Today’s non-clinical spotlight focuses on Ben Fung, who went from physical therapist to business mogul!
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What is your full name and title?
Where did you attend PT school, and when did you graduate?
UCSD 2006, Bioengineering/Psychology
Azusa Pacific 2009, Doctor of Physical Therapy
University of Michigan, MBA, Marketing Concentration 2015
Why did you become a physical therapist?
I chose PT because I wanted to fuse my love of science and biomechanics with the ability to be on the frontlines of hands-on patient care.
What did you do when you were working as a PT?
I worked in acute care, fitness/wellness, home health, and SNF settings. I was also director of rehab for a three-setting program with SNF/outpatient/HHPT.
Starting in 2015, I moved into the non-clinical world.
What did you like best about PT? Least?
The thing I loved best about PT is those moments when you know you’ve been pivotal in someone’s journey—that you’ve changed their life and the lives of their friends and loved ones. I have many fond memories of these moments from my acute care days.
The thing I liked least about PT is the anthropological baggage we’ve inherited as a profession. Such elements include a subservient/poverty mindset as well as the general disunity we have as an internal culture.
As far as I can discern, these are the two core reasons of why we are not in a more dominant position as the practitioners of choice for all things physical health, pain, mobility, etc.
When did you start feeling like you might want to do something else?
I was an engineer before I was a clinician. I moved into the clinical world because I wanted more human engagement.
I left the clinical world because I wanted to be able to influence and impact change at an industry scale.
I found that I wanted to “do something else” outside of frontline clinical care when I realized that I ran into glass ceilings very quickly. Promotion, position, influence, policy changing: these things weren’t available within my opportunity spectrum not because I wasn’t able to perform—but simply because I hadn’t put in the time.
With such a dissonant experience, I sought mentorship from an award-winning hospital CEO, who counseled me to consider avenues of higher impact, away from clinical care.
To change clinical care, I had to be in a position to elevate the entire profession’s position within the healthcare system, from within and from without.
Did anything in particular influence your decision to go non-clinical?
The drive to make an impact. I’m a fair clinician; in acute care, I’m pretty slick—I’m willing to brag there! Even so, I can only impact the lives of a few thousand patients per year as a clinician.
As a connector, I can influence hundreds of thousand by inspiring and empowering the best of our colleagues to shine best where they love doing their work most.
What are you doing now? What does your role look like?
I hold multiple roles.
- At UpDoc Media, we primarily help other companies (mostly healthcare practices) grow through digital marketing ecosystems. My duties at UpDoc are primarily operational: ensuring that our service deliverables and internal growth objectives are being met with future innovations being properly seeded.
- At Recharge, we help people reach the best health versions of themselves, by using a health-management membership model. My duties at Recharge are primarily strategic in financial management, as well as marketing strategy, to further accelerate reaching of goals set by the executive team.
Can you expand a bit more on what you do for each role?
As COO of UpDoc Media, my duties are in serving and partnering with our clients—who are primarily private practice physical therapy entities—in their digital media and marketing needs. We do also have health-tech companies and even legal companies as customers.
In all cases, my role is to make sure that my team has all the resources it needs, and that our customers have an excellent full-service suite experience toward their growth goals. We could be working toward any of the following:
- New patients walking through the door
- Strategic planning and financial analysis through our consulting services
- Mentoring the many students, new grads, and seasoned professionals also looking to breach BEYOND the status quo
After all, “Status Quo is Status Crap.”
As CFO of Recharge, I’m a remote officer who is responsible for matching the numbers to reality, and finding a way to bridge the vision and the mission in a financially feasible way.
This role definitely draws a lot from my MBA training, as well as my innate love for numbers—after all, while you may be able to lie with numbers, numbers alone are always true.Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of what I do now is that I’m much more of a connector, influencer, and public/keynote speaker than I am anything else.
While I very much miss acute care, I know that I’m making a far more lasting impact at scales I’m still only realizing—even reaching internationally—due to the wonders of the internet.
One of our Pathfinders (one of the UpDoc’ mentorship groups) members said it beautifully: “It’s not about teaching someone how to fish vs. giving that person a fish. It’s convincing them that fishing is a good idea!”
This mindset shift is HUGE as it pertains to elevating our profession—and, by proxy, the rest of healthcare. From the ability to express ourselves as clinicians to the fullest extent of our training via better practice acts, to the economic growth of our profession as it demonstrates superior added value and socioeconomic outcomes, to the individual professional who can enjoy the equitable rewards of their training, skill, and service to society.
As for cons… the only con I can think of is timezone.
I’m on the West Coast here in San Diego. PST vs. EST issues…. #TheStruggleIsReal #WeAintEarlyBirdsOutHere #NotEvenUsSurfers
Do you still treat patients these days, or are you fully non-clinical?
I’m 99% non-clinical. There are times where I’ll perform a health screening or wellness consultation—but, my day to day is very much non-clinical. This has been my new normal since 2015.
How did you find your current role(s)?
Gene Shirokobrod reached out to me via Twitter. At the time, I only knew him as one of the Therapy Insiders podcast hosts. We had a mutual contact through Erson Religioso, who was also a host to the podcast at the time.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
It was a natural merge of personal brand voices between the Therapy Insiders podcast and my legacy contact at Blog @DrBenFung as well as my blog of way old… Kettlebell Therapy.
What steps did you take to get to where you are today?
Getting here was a crazy, out-of-control career path. While I was fortunate and blessed with many early promotions, it required me to bang my head hard against some of those early glass ceilings to realize that clinical care, clinical leadership, and even clinical management weren’t going to get me to where I wanted to be, in terms of the level of impact I had in mind.
It was NOT easy. It was filled with all sorts of discomfort—both professional and personally.
What it required most, though, was for me to let go of this myth that being non-clinical is some existential betrayal to the profession of physical therapy.
And, anyone perpetuating this stigma needs to cut it out. #SadFace
The clinical aspect of who we are will always be our core. It is the many non-clinical elements that make up who we are, that will help us become MORE than who we are today.
I see the clinical facet as just one of many to the well-cut diamond that is physical therapy. However, the other facets are just as equally what the public will see as we elevate our position into a better setting for consideration to be brought up into various spotlights of where we, internally, feel we “deserve.”
To do that, we must earn it. #RantOver … for now 🙂
How did you change your resume/cover letter to apply for different jobs?
I actually applied to over 500 jobs between graduating from my MBA program and starting up with UpDoc Media. The thing of it is this, I got interviews for many interviews; however, most wanted me back in clinical management.
Much of healthcare, at the time, just wasn’t ready to view a physical therapist in an executive healthcare management role.
So, I eventually created my own.
But, bringing it back to the question/answer: EVERY single job application I sent out had customized cover letters and resumes, unique to the requirements of each position. THAT, is how the game is played these days and I highly recommend everyone to do this throughout their journey in the job market.
How did people react to your unconventional career path?
Most people were quite supportive. Many were skeptical.
The greatest support came from those who were outside of healthcare.
The greatest criticism came from practicing clinicians who communicated overtly or implicitly — that I was either downgrading my career or “wasting my clinical education.”
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
I primarily work from my home office and travel for consulting/speaking/conferences. My tasks are team coordination, client communications, marketing deliverables, copywriting, and general platform-based digital marketing tasks.
What are some of the challenges of your role? What are the rewards?
The greatest challenge is bridging the gap between clinician messaging and consumer buying psychology for each unique brand we serve and the marketplace they reside.
This is also where the greatest reward resides, when we “crack that code” and our client accounts enjoy some truly happy return on investments—boosting revenue by 20-30%, increasing web traffic by 300+%, a multi-site practice growing six figures in revenue in four or five months while hiring left and right?
Yeah… those are some pretty fun rewards and feel truly awesome, because many of our clients are rehab therapy companies.
This means we are chipping away at that 90% of healthcare consumers who need us but, due to the healthcare system at large, never benefit from our care.
How do you think working as a PT prepared you for your current roles?
The reason we’re so effective at UpDoc is because we are a company founded by clinicians to help companies of clinicians grow their brand. For Recharge, it was truly my MBA that helped me position myself to serve effectively as a CFO.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
It’s hard to equate clinical care and pay to non-clinical care and pay. It’s truly different worlds. The demands, stress, benefits, and daily engagement are worlds apart.
What I *can* say is that if you’re thinking about a non-clinical career path—or, if you’re reading this looking to become a clinician—make sure whatever path you choose is based on your commitment to the mission and the lifestyle that surrounds it.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
Grit. You need grit. There’s a lot of sacrifice on professional, personal, financial, and self doubt.
To be an entrepreneur, to be a part of an executive team that runs a company (or two, or at a point…three)—everything matters and yet, you need to be able to prioritize, delegate, and collaborate. And, at times, you need to accept your losses and admit your shortcomings.
You need to be willing to learn. You need to be willing to admit you know nothing (Jon Snow). And, you need to be willing to rise to the task no matter how impossible.
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
I got my MBA. That was a life-changer for me.
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
I’d like to become a productive author. And, once I see these companies to fruition and scale, I’d love to open up an espresso coffee bar that’s attached to a barbecue shack.
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?
Get mentorship from a non-clinical individual who can bring insight beyond the blinders of healthcare.
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
I’d love for rehab therapy allied professions to see our industry as a BUSINESS. We need to ditch this holier-than-thou, clinical-only mindset that some fairly loud (and, negative) voices still tout. This has only hurt us. And, moving into a value-based healthcare landscape, where consumers will have significant weight, this will hurt us worse than ever before.
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
- Learn business.
- Learn how to sell.
- Learn how to negotiate.
- Learn how to think from the consumer’s perspective.
- Learn how to be more than what your clinical pathway is pre-ordained to be.
What would you suggest for someone looking to follow your path?
Don’t delay. Start now.
What you DO isn’t driving this flame (and, perhaps, angst) within you.
It’s WHY and HOW. WHY you are who you are and HOW you express that as a professional drives you.
Don’t worry about the money or the timing or anything like that. There will NEVER be a good time, there will NEVER be a stable point in finances. However, there will be a better day, where you can go to sleep exhausted after an entire day of pursuing your dream and seeing it come into reality and know: this, is why you are. Know that truth. Start now.
What would you say to a PT who is feeling guilty about switching gears?
DON’T FEEL GUILTY! Being a physio isn’t about what you do. It’s who you are.
You will, forever, launch yourself at older adults when you see them take a stumble in the checkout lines at Costco. You will ALWAYS analyze everyone’s gait.
Don’t see leaving clinical care as some deviant behavior. It’s not deviating, it’s helping our profession fully flesh out and EXPAND into our full potential.
For every clinician representing our field, we equitably and appropriately need:
- Business owners
- Social influencers
- Community leaders
- Case managers
- Health executives
- Media icons…and even
- Movie stars!
Yes, imagine the influence of a physio as a mainstream celebrity—one who represents (WELL) our profession and the best interests of the people we serve.
The best piece of advice I can give to anyone looking to break out of the status quo mold is this: GET MENTORSHIP. Mentorship and community accountability are the two most important ingredients to success when it comes to career advancements and job market disruption. #BeTheChange #GetMentorship #KnowYourWorth #NEVERSETTLE
Thanks for your insight, Ben!