This week’s spotlight is on Melissa Erlandson, MSPT, who transitioned into a career as Network Development Specialist at Luna Physical Therapy!
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What is your full name, title, and company name for your current, primary role?
Melissa Erlandson, MSPT
Network Development Specialist at Luna Physical Therapy
Where are you located?
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
University of Minnesota Twin Cities, 2001
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
In my first year after PT school, I worked in outpatient private practice.
In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
I worked in outpatient orthopedics at the beginning and end of my direct patient care career. In between, I worked in pediatrics and geriatrics while having and raising my three children.
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What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
I very much loved getting to know and working with my patients and families to empower them to achieve their optimal function. It is the number one thing I miss about direct patient care.
What else have you done since then, prior to your current role?
I left direct patient care after 16 years. I worked in utilization management and physical health/medical benefits management. From there, I went into a Six Sigma Black Belt Process Improvement role.
When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?
My last patient care role was moving toward less flexibility and autonomy. At the same time, I was being headhunted by the Optum Utilization Management team for my varied clinical experience, which included women’s health.
I didn’t consider the role until a good friend of mine in talent management convinced me I was making a mistake by not at least exploring the opportunity. I ultimately decided to take the position to provide greater flexibility for my family and career growth.
What are you doing these days?
I now work as a Network Development Specialist for the Medtech startup Luna Physical Therapy: a company that provides on-demand, mobile outpatient care. The proprietary technology streamlines everything that clinicians do, so they can be their own boss without having to build their own business.
Prior to Luna Physical Therapy, the company I was working for went through a massive reduction in workforce—to the tune of 70,000 employees—at the height of the pandemic. After losing my job, I was looking to supplement my cash-based women’s health business that I formed during the pandemic. That is when I came across Luna.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I am solely non-clinical at Luna Physical Therapy.
How long have you been in your current role?
I have been in my current role for a year and a half.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
I am grateful for my time at Optum, where they have the resources to invest in their talent. My training included:
- Four full-time weeks of Six Sigma Black Belt training in project management
- One full-time week learning change management with a consulting firm
- One week in Finance at the University of St. Thomas
My other responsibilities included:
- Ambassador for Optum/UHC’s culture program
- TA for an in-house change management program
- Mentor for students interested in healthcare careers
- Weekly content contributor on women’s health to Optum/UHC’s Clinician Hub
All of these extra responsibilities, plus juggling up to six projects at any given time, was probably the most challenged I have ever been in with my career, but I wouldn’t go back and change it for anything!
How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
I found Luna serendipitously through an online search for physical therapy jobs. I spoke to my now director, who I had an instant connection with and who happened to be looking for PTs to build our team.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
I remember a colleague of mine saying, “So, you are going to work for the devil?”
She was referring to insurance companies, which I think is a fair assessment by clinicians who always seem to be battling insurance companies on behalf of their patients.
Otherwise, everyone has been supportive and even curious.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you as a network development specialist?
My primary function and main thing I love about my current role is getting to talk to clinicians every day about their goals and aspirations. My team attracts interested candidates and determines through conversations whether the mobile outpatient model of care paired with our Luna technology would be a good fit.
The second thing I love about working for Luna is problem-solving. In a startup environment, there is never a lack of opportunity to troubleshoot and find solutions.
The fun thing about being part of a startup is that you usually get to wear a lot of hats. In this role, I have been able to partner with other teams, such as marketing, business development, and physician account management. There are truly no two weeks that are alike at Luna.
What are some of the rewards of your role? What are the biggest challenges?
The rewards of the role are getting to be part of clinicians’ journeys to finding the flexibility and autonomy that they crave while getting back to doing what we love. For a lot of us, that is having focused time with our patients and building therapeutic relationships. When I first started my career, this was commonplace. Now, it is harder and harder to achieve due to our current healthcare climate of declining reimbursement rates.
One challenge of this role is keeping up with the fast rate of change in the startup environment. My job function can change very quickly without having all the tools in place to support the change.
Want to launch a non-clinical career of your own??
How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?
I feel my clinical background has been invaluable in this role. I talk to PTs every day who express many of the things I went through as a clinician. Being able to listen and relate to them is probably one of the biggest assets in this role. The technical skills of process improvement and project management originated from my clinical background as well.
Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay compared to patient care?
The hours can be demanding but flexible. I generally work more than a 40-hour work week, but being able to flex my schedule around family needs is exactly what I need right now with three kids in sports!
The pay can be a bit variable because it is based on performance. Sometimes it’s really great, and you have to balance that with when it’s not as great.
What type of person do you think would do well as a network development specialist?
I believe this role requires excellent communication skills, above average organizational skills, and a drive for performance. In a startup, there is usually little room for inefficiency or subpar productivity, so pressure is typically high to perform.
Do you work remotely or onsite?
I work 100% from home and very rarely travel to my assigned markets.
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
Luna occasionally hires clinicians for their roles.
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
I recommend StrengthsFinder 2.0, which was recommended to me by my leader and mentor at Optum/UHC. It is an assessment to determine your top five strengths. Some of mine were: learner, input, and woo. Being a lifelong learner and staying curious is, I believe, what has led me to many of the opportunities I have had in my life.
What is a typical career path for someone in your role?
At a startup, I am not sure there is a carved-out career path, per se. I imagine it includes being open to learning, opportunity, and growth that will take you on the journey you want to be on.
What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?
I see myself as a high performer with high expectations. My next role will be one that utilizes all of my skills in a demanding way that keeps me interested and inspired for the greater good.
I don’t ever imagine myself moving away from healthcare, but I guess I should never say never. I am passionate about creating wellness, hope, and health for patients and clinicians alike.
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?
My best advice is: when opportunity knocks, at least open the door. Not every role has to be the next pinnacle of your career, but every role has the ability to teach us something about ourselves if we are open to the message. Keep learning and keep growing!
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
I would love to see our physical therapy profession provide more quality work opportunities again.
I am probably biased because the majority of the PTs that I talk to are anywhere from unhappy to desperate. If you have been in our profession long enough, you have seen the trends. They are moving towards minimizing PTs’ earning potential and autonomy, while the cost of schooling has skyrocketed.
This equation is not sustainable. I keep thinking we will have to have a reset any day now—PT diplomas hopefully getting more affordable while raising PT income.
What career advice would you give yourself that you wish you had during school?
Don’t ignore your hobbies. Your work is only one facet of your life, and you can’t bring your best self to work without keeping a healthy balance.
What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Be mindful of the impact of student loans vs. earning potential. This will shape your decisions and ultimately your life!