This week, we’re featuring Adam Whitman, Associate Product Manager, Patient Engagement at MedBridge Education.
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What is your full name, title, and company name for your current, primary role?
Adam Whitman, DPT
Associate Product Manager, Patient Engagement for MedBridge, LLC
What additional roles do you currently have?
I have retained a small side business for working with athletes in the National Football League (NFL) on an as-needed basis.
I also consult the general population on injury, rehab, functional movement, and motor control principles while assisting in building plans of care. However, the only population in which I implement the plans of care myself is with the NFL athletes.
Where are you located?
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
I went to the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, IN in 2008 for my PTA degree.
I always planned on going to PT school as well, and I did that at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in 2012 for their DPT program.
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
Upon completing my PTA degree, I worked PRN only, which allowed me to take on multiple jobs and get exposure to all the major settings.
I entered PT school in 2009 and continued to work on a PRN basis throughout the program (minus the last semester that was full time clinical rotations).
Once I finished PT school, I had settled on outpatient orthopedics as my target setting and took a job in Seattle. I worked at a large health club that had all kinds of services associated with health, among other smaller service departments as well.
I managed one of their PT clinics for a couple of years in that time, and in total I was there from 2012-2018.
In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
As a PTA, I worked in all settings for periods of time to get an idea of what kind of settings I wanted to focus on while I was working on my DPT.
Outpatient orthopedics became my focus, but I also had a lot of interest in the nervous system. I used the neuro background I gained while a PTA, as well as the strong neuro program in my PT school, to foster a different approach to outpatient orthopedics, which is the only setting in which I worked after graduating from PT school.
Most the patient base I treated were patients who struggled with motor control and functional movement patterns. While I did work with post-surgical patients, it was much more likely I would see patients who were either finished or on the tail end of the post-op PT to help regain more appropriate movement patterns.
This focus area also led me to an unexpected circumstance of being part of a small, multi-disciplinary team working with NFL athletes, which I still do today.
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
Given that the PTA degree was always a means to an end, I’ll focus on the early part of my PT career.
I really enjoyed being in the large health club. It was great to be part of an organization whose mission was comprehensive health, not parts-based approaches. There was a lot of support for new grads and a strong focus on education (both continuing and providing), which gave me the opportunity to really dive deep into subject matters that significantly improved my clinical abilities.
I didn’t enjoy the obvious paperwork that everyone complains about, and I also started to quickly see the writing on the wall of how reimbursement and visit totals were going to diminish over time, making the job I was being paid to do harder to accomplish.
What else have you done since then, prior to your current role?
In 2018, I shifted to a small outpatient orthopedic clinic that was closer to home. I worked there as my full-time job while also starting the small side business for the NFL athletes.
I shifted to the small clinic largely because the owner was the only other PT and her philosophy was that she didn’t care what I did, as long as it was evidence-based and my patients were getting better. It was perfect for me to practice how I felt most comfortable and effective while also being half the commute time.
In 2020, I left her clinic to study for and begin a software engineering bootcamp through Hack Reactor, which then opened the doors for me to take on my current role.
When and why did you decide to go non-clinical?
I reached a point of severe burnout with the PT profession and orthopedics as a whole.
I refused to work in a setting that double-books due to what I feel is a severe ethical violation, but that also meant that my clinic income I could generate and therefore my pay scale would be limited.
In order to do my job well, I would have to work full-time hours, then handle anything associated with patient care (documentation, physician phone calls, arguing with third-party authorizers, etc) on my own time.
It wasn’t unusual to be doing something tied to work for 60+ hours per week. I had the student loan debt of a physician, but with half to 1/3 of a physician paycheck.
Changes in how the insurance world works compounded to where we were getting less reimbursement and fewer allowed visits, which was leading to worse patient outcomes.
I couldn’t do my job well with those factors alone, but then adding in broken orthopedic practices (symptom-chasing instead of problem-finding, diagnosis exclusively made by imaging or body part, etc.) made for an incredible mountain to climb.
The final piece was unfortunately far too many patients who had the perspective that the PT needed to fix them, without any participation on their own—and when they weren’t getting better, proceeding to lash out and blame the provider.
My quickly and severely degrading mental health forced a change of career, but my mission didn’t change.
I saw technology as an avenue to fix the things that are wildly broken about orthopedics, and that became the major driver to shifting my career focus to what it is today.
What are you doing these days?
My focus now is on fixing orthopedics from the outside in.
I took on a role as a product manager at a technology company that focuses on education and exercise platforms for all forms of patients in the rehab sciences world. I still get to use my PT knowledge, but I use it to build things that improve the care patients receive.
I also took on this role with the intent of helping the company grow into new sectors that I foresee being able to change the face of orthopedic medicine and HOPEFULLY the (what I think is unethical) sector of insurance.
I am not trying to break or replace how things are now—I don’t feel like that would be a realistic goal. Instead, I’m trying to build the right systems to prove how making optimal functional movement and problem-based diagnoses (as opposed to symptom- or anatomy-based ones) will result in the greatest profitability for an insurance company, while massively improving patient outcomes.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I still occasionally work with NFL athletes because, let’s be honest, playing with mutants is fun! Their bodies are incredible and unbelievable in what they can do. Still to this day, I see things that I thought would be anatomically and physiologically impossible, yet there it is in front of me, happening in real time.
What percentage of your time is spent clinically vs. non-clinically?
It’s definitely less than 1% of my time treating patients, probably in the realm of 0.001% of my time.
How long have you been in your current role?
I joined MedBridge in July, 2021.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
I went through the Hack Reactor Software Engineering immersive before taking on this role.
My current role is entirely non-technical at this time, but the knowledge I gained in that program has certainly helped me with working with the software engineers who build the products I help to design.
How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
I was a user of the MedBridge platform for a number of years, and loved it dearly for what it was.
It was nothing more than reaching out to a few current employees at the company that got the ball rolling, and both my prior PT experience and current software experience that really solidified my ability to land this position.
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the job?
I don’t know that I did anything special to them other than to list my backgrounds and love of public speaking.
There were a few roles I looked into at MedBridge (including software engineer), but I think most of what got me into the position I am in now was everyone I spoke to, along with my unique background, all coming together on the right fit for everyone.
What was the interview like for the role?
I had several informal “coffee chat” type interviews with 3-4 people within the company before starting the formal interview process.
Then, it became interviews with three other product managers, an interview with the director of product, and two interviews with the VP of software engineering and the mobile dev lead (the department I primarily work in now).
I also had to put together a 45-minute presentation on a time I was a product manager, which meant the one project I took on that role for while I was in the Hack Reactor bootcamp.
What are some of the things you did to stand out, take initiative, and advance in your career?
I can’t say that I advanced through a company to get where I am, but I really feel like my public speaking, education ability, and ability to speak with people from any walk of life really had a major hand in getting the position I’m in now.
When did you start your business?
Where did you get the idea for your business?
Really, it was just a way to collect income on my own instead of through a clinic when working with the NFL athletes. I never even made business cards, a website, etc.
What is your business, and what types of products or services do you offer?
Precision Performance, LLC – it is mostly for working with the NFL population, but I do offer consultation services for the general public on building plans of care and resources for injury (without implementing the plan of care). I also do some public speaking gigs to teach about the human body, functional movement, sports performance, and the like.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
I have had a number of former patients who expressed both sadness for losing me as a provider, but happiness for my new ventures.
My wife and family, on the other hand, are nothing but jubilant that I have left patient care, based on who I was becoming in the final years of clinical practice.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
This is the first time in my professional life that I have worked normal hours. It is the most liberating thing in the world to only work 40 hours per week! I have free time for the first time in a long time.
During my work day, I am in a fair amount of meetings, where we cover:
- Planning how to build new products
- Strategizing on how to make current products better
- Exploring the future of how to build the dream product we all envision.
I also spend a lot of time writing software development tickets, which would be chunking down the work necessary to build a new product feature into workable elements for the team of software engineers.
Sometimes, I’m building presentations for company leadership to get approval for a new product, and sometimes I’m building workflow diagrams for how a PT builds a home exercise program.
There’s a huge amount of variety in my day to day, which is also pretty fun!
What are some of the rewards of your role? What are the biggest challenges?
I can certainly speak to fulfillment for what it is I’m trying to do, but frankly, the biggest rewards are pretty shallow!
As an associate/entry-level product manager I’m making as much as I did with over a decade of clinical experience including working with professional athletes.
My vacation/time off package is already more than the most I ever had per year as a PT.
I get a similar continuing education budget each year that I can use for either product management courses or continuing education relevant to maintaining my PT license.
Finally, post-COVID, I’ll be able to return to an office that has all kinds of great amenities like fancy espresso machines and happy hour outings (because, you know, we don’t actually work ridiculous hours where we can go to a happy hour before it ends).
In terms of challenges, the greatest by far is that the company was generous enough to a take me on with no training or background in product management. It’s not a role I’m familiar with, and it’s a big challenge to try to be the best I can at it without being too much of a drain on the company as I go.
No one is putting pressure on me to get this role down fast except myself, which is yet another reward to working in this role now!
How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?
To my understanding, I am the first product manager this company has had with a clinical background.
Editor’s Note: Check out this spotlight of a clinical product manager!
My background transferred immediately in shaping some of our products and building new ones because I have the perspective of the clinician, which wouldn’t normally always be transferred over in user research and meetings.
I also find that the skill PTs have to pick up in how to speak to and educate all kinds of people really transferred over well to this role. I can seamlessly transition from talking to senior leadership, to software engineer, to customer with no time in between. It really helps when you have back-to-back meetings with different kinds of people all day.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
Entry-level pay in my current role as same as senior-level clinician pay, and the hours are significantly less than being a clinician.
And, while I already have the student loans accrued at this point, the student loan average to reach this level in my current role would be about 1/5 of what it takes to become a PT.
What type of person do you think would do well as an associate product manager?
Being in this role will require a person who:
- Can be a great multi-tasker
- Is able to easily communicate ideas effectively to people with significantly different learning styles
- Be able to think like someone who isn’t themself (This is probably the most important trait)
When a question is asked, it is easy to give an answer based on how you think—but, it is much harder to then answer the same question the way thousands of other people might think.
I am learning that this is a skill that develops over time, so while it isn’t necessarily mandatory to possess the skill walking in, you will need to learn it in short order.
Do you work remotely or onsite?
With COVID, our work is 100% remote, but I think the company has learned some lessons from COVID and it appears likely that this is a role that will be a hybrid role in the future.
I also think that it will go hybrid only because of the human connection element, more than the functional tasks associated with the role. I haven’t found anything I do that can’t be solved at home as effectively as it could be in person.
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
Yes, most of the clinicians that have been hired work in our content development side (education pieces and exercise videos), but there is some change.
We recently hired an OT to be a part of our Strategic Solutions team, and I expect more clinicians will be coming on board as we start to develop new products that are in the planning stages now as well.
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
For this role, my software engineering immersive wasn’t really necessary, but it was helpful in some ways.
The developers look at me as a technical product manager as opposed to just a product manager, which has helped both communication and trust.
That being said, I have definitely found myself on YouTube trying to watch as much as I can to learn how to be a better product manager!
I definitely think that I sort of fell into this role, so anyone who is intentionally seeking out the role of a product manager would do well to get at least a little formal training even if it is simply doing it on your own outside of course work.
What is a typical career path for an associate product manager?
I think the more typical path would be getting a bachelor’s degree in something at least tangentially related.
To my knowledge, without research, I don’t believe there is a bachelor’s in product management, but having formal education in a similar field is fairly typical. At the very least, there is certainly vocational training out there, which is another fairly typical path.
In terms of upward mobility, I can’t say I’ve seen much other than more and more senior levels of product management all the way up to director of product for a business.
What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?
My current goal is to drive development of technology that allows for lazy orthopedic practitioners to be good at their jobs because the tech does the heavy-duty thinking for them, leading to optimal patient outcomes.
Secondly, while our insurance system in the US is ridiculous in its practices, I don’t intend on railing against it because it seems like nothing but a losing battle. Instead, I want to develop the tools and then the resulting data to show that the greatest profitability for the payer is to support proper rehab medicine practices, as opposed to deny it.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours? Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
Do your research on the role. It seems like a role that is incredibly similar to PT thought processes. After all, your job is to listen to clients’ pain points, diagnose what they SAID was the pain point vs what the actual problem is, then develop solutions to solve the actual problem.
That is the essence of both PT and product manager. However, thinking like a product manager has subtle nuances that are different enough that you’ll want to spend some time just trying to train yourself to think like a product manager before seeking out the job of one.
That comes with taking some courses or reading some books. I learned some of that nuance on the fly being a fake product manager for my team and my final product in a software engineering bootcamp.
Just remember that no matter how much you think you’re ready for the role because of your clinical background, you’re likely to be surprised!
What you will also find is that you’re going to blow the socks off of every interviewer you meet because of your communication skills! Every initial evaluation you’ve done has taught you how to talk to anyone, and that’s considered a golden talent in the world of product because it’s so rarely able to be taught.
The daily work of a product manager can be taught, but the “soft skills” often can’t. We clinicians have those soft skills in spades!
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
I find that more often than not, the greatest challenge to a great idea is getting approval at multiple levels up to senior leadership.
It is understandable that larger projects will need the stakeholders’ sign off, but at the same time, this process can be inefficient and fraught with miscommunication. Many times, this can lead to a competitor going to market with a similar product first while we miss the boat on our idea.
I would like to see that when we have solid user research, data, and models to support an easy-win idea, then we could have the autonomy to build the product without going through the long prototyping process to prove the use case that the aforementioned research and data indicated already. I also think that one way to help this would be having product managers having more of a “sign-off” ability for these ideas within a company.
However, I feel like in order to have this level of authority to circumvent senior leadership and stakeholders, the profession would need to start off with an apprenticeship –> journeyman–> product manager flow.
Before you earn the title of product manager, you will have proven your abilities through mentorship, training, and experience. I think that this would help to allow leadership to not feel the need to observe the product team’s work so closely.
What career advice would you give yourself that you wish you had during school?
I have gone back and forth on this one a lot. On one hand, I’m grateful for the knowledge about the human body I’ve gained and some of the experiences I’ve had tied to it. So many things I’ve gained directly through my journey as a PT would be gone.
Then, on the other hand, I could save a massive amount of debt, time, and mental health by going back and NOT being a PT.
I am completely split down the middle on the question of would I do it all over again. I don’t know that I could give advice in that regard. I would simply be left speechless in trying to talk to myself.
What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?
I think I would drive the point home that PT schools doesn’t teach you how to be a PT. It teaches you how to not kill people.
You start learning how to do the real work on the job, which is unfortunate, but it also means that you need to start continuing education classes immediately.
I think that I would also teach debt management—and, more importantly, proper investing strategies.
Unless serious changes are made to the cost of schooling and/or the income of a PT, the income will never offset the amount of student loan debt generated. Doing the extra work early to clear the debt as fast as possible can go a long way to preventing some level of burnout later in the career when you’re not forced to work yourself to the bone because of that monthly loan payment.
Lastly, I would replace a great deal of some of the bloat coursework that justified making the masters a doctorate with how to handle the mental stress that comes with all medical professions.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Clinical schooling of any of the rehab professions is a great deal of time and money to complete, but don’t treat it like a sunk cost!
If the only reasons you can come up with to not transition to a new career is that you spent so much time and money getting where you are, it is time to leave clinical practice. There needs to be more reasons than just those to stay with the clinical path.
You can also learn more about my non-clinical journey on the Rehab Rebels podcast!
Curious how your own skills can translate into the non-clinical world? Feeling overwhelmed by all the options? Product management is just one of the 25 non-clinical career paths we explore in our flagship course!