaptable, and natural problem-solvers—all of which are essential for start-up businesses! Creativity and experience with teaching students in my clinical role also helped me understand working with adult learners and how to teach other clinicians.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
To work in a start-up you have to be really flexible and adaptable to change. You need to have really good communication with your other partners, and be willing to work above and beyond what you think you can!
Do you work remotely or on-site?
I work both! All the office management I can do from home. I provide seminars on-site in facilities and in traditional venues, and I do a lot of marketing by attending conferences and making visits to facilities to spread the good word!
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
We are 100% interested in engaging more therapy professionals to join us in ARC Seminars! We are always looking for CEU course developers for online and live seminars—and, as we expand and grow, we are open to therapists who are interested in getting involved in a business/management level.
I always want to connect with any therapists who are interested in business, marketing, sales, or entrepreneurship.
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
We want to keep developing excellent courses, and bringing education far and wide to as many clinicians as possible. As a company just out of its start-up phase (and hit pretty hard with the pandemic—group-based businesses did not fare well!) we are also not as yet turning enough profits to leave our clinical posts. Hopefully we will be able to pay ourselves enough of a salary to work full time at the business in the next year or so.
Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
Be brave, believe in yourself, and be direct!
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
I think it would behoove students to have a class or two on settling up a clinic/business. Writing a business plan, learning website building tools, and understanding how to market yourself would be such valuable tools for a therapist to have—even if they didn’t open their own business, these skills are incredibly helpful as a clinician.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
I think that the way therapists think, problem-solve, and learn makes them ideal entrepreneurs and business-people. I would say if you have an idea, or if an opportunity presents itself, don’t hesitate—jump!