Regional Director of Operations — Laura Gwynn

Regional Director of Operations — Laura Gwynn

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This week’s spotlight is on Laura Gwynn, BS Ed, PT, MPT, ACC, PIC, a non-clinical physical therapist who is now Regional Director of Operations for FOX Rehabilitation!

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What is your full name, title, and company name for your current, primary role?

Laura Gwynn, BS Ed, PT, MPT, ACC, PIC — Regional Director of Operations at FOX Rehabilitation and Mindset and Leadership Coach at Dash Coaching and Consulting, LLC.

Fox Rehabilitation logo

What additional roles do you currently have?

I am also an International Coaching Federation ACC Leadership Coach and Leadership Development Consultant working with new careerists, women healthcare leaders, and clinicians.

Where are you located?

I live in northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C.

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

I attended PT school at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA and graduated in 1992. We were the first entry-level master’s program to go through the school.

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

I worked at the VA Medical Center in Salem, VA in acute care and outpatient ortho for the first two years out of school. Then, I transitioned to the Medicare A home health world for the next 12 years in Virginia Beach, VA.

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

I have worked in all types of settings over the last 32 years, including:

  • Acute care
  • Acute rehab
  • Outpatient ortho
  • Sports medicine
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Medicare A home health
  • Medicare B in the home

What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?

I enjoyed the collaboration with other disciplines and professionals, providing inservices on new treatment ideas, and listening to the stories of patients.

I did not enjoy the amount of documentation necessary for Medicare A home health and the lack of autonomy early on in the profession.

What else have you done since then, prior to your current role?

I took some time away from PT and became a stockbroker and financial planner in the late 1990s. I returned to PT after missing the healthcare world.

When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?

I was not finding joy and fulfillment in treating patients, realizing long hours of documentation, and lack of growth in the profession, so I shifted to the financial industry. 

After returning to healthcare, I wanted to grow and develop people. I transitioned to operations nine years ago, so I could mentor and serve teams and help the team members realize their potential.

I realized how to use my gifts and talents in the therapy world differently, not by treating patients, but by supporting those who treat patients and those who lead teams of clinicians.

In 2019, I realized that coaching, growing, and mentoring leaders and people is what brought me the most joy, so I shifted even more into those non-clinical roles.

What are you doing these days?

I lead a team of 30 PTs, OTs and SLPs at FOX Rehabilitation as Regional Director in Northern Virginia. I also have experienced the autonomy to complete the Executive Coaching Program at Georgetown in 2022.

I have been coaching leaders and clinicians internally and externally to FOX since 2022. I have enjoyed partnering with young female leaders and new graduates to overcome their fear of failure and live up to their true potential.

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

I treat one to two patients currently.

What percentage of your time is spent clinically vs. non-clinically?

My day is 90% non-clinical and 10% clinical. However, I am a little more clinical in that I support clinicians with clinical questions and reasoning.

How long have you been in your current role?

I have been in my current role at FOX Rehabilitation as Regional Director of Operations since January 2016. I have been in a leadership development role since February 2019 and providing internal and external leadership coaching since September 2021.

What do you wish you would’ve known before going into this regional director of operations role?

Before the Regional Director of Operations position, I don’t know if I would have wished for any more information. Having practiced as a PT for 24 years at that time, I was ready to grow and develop teams. Not knowing was actually better. 

I enjoyed the blank canvas. I was able to paint the picture using my values of service to others and faith in others to grow our team from 14 to 45 and split, then 22 to 42 and split. Now, I have a group of 30 close colleagues who I call family. Of course there were 100-hour weeks at times, but we all aspired to deliver quality care to our patients and help those patients believe in their own strengths. By doing so, we also were able to believe and realize our strengths as clinicians. 

Really thinking back, there is one thing I wish I had known. The first resignation I received I took very personally. I wish I had realized then, which I do now, that if someone leaves an organization, we must celebrate with them vs. taking it personally.

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

For my current role as a leadership coach, I went through the following trainings:

  • Georgetown Executive Coaching Program
  • Dare to Lead with Brene Brown
  • Business Development for Coaches through the International Coaching Federation
  • Positive Intelligence Certification process and program
  • Wealth Builders with Bill Carmody

These programs were extremely helpful with coaching and helped me be a much better servant leader at FOX Rehabilitation.

How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?

I found my current job with FOX at a meet and greet in Virginia Beach, VA. I made it clear to the hiring manager that I wanted to move up the operations ladder as soon as possible. 

With the coaching piece, I created and developed a program, then worked with internal and external people to bring coaching to those who are looking for a change.

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Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the job?

I am in the process of working with Brittany Schwemley to update my resume and LinkedIn profile. I cannot say enough about her support and expertise.

What was the interview like for the regional director of operations role?

For Regional Director of Operations, there were two interviews. The second interview was with the current COO and CSO, who at the time were both VPs of FOX Rehabilitation. I answered questions about past performance, behavioral interviewing, and “imagine this” types of questions. 

I had a good understanding of which values drove me. I used storytelling in the interview, so the interviewers could have a better understanding of who I was, what my passions were, how I was going to show up, why I wanted this position, and what I was going to do once I was given the position.

I had worked at a lot of different places prior to the interview, and the now COO asked me how they could rely on me staying if they hired me. I told them honestly that if I did not feel challenged or have purpose or joy in what I was doing, I would have to recreate the role or look elsewhere. 

For the regional director’s position, I knew the task would be challenging. The job description is five pages single spaced, and I was so excited—and still today am excited—to support and help grow and develop the individual team members. I found an organization that allows for growth of the person even if there might not be a specific job that already exists. 

The beauty of autonomy is you can create your own job description.

What are some of the things you did to stand out, take initiative, and advance in your career?

When I first arrived at FOX, I was a full-time treating PT for the first three months. I arrived early and stayed late. I would outperform what I was asked to do. I continued to state what I wanted.

Once I took on the role of Director of Operations, I spent time with each clinician, getting to know them first as people and second as a colleague. I would never ask my team members to do something I would not do. I treated the team as a family, not a hierarchy—setting boundaries, communicating, showing empathy and compassion, disagreeing and still liking each other, supporting, motivating and inspiring each other, collaborating, actively listening, and celebrating the wins!

I enjoyed building regions by hiring more clinicians, so more patients could be seen. We were very successful in growing the Northern Virginia area from 14 clinicians to now three teams of 30-plus clinicians.

During 2019, I took a month to get clear on what about the job brought me joy. Realizing that growing and developing people—more than the operations piece—brought me joy, I spent time in books, in classes, and collaborating with other FOX Regional Directors (RDs).

At the end of 2020, I joined the innovations committee at FOX and helped develop a Lead and Inspire Program with two other RDs for the younger leadership team. I then layered in the coaching piece at the end of 2021 and have blended coaching, leadership development and operations together to live into my purpose and values.

When did you start your business?

I started my coaching business in December 2022.

Where did you get the idea for your business?

I knew after starting the Georgetown Executive Coaching Program, I wanted to have my own business supporting as many young healthcare leaders as possible. Many of the professors have successful businesses, so I started mine.

What is your business, and what types of products or services do you offer?

The name of my business is Dash Coaching and Consulting, LLC. I offer group and individualized coaching for young healthcare leaders and clinicians to shift from fear to courage.

This is a work in progress, so the evolution will continue as I also provide operations leadership at FOX Rehabilitation.

How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?

By helping develop and grow others who deliver patient care or who support those who do, I do not feel like I have left patient care. If anything, I believe I am supporting patient care in a more impactful way.

If people suggest not treating patients is a negative thing, I will listen and realize that 10% of what anyone says can be true. I will continue to stay true to my path though.

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

My days and weeks are filled with variety. My primary tasks from the operations side include:

  • Communicating with the clinicians (their needs, concerns, and wins)
  • Face-to-face and virtual visits with senior living partners
  • Reporting the data from the week before
  • Communicating with the recruitment, sales and QA teams (where are we, what is needed, what needs to change or improve)
  • Interviewing candidates (PTs, OTs, and SLPs for the region)
  • Communicating with senior leadership

From the coaching perspective, my tasks include:

  • Leading PODs of five to eight healthcare leaders and clinicians on increasing their capacity to manage stress as it relates to relationships, performance, and overall wellness and health by utilizing an operating system to shift from fear to confidence and purpose
  • Individual coaching sessions with healthcare students, new graduates and new healthcare leaders

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

People ask me what keeps me at FOX Rehabilitation. The answer is always truthfully the same—the clinicians on the team. I am rewarded by working with an incredible group of multi-aged clinicians (PT/OT/SLP) who teach me the value of commitment, professionalism, support and care. I enjoy watching their growth and their achievements.

Many colleagues on our team have transitioned to leadership roles across our practice in QA, sales, mentoring opportunities for new grads and new hires, and in operations. Many have become professors and a few have started their own practices. What I appreciate is watching their growth and their leaning into the confidence to try new things with the idea of progress not perfection.

The biggest challenges are finding the best fits for the clinical roles. Since COVID, finding PTs who are living into their purpose of providing excellent clinical care is challenging. However, with challenges come opportunities. We are able to shift from other regions or increase quotas of current clinicians to offset some of the needs.

How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?

My clinical background helped me develop traits, such as empathy, flexibility, accountability, people-centeredness, inclusivity, autonomy, active listening and communication, and resilience.  All of these traits have been vital in my role as Director of Ops.

As a leader in an organization, no two days are the same, and no two people are the same.  There are times when things go really well, and there are times when nothing seems to work smoothly. Being able to pivot and look through multiple lenses allow for innovation and clear decision-making. 

More importantly, by being a full-time treating clinician at FOX prior to my operations role, I had a clearer picture of the clinicians’ daily routines and challenges. 

Putting myself in the shoes of others has made me a more effective leader.

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

The hours are different. There are times I work many more hours than I did as a full-time clinician. The work never ends. I have to prioritize and set boundaries to stop working in the non-clinical role. However, there is much more flexibility, and if you enjoy the work, the time goes by quickly.

The pay is more in the non-clinical role. However, what I appreciate about FOX Rehabilitation is, as a salaried clinician, you will always receive your salary. If you work overtime, you will always be paid for the overtime work. So, if you work extra hours, you can receive more pay as a clinician.

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

Many types of people can excel in my role. Important qualities include being detail-oriented, organized, an active listener, empathic, open-minded, seeing possibilities, embracing challenges, innovative, responsible, reliable, goal-oriented, willing to learn, proactive with direction and goals for the team, and communicative. 

Being able to motivate and inspire others makes the role so much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Do you work remotely or onsite?

I work remotely one to two days per week, and I am onsite three days per week. 

My position is very flexible and autonomous, so I can be onsite for 12 hours, two days per week and work remotely three days per week, etc. What the clinicians and other resources need from me will dictate my schedule.

Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?

We do hire for non-clinical roles, especially for home office, IT, recruitment or various sales positions. 

For QA and operations roles, we hire from within most of the time. We are growing and are in 30 states and the District of Columbia now, so we are always looking for sales roles, especially.

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

These are a few of the books I have read:

I listen to coaching podcasts, “How I Built This” podcast, Simon Sinek, and Positive Intelligence with Shirzad Chamine. I am also part of a group coaching cohort who supports each other weekly.

What is a typical career path for someone in your role as regional director of operations?

If operations is where you want to stay, the typical career path is: Regional Director of Ops, to Senior Director, to VP, to SVP, to C-suite. You can follow the same track with Leadership Development or in the DEI space, which is so needed now.

I would offer for you to find a mentor who is already in the space you are reaching for and request the person to mentor you, whether a CEO, a VP, etc.

For those who are interested in the coaching space, I would offer for you to find a coach you can talk with, ask questions to, who will spend time with you, and help you realize what it is that pulls at your heart strings. With the help of other coaches, family members, and mentors who have done what you want to do, develop a plan and have an incredible support and accountability system while you are moving through the steps. 

The journey can be long but fulfilling with each step closer to your destination.

What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?

Next, I’ll be working with young healthcare leaders and clinicians to shift from fear to courage as they develop as leaders.

My high-level career aspiration is to support the growth and inspire empathic healthcare leaders through coaching and public speaking.

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?

First, trust your intuition. Our intuition is our compass, and words, data and logic can sabotage our wisdom. 

I would suggest really figuring out why you want to take on a leadership role—for the identity or for something bigger. Leading and developing a team is extremely rewarding but also challenging. 

Once you understand which values drive you, what brings you joy, what—looking back at the end of your life—was important and what wasn’t important, you will gain some of the wisdom you will need to move forward with your next journey. 

Having an incredible support system is critical.

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

I would like to change the humanity of our profession, specifically PT for me. We, as clinicians, have done a great job with research and evidence-based practices in order to help our patients. However, the emotional intelligence piece, I believe, could be improved greatly.

As a leader hiring new graduates, I notice in some, not all, this drive for knowing everything, always wanting to be right, and being fearful of making mistakes. When we can lean into exploration and curiosity; empathy towards ourselves, others and circumstances; navigation of our higher purpose; innovation to discover multiple ways of doing and seeing things; and then clear-headed and laser-focused action, we are able to be the best version of ourselves. We can help others around us and those we are serving to also be the best version of themselves. This translates into less stress, better relationships and better performance. That does not mean perfection. 

To do this, I would start with the graduate schools offering an emotional intelligence course to the first-year students in the summer prior to starting their program. The students would be in PODs for learning and exploration throughout their entire program for support and accountability. 

I would also propose this type of learning and program to organizations for new leaders, new graduates, and new hires if they have never been exposed to a program like this. I could write about this for a while, but I think you get the gist!!

What career advice would you give yourself that you wish you had during school?

Trust your intuition. As much as I have enjoyed and benefited from the world of physical therapy, my passion is in psychology and business. I almost removed myself from PT school after my second year, not because I was struggling, but because I was not passionate about the subject matter. My father thought it was a good profession and made the most sense for me, so I stayed the course. I enjoyed spending time with patients to learn their stories and who they were, but not the therapy interventions.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved my psychology and business classes during undergrad, and to this day, I want to understand what motivates people, what holds people back, how can organizations support and inspire their teams, what is my purpose and passion, and for the time I have on this Earth (the dash—time between your birth and death), how can I make the biggest impact to leave a legacy of best selves. 

However, being a PT has given me the opportunities to be where I am today. So, the other piece of career advice I will give is: there is no mistake. We can find the opportunities and gifts of our career choice or simply accept maybe there is no gift in the choice. 

What matters is, when we realize we have taken a detour, what can we do to get back on the road we want to travel through life? Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?

I would teach them emotional intelligence, using the Positive Intelligence framework as the foundation. This will allow them to show up as their best selves, so stress is reduced and relationships and performance improve. Research shows that a leader and clinician who has developed empathy is the most successful and happy.

What a different world we would live in if graduate students complete their programs with confidence, trust themselves, understand how to access their intuition and wisdom, and ultimately have an operating system to thrive vs. survive in this world.

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

I have a message hanging in my office that I read daily.

It is called “Enough” by Nikki Banas:

You have what it takes.
You are strong enough.
You are brave enough.
You are worthy enough.
It’s time to stop thinking otherwise and start believing in yourself because no one else has the dreams that you have. No one else sees the world exactly like you do, and no one else holds the same magic inside.
It’s time to start believing in the power of your dreams, my beautiful friend.
Not next year, not next month, not tomorrow, but now.
You are ready.
You are enough.

– Nikki Banas

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