Exploring Hand Therapy Founder Susan Weiss, OT, CHT

Exploring Hand Therapy Founder – Susan Weiss

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Save 40% on Unlimited Medbridge CEUs with promo code TNCPT!
Save 40% on Unlimited Medbridge CEUs with promo code TNCPT!

This week’s non-clinical spotlight features an entrepreneurial OT who created Exploring Hand Therapy and Liveconferences.com.

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What is your full name and title at your current job?

Susan Weiss, OTR/L, CHT Owner/CEO
I run Exploring Hand Therapy and Liveconferences.com

Where did you go to OT school, and what year did you graduate?

I went to University of Florida and graduated in 1990

What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?

Looking back, I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, as I gravitated to positions that required setups from scratch.

My first position was in a physical therapy group that wanted a hand therapist—at the time, the Certified Hand Therapy (CHT) exam was being constructed, but was not administered until May of 1991.

I knew I wanted to become a part of the CHT tiny group but at the time it was a 5-year waiting period before we could sit for the exam. That said, I started a hand therapy program with lovely PTs and my hand therapy journey began. 

When I prepared for the CHT exam, there were no resources to help with our studies, so we were left to decide on our own what was the best way to prepare. For me, I wrote questions for myself and my study partners to prepare for the test and spent copious hours with my hand surgeons. 

I was fortunate enough to pass the CHT exam on my first try in 1996 and obtained my CHT goal. 

In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat? 

I went to OT school with the intent of doing hand rehabilitation from day 1. I observed a hand therapist while on a hospital tour in a medical explorers program, and I thought that she looked like she was having fun and was holding hands with a patient. So, I decided I wanted what she had—a deep connection to somebody in order to help them regain function. 

Now I had to decide if I was going to become an OT or a PT. Well, after looking at the requirements I realized that physics was out of the question, so OT it was. 

I am delighted that I chose OT, as I really loved the schooling and how diversified the field was, despite my single-focused mindset of being a hand therapist. 

When did you realize you wanted to create Exploring Hand Therapy?

Well, this question leads me back to my question of now what?  I needed to teach and write a book to help therapists prepare for this CHT test, which was so challenging.

After submitting our idea to every medical publisher, Elsevier picked it up and my first-born arrived, “Hand Rehabilitation—a Quick Reference Guide and Review.” It was published in 1999, and quickly became an iconic book often referred to as the “purple book.” 

We recently released the 4th edition of this purple book, and it has grown from under 300 pages to over 600 pages in the 20 years since publication. 

exploring hand therapy CEU entrepreneur pin

So, this eventually led to your business?

Businesses, plural! 🙂

Currently, I have several thriving businesses and four children…nuf said, right? HAHAHA!

I am currently in the process of having both of our websites handtherapy.com and liveconferences.com re-platformed, as they have been around since the internet was born! Crazy, right? Does that mean you already figured out how old I am? 

Handtherapy.com has the largest body of hand and upper extremity resources in the world. Liveconferences is a growing resource that provides continuing education and courses to rehabilitation professionals. New courses and content are always being added to the body of content.

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Our new platform is easy to use and allows therapists to upload and edit their own online content and earn an income stream. It is a great platform, as we have over 60,000 subscribers to our AOTA approved CE courses, emails and content.

I am proud to say our reach is as of this interview 195,549 video viewings in 156 countries and growing daily.

Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical? 

After my first child was born in 2002, I cut my hours to part-time and never returned to full-time clinical work. I still fill in for therapists from time to time for vacations, maternity leaves etc., but my businesses and family keep me extremely busy.  

I love connecting with an array of practitioners to facilitate them growing either in hand therapy or becoming providers of continuing education. 

Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?

CHT is my specialty, but I facilitate practitioners who want to grow their own CE programs and educate and earn some funds!  YES, email us if you want to be an educator…you will LOVE it!

When did you start your business? 

I incorporated my first business in 1996, but had been teaching nationally for a few years prior to that. 

Where did you get the idea for Exploring Hand Therapy? 

I sort of covered this already—but I saw a need and created the materials to fill that need. We continue to grow and develop new amazing things. 

We facilitate so many practitioners to teach things they are wanting to teach. That has been so much fun to help others develop their CE programs and earn funds as well. We offer an array of books and courses, and we also provide consulting and coaching. Truth be told, we facilitate anyone who wants to teach or learn.

How did people react to your unconventional career path? 

I have had wonderful support along my journey to develop my business ideas. I love developing new materials, products and courses. 

I have way more ideas than I do time. I own 72 domain names and have about 9 business ventures to start in my spare time. 

I often mentor students and or therapists looking to become hand therapists, and this is deeply rewarding for me. I meet people when I travel for a conference, meeting or show and I am in so much gratitude for the accolades they provide me/my organizations for helping them obtain their goals. I am super shy and I still blush when I am asked to sign a book or take a photo with somebody. 

What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?

My days vary, depending on my goals and my kids’ goals! I try to achieve at least three tasks each day. 

Tasks can include: 

  • Course creation
  • Help others facilitate their courses
  • Editing other people’s courses
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Contract development
  • Answering emails
  • Customer service
  • Phones
  • Strangers that call for help with their hand problems
  • Students
  • Business management
  • Staff management
  • Conferences
  • Travel for meetings
  • Strategy sessions with therapists or my team… and off that is before lunch….hehehe. 

What are some of the challenges of your role? What are the rewards?

For me the greatest challenge is letting go of my roles and letting others do the roles they are assigned and not micro-manage. The rewards are helping people achieve their goals, from obtaining their CHT to helping them begin a hand therapy clinic. Another reward is facilitating therapists to be educators, and helping them market their courses. 

How do you think working as an OT prepared you for this role? 

All of my positions have been in start-up situations, so I have learned how to create something from nothing—and this is what I love to teach others. 

Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?

Running your own business can be profitable, indeed, but the hours can be grueling. It is hard to just get away and take a break from the business, and a weekday is no different than a Saturday.

What type of person do you think would do well in your role? 

This role of business owner is a fabulous role for somebody who prefers to self-direct. If you are not self-motivated, this is not a good idea for you. You will get out what you put in, but isn’t that true for everything?

Do you work remotely or on-site?

I work primarily from my home office because it allows me easy access to the kitchen and house so I can multi-task—and I also love to stay in my jammies all day!

I have offices I can work from, but when I am around other adults, I get distracted—so, working from home is best for my personality. 

Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles?

We have many therapists who work as independent contractors for us. If you have a course or want to develop a course, I am the one you want to talk to. Many of my educators started on our platform and have become world-known speakers. 

I love nothing more than seeing others succeed. I would love to facilitate anyone who is eager to get some wings and fly! 

Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today? 

I have taken courses on building a business, and I have read business books to facilitate my business interests. I have also made a TON of mistakes along the way and have fallen down numerous times—but that is just part of the growing process. 

What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?

I am still in the growth and development stage for the businesses, but I really do plan to expand some of my other ideas into viable businesses over the next 5-10 years. 

What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours? 

I would recommend getting a mentor and remembering this quote: “You’re the average of the five people who spend the most time with,” a quote attributed most often to motivational speaker Jim Rohn.

I was not always following this path and it was during those times I slid back and lost grounds and had to regain composure and redirect.

 Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?

I always live and work by a few rules:

  • I always provide more than is expected
  • An unhappy customer is my greatest source of learning
  • Quit talking and start doing
  • The basic law of attraction works, so what you give out or think about always comes back to you—so, always be aware of your thoughts and actions
  • Every day, you have a choice of what type of day you will have—choose wisely!

What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?

If I wanted to change anything, I would do it—so I am pretty content where I am with my profession right now…

That said, I would love to have a few more hours a day to accomplish more and continue to leave more gifts to the world.

If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?

Just do it! Don’t let anything stop you from your goals and dreams. You are the captain of your ship, and you are the commander of your life. Confidence will come later, so don’t talk about it…just do it!

Good youtube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2uFH0NCMY4

Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?

I think each of you has an opportunity to flourish and share your knowledge with other professionals or the general public and make a difference. I think that finding your passion is the key to your success. Once you know what you know, share it with the rest of us! I look forward to growing with anyone who contacts me directly.  I love to energize creativity in practitioners.  

Thanks for your insight, Susan!!

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