This week’s non-clinical spotlight is on the founder of The Non-Clinical PT and how she went from frustrated clinician to blogger and solopreneur!
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What is your full name and title?
I’m Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, and I’m the founder of The Non-Clinical PT.
Where are you located?
Where did you go to PT school, and when did you graduate?
University of St. Augustine (San Marcos), 2010 – Yellow class, woohoo!
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
I started out at Sharp Grossmont’s Brier Patch outpatient clinic in La Mesa, CA (just outside of San Diego). I worked there just over a year, and then moved into private practice, working part-time at two outpatient clinics in San Diego, both of which have now closed. (Not because of me…at least I don’t think so!) 🙂
After that, I floated between several facilities at Scripps Health. During this time, I also dabbled in home health, mobile outpatient, inpatient rehab, and acute care.
Working PRN was great for experiencing many settings in a short time period. It was also helpful in coming to terms with the fact that I just wasn’t into patient care.
What did you do after that, and for how long?
When I had treated patients for five full years, I got much more serious about going non-clinical.
I landed a PRN job as a rehab liaison for South Bay Rehab Center (part of Paradise Valley Hospital) in 2015, and worked there for a few years. I LOVED that job, and probably would have stayed indefinitely, but a full-time role never opened up so I took another path.
While I was working as a rehab liaison, I also launched a website called New Grad Physical Therapy (NGPT) with a former coworker. I wasn’t really involved with the business side (my partner did all of that while I built the content strategy), but I consider my work with NGPT to be a huge part of why I am doing what I am doing now with TNCPT. During the time between 2015-2017, I worked to build NGPT and cobbled together work as a freelance writer while doing the PRN rehab liaison job. It was hectic, but fun!
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
Patient care: I LOVED meeting other therapists and co-treating and learning from them. I also enjoyed treating patients who were appreciative and worked hard. It’s important to understand what you need in a job so you can pursue something that fills your cup, so to speak. I didn’t enjoy the emotional and physical strain of the work, nor the feeling like you were sort of pigeonholed as a clinician for life. Everywhere I turned, I saw problems that could easily be solved (with scheduling, staff morale, and general operations) to make therapists’ and patients’ lives easier, but the “this is how we do things” mentality prevailed in every setting—and it drove me batty!
Writing/NGPT: I enjoyed serving new grads and sharing my knowledge by writing, which has always been something I enjoyed. What I didn’t enjoy was focusing solely on writing because it got sort of boring. I think that’s why I always welcomed calls with folks who wanted to pick my brain about leaving patient care. I craved variety and human interaction 🙂
Rehab liaison: This role was so fun! It had a lot of variety to it, but I still felt very much like I was a “real PT” in the role. By that, I mean I still interacted with patients, screened them, and interpreted notes. What I didn’t enjoy was being PRN in this role. It was hard to keep track of cases when I was only there a few days per week. I would have loved to go full-time, had a role opened at the time!
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter for the PRN rehab liaison job?
I almost didn’t get that job because I didn’t realize you had to tailor a resume to the job at hand. I hadn’t changed my resume, and just submitted a regular clinical one.
For that reason, Paradise Valley’s screening software (called an ATS or applicant tracking system) never picked up my resume. Luckily, I had a friend who worked in the system as an OT, and she passed my resume to the hiring manager (thanks, Kirsten!). We had an excellent interview, and I landed the job. I have to say, a combination of a dialed-in non-clinical resume and having an ally at your targeted company is ideal for landing a job.
What was the interview like for the rehab liaison role?
The first interview, I believe, was on the phone with someone from HR. It was a typical screening interview, where I was asked about my clinical background, what I knew about the rehab liaison role, why I wanted the role, etc. I tend to interview well because I love getting to know people and asking questions, so I just asked a lot of questions about the role, what they saw as success, etc.
Then, I went in for my in-person interview. I immediately connected with the hiring manager because we both love cats 🙂 I highly recommend making personal connections when possible during these interviews. That is always my strategy and it tends to work!
There was also a pretty intimidating panel interview where I was asked about my marketing background, as well as my ability to sell and deal with challenging personality types.
When did you realize you wanted to do something non-clinical, and why?
If I’m being honest with myself, it was during PT school. I was a career changer, having worked in graphic/web design for about three years before going back to PT school.
When I was going through PT school, I found everything really interesting, but I wasn’t keen on the physical components of the work. And, even though I consider myself an extrovert, I felt drained after working on other students and being “on” all day.
But those feelings were really just percolating in the back of my mind. I don’t think I was willing to admit to myself that PT might not be a good fit, after all. I really pushed those feelings down, big time!
So, I’d probably say it was about three years later, and several jobs in, when I realized that I really didn’t want to work in patient care long-term—and was actually ready to admit that to myself. I remember a few patients were really mean to me in a row and I couldn’t seem to shake it off (sorry, Taylor Swift)!
I realized that I need to be respected in a job to be happy. No matter what setting I tried, I felt exhausted and demeaned on a lot of days.
After trying lots of jobs, I told my husband that I wanted to do something else. He was understanding, but suggested that I put in five years total for the sake of my resume, and then we could revisit the topic. So, during the next two years, I was working toward figuring out what was next for me, while working PRN as a PT.
During that time, I made some really dumb moves. I took a contract $15/hour marketing job that was soul-sucking and didn’t last more than a month. I went back to outpatient ortho (sports) and quickly remembered why I wanted out of patient care. It was exhausting! And I’m a high-energy person! I don’t know how you sports folks do it, but hats off to you 🙂
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I haven’t treated a patient in many years, and it shows. I am so rusty! That said, I like to keep my PT license active as best practice.
What were the first couple of years like when starting The Non-Clinical PT?
I started The Non-Clinical PT in October, 2017, but didn’t really try to make it a business until mid-2018, when I was getting so busy that it was hard to juggle TNCPT work with my full-time day job.
I have been a freelance writer since 2015, but I used to work with more clients. After launching The Non-Clinical PT, I continued to freelance, but reduced my hours devoted to it as the business grew.
How did you find your freelance writing jobs?
Paid freelance writing gigs often start with some free writing projects to get your name out there. Some people write free guest posts, others write on LinkedIn or Medium, and some create their own blogs. I wound up doing a combo.
Honestly, wasn’t a glamorous start, but I saw those gigs content as an opportunity to build my portfolio and improve my skills. So, my early gigs were either free guest posts, NGPT articles, gigs through sites like Upwork, or assignments I picked up through a now-defunct content mill called Demand Media (which is now called Leaf Media, apparently).
I fully planned to write full-time as a career. So, I eagerly took on free and low-paying assignments so I could build my writing portfolio.
That led to some wonderful ongoing freelance writing and editing gigs…
- WebPT offered me an ongoing freelance job because I had written several articles for them as a guest poster. Apparently, those articles did really well with their numbers, so they invited me on as a regular blogger. I worked with them for a few years, and it was a great partnership.
- OT Potential hired me because I had featured its owner, Sarah Lyon, in a non-clinical spotlight, back when TNCPT was still a hobby blog. Sarah and I got to chatting, and she was wondering if I wanted to do some work. She trialed me for a few assignments, and it worked out great. So, the rest is history!
Did you get any special certifications or training as your career progressed?
For the rehab liaison role, I did not. I wasn’t aware of any available, though I have since found that there are some courses from MedBridge that would look good on your resume.
For the writing roles, I actually didn’t take any courses, either! But there are definitely writing courses you can take if you want to hone your writing chops.
For The Non-Clinical PT, I listened to tons of business podcasts, and I learned from friends and colleagues. The reason I created The Non-Clinical PT courses was that I WISHED these sorts of resources had existed when I was getting started.
Where did you get the idea for The Non-Clinical PT?
While I was working at NGPT (the aforementioned blog for new grads), I had TONS of people reaching out to me and asking to chat so they could ask questions about leaving patient care without “wasting” their backgrounds.
I spent a lot of time emailing and chatting with people to help them find a better way to use their skills. Side note: most of those folks have done incredible things in the non-clinical world, and quite a few have even been featured in my spotlight series 🙂
In late 2017, I was ready for more stability in my life. I took a full-time writing job at a marketing agency, writing for clients like Expedia. It was a HUGE change and I felt a little lost without having any real PT identity anymore. I also came to realize that, while I enjoy traveling, it’s not my passion by any means. So it was really strange to do work where I felt barely any connection.
I think the lack of connection to my work at the marketing agency made me realize how much I missed having the identity of a PT. I craved helping others make the leap out of patient care, so I wound up working on nights and weekends to build TNCPT into a more robust website—because that is where my heart really was at that point.
I started charging for coaching calls when the demand got so high that I was working nonstop. That’s when I realized I could probably make a business out of my passion. And that was a great feeling 🙂
What do you want people to know about The Non-Clinical PT?
I consider the most important thing about it to be its mission. TNCPT exists to build community, help people use their skills in totally new ways, and help improve healthcare overall by putting rehab professionals in roles where we can create true positive change.
How did people react to you leaving patient care?
Oh, it has run the whole range. These days, people are very supportive because I think they can see that I’m using my innate strengths in the right type of role.
BUT…when I first “came out” about not wanting to stay in patient care, I got a lot of judgment, mostly from within the physical therapy profession.
It hurt, because I honestly thought I was an idiot. I thought I must suck at working and be a lazy slob who couldn’t just buckle down and deal with a job. It was a tough time. Luckily, my husband and family were super supportive.
One of the main reasons I created TNCPT was because of that whole experience. I didn’t want anyone to feel like an idiotic failure for wanting something else. For not realizing that PT (or OT or SLP) wasn’t the right fit after all. I want people to know that whether they’ve worked for 20 years or they’re fresh out of school, it’s OK to want to do something non-clinical; you’re not “wasting your education.”
In fact, I’d argue that you might make a bigger difference in healthcare by stepping away from direct patient care.
What have been some of the challenges and rewards of running The Non-Clinical PT?
The rewards have been countless. Every time someone has reached out to say the site has helped them, my heart skipped a beat. When people have told me that they landed a job because they took one of my courses, it’s the best! Seriously, when I am having a sluggish work day, I’ll sometimes go read what people have to say about my products, and that gets me motivated all over again to keep pushing and innovating 🙂
I love when people pay it forward, too. It’s been really cool to see people in the Non-Clinical 101 alumni community help each other land jobs. I always wanted to help people, which is why I pursued PT in the first place…so it’s beyond rewarding to help therapists and assistants, and then see them help each other!
One of the challenges of any online business is that people don’t get to meet the “real” you, even if you strive to be as authentic as possible.
Oh, and tech. Tech is constantly changing, so it can be a total pain to stay on top of things needed to keep your site secure, etc.
How do you think working as a PT prepared you for this role?
I would say being able to build rapport and trust with people is key to succeeding in business. People can tell when you are genuine, and that has served me well.
Also, being a clinician in our productivity-obsessed model really preps us for hard work. I am willing to grind when I need to, and I think that hard-working mentality comes in part from my time as a PT.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
I make more now than I did as a full-time clinician. I could probably make way more if I wanted to grow a whole fancy startup out of this, but I enjoy staying small and focusing on relationships 🙂
The hours are longer on some weeks, and shorter on others. In my first few years, the hours were ALWAYS longer. I was constantly working. But now, I am definitely reaping the benefits of all that front-loaded hard work.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
In my opinion, to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be adaptable, honest, hard-working, humble, open-minded, and mission-driven.
It helps to have integrity, too. When you run an online business, it’s a little too easy to get caught up in the hustle. So much of this world is marketing and sales. Creating top-notch content and products should be priority #1 as you grow. Word-of-mouth marketing will serve you better in the long run, anyway!
If you don’t have a mission to guide your business operations, it’s way too easy to get sucked into short-term cash grabs that don’t help anyone in the long run.
Do you work remotely or on-site?
Remote, baby! I love working from home, but I’ll occasionally work at coffee shops around town. We have an insanely good craft coffee scene here! The Fayetteville, AR public library is also pretty spectacular, so I work there whenever possible 🙂
Did you do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
I think being open-minded and willing to try anything was the best thing I’ve done. I’ve said “yes” to lots of opportunities (though I say “no” way more often these days, since I’m more established).
My favorite books have been:
- Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller – This is the best book on branding that I have ever read.
- Playing Big by Tara Mohr – This is essential for anyone (women, especially) trying to push outside their comfort zone and do something incredible.
- The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson – This book can be a little preachy, but it helps you get out of your own way if you’re a procrastinator!
My favorite podcasts have been:
- Online Marketing Made Easy by Amy Porterfield (highly, highly recommend this one)
- Smart Passive Income by Pat Flynn
What has been your favorite part about the business?
I love that I can use my love of writing and my need for variety to help people. I never, ever would have thought I’d have this job. Like Chanda Jothen (my business partner for Therapy Blogging 101), I think that I have the best job in the world. I love being able to work when I feel like it, take breaks when I feel like it, and 100% be in control of how I treat people.
It’s so important to me to respect others and I never felt like my work fully aligned with my values until I worked for myself 🙂
Another thing I love is that I can help those who want to leave direct patient care make that happen. I like to this helps with some of the saturation issues that have developed from so many PT/OT/SLP schools popping up nationwide. Some markets have really become saturated. While the Fayetteville, AR physical therapy market (where I live) doesn’t seem to be impacted by major saturation issues, it’s nice to know that therapists in many saturated cities—where rehab professionals tend to be underpaid because so many new clinicians graduate each year—will have more bargaining power in terms of salary.
What has been your least favorite part about the business?
I’ve had to work on weekends or nights, especially when something unexpected happens. Tech breaks, or someone has issues logging into a course. I’ve had to leave a wedding early to deal with a tech issue. But the good far outweighs the bad for me! If you’re the type who wants to leave work 100% at work and never think about it when you’re not on the clock, you might not love running a business…
How do you drive customers to The Non-Clinical PT?
We use organic search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to drive traffic, as well as social media groups. I highly recommend this type of approach if you’re looking to make your site generate money as passively as possible.
Other than LinkedIn, I am not super active on social, which is by design.
Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
This is YOUR career, and it’s your story to write. Nobody can tell you what the “right” path is for you, other than you.
That said, always take your loved ones’ needs into consideration for anything you do. Your career should support your life, not the other way around.
If anyone is being hateful or judging you for wanting a different path, remember that it’s probably their own insecurities speaking.
What would you like to change most in the rehab professions?
I would love to see our educational paths look like other graduate students’ paths. Meaning, you should be considering whether you want to go into different tracks from the day you begin grad school.
Clinical? Industry/tech? Education? Sales? Operations/leadership? School admin should be asking you about your interests as soon as you start school, then encouraging you to pursue a track in line with your strengths and passions.
When everyone is groomed to go straight into a clinical role with no plan B, we are unnecessarily pigeon-holed by our own profession, other medical professions, and our own selves. Thus, we feel lost and unsupported when it comes time to make a change.
And that means that our professions lose our presence at these high-level leadership meetings where the future of healthcare is decided. We need to be there and, in order to be there, we need to be thinking about getting there from the time we enter school.
If you could give yourself one piece of career advice you wish you had during your PT school program, what would it be?
Write down everything you accomplish in one central place, no matter how small those things might seem. When it’s time to apply for jobs later, it’s much easier to have a list from which you can cherry-pick the most applicable “wins.”
Also, I’d go back and tell younger me to pay attention to the courses I enjoyed most in school and think hard about why that might be! I loved professional communication (taught by Kim Bell)! Surprise, surprise, right??
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
Look at yourself as a potential leader, innovator, and change-maker. Consider all of these things you’re learning, and think about how you can parlay them into making life better for patients, clinicians, and healthcare on the whole. You don’t need to be treating patients directly to make a difference.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Invest some time in understanding who you are and what makes you tick. If you want to leave patient care, dig deep to find out why. Do you need more recognition? Pay? Stability? Flexibility? Variety? If you don’t spend the time to understand what you need from your career (and how it fits your life), you might wind up in another career that isn’t the right fit. Do lots of research. Network. Create ATS-friendly resumes!
If you want to go into business, figure out a true problem that needs solving, and THEN think about how to monetize.