Today’s spotlight features Laura DuBois, a physical therapist who took her experience in a new direction as a health and life coach.
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What is your full name and title at your current job?
Laura DuBois, MSPT
Certified Health & Life Coach
Where are you located?
Massachusetts, and I coach remotely as well. I’ve coached people from all over the US, as well as Canada and the UK.
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
Simmons College (now Simmons University), Boston MA, 1998.
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
My first position as a PT was at a hospital-owned outpatient ortho and sports medicine clinic in Newburyport, MA. I was there for three years.
What did you do after that, and for how long?
The short answer: Pharmaceutical Sales for 7 years
The long answer:
I had to leave the PT world after my first three years due to the low rate of pay relative to my student loans, and being the breadwinner in my one-income family of three. We were literally rolling coins to go grocery shopping.
My then-husband was the stay-at-home parent to our one-year-old, and I made a major career shift when I took a position with a large pharmaceutical company in a sales representative role. With the perks and the income, I thought I’d won the lottery! I stayed there for the next seven years, until early 2008, when there were mass layoffs in the industry during the “Great Recession.”
Whoa, that is crazy. What did you do???
By this time, I’d divorced and was a single parent of two—with no child support. I’d wisely always kept my PT license current.
Note to all clinicians: NEVER let your license lapse! Even if you leave the profession!
For the next year, as I was looking for another sales role in pharma or medical device sales, I fell back on my PT degree to get me by. I worked a short- term contract in outpatient before transitioning to home care. I was doing a hybrid role as a clinical liaison and direct-care PT.
The liaison part was a far cry from what I’d experienced in pharma, in terms of both professionalism and income. And the PT part was heartbreaking, with cases that were so beyond sad that it was affecting me outside of the work day.
Were you able to break back into pharmaceutical sales?
Unfortunately, the pharma sales industry was going through some major contraction in sales forces across the board (scarcity of jobs!). I’d been landing lots of interviews, but nothing was a good fit.
Ahh, yes. So, did you dive back to patient care, full-throttle?
Exactly. I finally decided to put my effort back into a PT career, in a setting I knew I loved, and I accepted a full-time position with a PT-owned ortho and sports medicine clinic in 2009. With my seven years of business experience, I was able to negotiate a rate of pay that was competitive.
After a couple of years there, in 2011, I accepted a position as an Outpatient Clinic Manager within a rehab hospital network that had a hospital and more than 20 satellite clinics.
At what point did you realize you wanted something totally different from direct patient care?
Pretty early on! Within the first year of my time in pharmaceutical sales, as I worked hard (PTs have a super strong work ethic!), my results started to show and I was actually REWARDED for it.
I was receiving recognition for professionalism and customer service, and when I also started seeing the results of my work in terms of bonuses, I was hooked.
I was promoted several times in my seven years there. When the recession hit and I returned to my PT career in 2009, I’d had a year to adjust to the fact that my pharma sales days were done, and I decided to embrace PT again.
But you changed paths again…so what happened??
There I was, in 2009, no longer a new grad. I was 11 years older—let’s just say my body started to talk back to me from the long days of patient care. I continued to seek non-clinical PT roles and was fortunate to get the management position in PT. It was still 75% clinical, but with more flexibility and income than staff PT.
I saw that “partial-clinical” position as a gateway to a non-clinical role down the road, in management, with the same company if possible.
Were you able to work your way up into management, as you hoped?
Well, over the course of the next five years (2011-2016) I was working super hard between the management and the clinical care, and I was getting all kinds of injuries and generally feeling depleted and exhausted.
The work didn’t feel as rewarding, and I found in patient care that there was no notion of recognition for a job well done, just call-outs when productivity was down. On top of that, there was no path to advancement. It really was taking a toll and I was feeling burnt out.
Yes, the dreaded burnout. What did you do next?
With the help of a career coach, I learned about the emerging field of health coaching. But I put it aside at the time because of the additional training required.
I was in the process of interviewing for other non-clinical roles in the rehab space (Director of Rehab, Medical Device Sales for rehab equipment, Medical Device Sales for joint replacement hardware) when I was diagnosed with cancer in Sept 2016.
EVERYTHING to do with career took a back seat as I spent the next year getting treated.
When I returned to my clinic manager position after treatment, I was still very much in a fragile space, health-wise. I was working 25 hours/week at first, then 30. While I was grateful that my job was held for me, within a month of returning I had all those old feelings coming back: I knew I needed to not be in a clinical role any longer.
And now, as a cancer survivor, there was a much deeper appreciation for the saying, “Life is short.” I revisited the idea of health coaching, and in October 2017 I enrolled in my initial certification course.
So you did it! You became a health coach! How would you describe your work today?
Yes! Today, I’m a business owner, with a health & life coaching private practice. I also work part time for a school, providing coaching to students who are in a program to become health and life coaches.
When did you start your business?
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
Yes. I completed my Certification in Health and Life Coaching in May, 2018. I then enrolled in another training and became certified in Transformational Coaching Method. Currently, I’m completing requirements to be a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, with expected date of completion in late 2020 or early 2021.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
Over the past couple of years, I have gradually stepped back from treating patients.
First, I let go of the management position in favor of a staff PT position. This allowed me to stay at 30 hours/week, whereas had I stayed in the management role, I was expected to ramp back up to 40 hours, and I knew my body couldn’t take that, both from the standpoint of orthopedic wear and tear, and as I was still recovering from cancer treatment.
At the end of May 2019, when a change was made to reduce treatment times from 40 minutes to 30 minutes (more patients per day and no extra documentation time), I was still having a hard time with my own energy levels.
I had been studying coaching and growing my business presence while still treating patients, and this was the sign it was time to scale back the patient side of things. So I did!
I reduced from 30 hours to 20 hours. My clinical days are still long, 10+ hours, but they are spaced apart with 2-3 days in between.
If you’re still treating patients, about what percentage of your time is spent clinically vs. non-clinically?
About 1/3 clinical at this time
How long have you been coaching?
What types of services do you offer?
Health, Energy and Direction is the name of my business, or H.E.A.D. Coaching Services. I offer personalized coaching for anyone who is seeking a change in their health, energy or direction.
There is a commitment involved, on my part and on the part of the client, and for real change to occur, it requires time. For that reason, I don’t coach a la carte. I offer packages of 3, 6, or 12 months of coaching.
The three-month package is once weekly, and the six and 12 month packages can either be weekly or every other week. The “product” is the results that a person wants to achieve, and it’s my job as the coach to provide the system, support, and accountability for each client so they can make those results a reality for themselves.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you as a health and life coach?
My work as a coach is completely remote. Working from home (or where ever I may be) is a luxury! The actual coaching takes place by phone, and I offer video calls for anyone who prefers them. My week also involves networking, marketing, social media, and zoom video meetings with partners and colleagues. (Coaches need coaches, so I invest in my own coach for MY development!).
Part of being a coach is walking the walk. Meaning, taking the best care of myself possible in all dimensions of life. Built into my schedule is time for my own education, self-care, and most important to me…space to breathe!
What are some of the challenges of being a health and life coach? What are the rewards?
- Helping people to understand what coaching is and what it can do for them
- Learning all the tech parts of running a remote business
- Loving what I do so much that I literally need to set an alarm to make me stop for the day!
- The privilege of witnessing someone go from point A to point B, crushing their goals, and knowing that my coaching was the vehicle that got them there
- Getting to help create positive changes in someone’s health and life and hearing about how those changes affected them in multiple wellness areas, ie relationships, career, financial, health
- Having control of my schedule
- Location freedom
- Being my own boss
- Knowing that minding my own health and wellness is literally part of my job, and there is time and energy for all of it ☺
How do you think working as a PT prepared you for this role? Which skills transferred?
- Goal-setting and goal-writing: Determining what patients/clients want and helping put that into SMART goals, then re-assessing to make sure they’re is tracking toward those goals
- Communication and focus on the patient/client, always with unconditional positive regard
- Knowledge of health and body systems
- Experience in being able to motivate someone
- Knowing the structure of an eval transfers well to being able to do an initial call with a new client, which also has a structure, to discover why they are coming to you and what they hope to achieve
Do you work remotely or on-site?
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
Yes! I took the following certification courses through Health Coach Institute:
- Become a Health Coach
- Mastery: The Business and Art of Coaching
- Transformational Coaching Method
- Pathway to National Board Certification (this is not yet offered to the public; it’s a beta course right now)
I also took some other courses
- Business Training with Bill Baren
- Stage to Scale Method (course) with Pete Vargas
- Wellness Business Academy (course) with Lori Kennedy
What is a typical career path for someone in your role?
There is no “typical” career path—not yet, anyway! The industry is still getting its footing and establishing itself as a profession, with competencies and standards. However, there are two paths that I’ll mention:
- Coach entrepreneur
- Coach working for a larger entity, ie health insurance company, corporate wellness company, hospital or health care system
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
I would like to continue to develop my private practice as a coach entrepreneur. My goal is to sustain myself exclusively through coaching by the end of 2020. At the point when that becomes possible, I may still continue on a very limited basis to see patients, less than 10 hours a week. Or… I may not! I won’t know until I get there ☺
Ultimately, the long-term plan is to create a thriving private Coaching practice, that allows me to leave New England winters behind and work from a warm climate during the cold months!
I’d like to be a resource for PTs who are burned out, and help them reclaim and realize their own version of their best wellness across all the dimensions of well-being, and help support those who are wanting to shift careers, from clinical to non-clinical, to rediscover who they are, apart from clinician, and step strongly into a career that fuels them.
I recognize there is a lot of fear there, and it can be hard to give oneself the permission to take that leap to something new. That’s one of the benefits of being coached: it helps to create for the client more choice where before they may have seen none, and to remove the self-imposed mind-barriers to success.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into coaching?
Do your homework. Research the different schools and determine which are accredited programs. Some programs are part of a college degree program and are held in person, and some programs are online and not part of a college degree. Only get your certification from an accredited program. The organizations that provide accreditation to the coaching education programs are:
- National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) (new as of 2017) https://nbhwc.org/
- International Coaching Federation (ICF) (the “gold standard”, here since 1995) https://coachfederation.org/
Editor’s Note: If you aren’t positive health coaching is for you, here are some lower-cost courses/programs that you can explore before investing in a pricey program.
- Health and Nutrition Life Coach Certification – Accredited and Inexpensive (Udemy – cheapest option – does not count for CEUs)
- Patient-Centered Care: Motivational Interviewing and Health Coaching (MedBridge – counts for CEUs)
- Introduction & Basic Skills in Lifestyle Medicine for You, Your Patients, & Your Practice Setting (MedBridge Certification Program – counts for CEUs)
- Integrative Health and Medicine Specialization (University of Minnesota via Coursera – no CEUs)
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
- What I’d like to change most in the PT profession is the focus on productivity over humanity. We are not robots, we are not laborers, we are credentialed, highly educated professionals who deserve the autonomy of deciding how long a treatment needs to be based on our own clinical judgment, not on some rubric and number determined by shareholders. Which leads me to…
- Get stronger representation and standards from APTA to stem the bleeding of reimbursement reductions from insurance companies.
- I also would like to see some recognition and honoring of the extra time needed for documentation now that EMR is the norm. Either pay the PT for the extra time outside of normal hours, or build more time into the day for it.
- And, last but not least, I’d like to see personal health and wellness enrichment programs offered to PTs as a benefit of employment. It should be a standard to expect PTs to be able to take as good care of themselves as they do with their patients.
If you could give yourself one piece of career advice you wish you had during your PT school program, what would it be?
Well, it would have started with getting accepted to the expensive school and declined by the state school. I’d have told myself to wait another year and apply again to the state school! Tuition is cheaper and when it’s all said and done, no one cares where you went to school! The career advice I wish I’d had during my PT program would have been to seek a mentor out to help prepare for job interviews and how to negotiate salary and benefits.
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
I’d teach them about job interviewing skills and how to present themselves professionally.
I’d also teach them about mindset, mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress. I’d warn them of the signs of burnout and teach them how to build resiliency in the face of stressors.
And, finally, I’d teach them how to pose questions to patients who may present as unmotivated, so they can get to what’s underneath that and stimulate the patient to want to help themselves.
Thanks for your insight, Laura!
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