The non-clinical spotlight series exists to shed light on all of the interesting paths that physical therapy professionals have taken. Today’s spotlight focuses on Francisco Maia, PT, DPT, CCRT, who carved his own niche as a canine physical therapist at The K9PT.
What’s your full name and title?
Francisco Maia, PT, DPT, CCRT
Where did you go to PT school and what year did you graduate?
I graduated in 2012 from the University of Pittsburgh.
What was your first job out of school? What did you do next?
My first job was working as a floating therapist for a large (nationwide) company covering their clinics in the Western PA/Pittsburgh area. I basically would spend every week in a different clinic to cover for therapists’ time-off. During that time, I covered about 35 clinics in a bit over a year! The cons were the lack of continuity in patient care and having to adapt to different therapists’ treatment protocols, but the pros were that it really helped me develop my communication with patients as I had to “sell” myself to new patients every week.
After a year or so, I got promoted to a Clinic Director position at one of their local clinics; however, after awhile I realized that wasn’t what I wanted. I was looking for different options and learned about canine rehab after speaking to a former coworker who was going through her certification. I started to do some research and looked more into it, and quickly realized that I wanted to work with animals instead!
I had to leave that position for a variety of reasons, and started to work as a contractor at a private clinic focused on sports medicine and rehab. That was a great fit because I also loved working with athletes, and the flexibility in the schedule of a contractor allowed me to complete my certification in canine rehab.
What made you realize that you needed a change to something less conventional?
It wasn’t a single moment, but a combination of factors that led to it. I went into PT school and went through it knowing 100% in my head that I wanted to work in orthopedics. However, as time went by, I realized that I didn’t like it as much as I had thought I did. It was a combination of dealing with insurance, working in a quantity-over-quality setting, super long days of 12+ hours, etc. I think most of us who have worked in orthopedic outpatient have gone through these issues at one time or another.
I knew that I needed a change, and decided to take a jump into canine rehab even without having a plan in mind.
I knew that sooner or later I would want to work with animals, and at that point it was a good time for me to at least get certified in it.
Did you know right away that you wanted to work with dogs, or did you consider other non-clinical paths?
I always liked teaching and educating other people. During undergrad, I worked as an anatomy mentor and really enjoyed it. Therefore, at one time, I thought about going into academia. I switched one of my clinical rotations in PT school to a research rotation at my university, working for two months with one of our faculty members in their research project. It was a tremendous experience and, if nothing else, really improved my ability to effectively read research articles. But I realized afterwards that academia wasn’t a good fit for me.
What did you do first when you made your decision?
After signing-up for the first canine PT course, the very first thing I did was quit my old job! HAHAHA! I really wasn’t happy there, and even started to have some anxiety attacks, which I had never experienced before (and haven’t ever since).
I quickly started to read the textbooks and material required for the canine PT course (I had about a month), and dove into the subject. I also started to volunteer at a local dog rescue as a dog walker to get used to handling dogs of all different shapes and sizes, and would observe and assist some obedience classes that they offered to learn more about dog behavior and body language.
Did you have to take any additional coursework?
I didn’t do any additional coursework while going through the certification in canine rehab, which in total took me about 14 months. However, I read all of the recommended textbooks and articles in the syllabus, reviewed the material multiple times, and did other activities to learn more about dog handling and behavior (as mentioned previously).
After getting certified, I continued to watch a variety of online lectures in the topic, and took the Advanced Therapist course at the Canine Rehabilitation Institute.
Did you have a mentor during this time?
I did not have a mentor during the time I was getting certified in canine rehab (at least not in the field). However, the PT/owner at the private practice clinic where I was a contractor taught me a lot about physical therapy and business, and I have been able to translate a lot of that knowledge into what I do today. As a matter of fact, I now regret not spending more time learning the business side of things from them, as at that time I didn’t see myself as a business owner.
How do you get your name out there as a canine physical therapist?
I have been having tremendous success with direct-to-consumer marketing. I use a lot of social media (Facebook page, Facebook group, instagram, etc) and have been steadily creating a following on those platforms. I am also involved in the dog rescue community in Chicago, and it has been a great way to meet new people while giving back to the community.
I have also have been able to start developing business relationships with other pet businesses in the Chicago area. These are just starting to materialize now, but I have a feeling that we will all mutually benefit from it. Chicago is a very pet-friendly city, and there are many opportunities for those working in the pet industry.
What is a typical day in the life like for you?
My typical day has vastly changed since I became a business owner. Who knew that growing your own business would be a lot of work??? (HA!) I still spend some time treating some of my human patients in home health, but I have been gradually seeing fewer and fewer humans as I get more canine patients.
Since all of my patients are in a home health setting, I drive around Chicago everyday which is not as bad as it sounds. Chicago is a very easy city to get around, as long as I stay off the road during rush hours. I also use my time in the car listening to a variety of podcasts, mostly in physical therapy, business, and personal development.
What are the pros of your current role as a canine physical therapist?
So many pros to talk about! As I previously mentioned, I never saw myself as an entrepreneur and business owner. However, now I don’t think that I will be able to have a normal job again!
I am the busiest that I have ever been seeing patients and growing a business at the same time, but it honestly doesn’t feel like a work when you are doing your own thing and calling the shots.
It is also an amazing feeling to be able to help pets feel better, especially the ones who can’t go to a clinic for treatment and benefit from my house calls.
What are the cons?
The inconsistent paycheck is a con; however, I know that it won’t last long as the business grows.
Do you still treat humans or are you exclusively working with dogs now?
As previously mentioned, I still see some humans as the business grows. The plan is to gradually switch the focus to canine patients, which will happen soon at the rate of growth I am experiencing. That will allow me to stop taking new patients from the home health agency, but I will likely still keep a few of them that I have been seeing for quite awhile and have developed a good relationship.
What is the future like for canine PTs? Would you ever consider hiring another canine PT for your practice?
The future is bright! This is a fast growing field and it will have a demand for it. The sky’s the limit if you are willing to venture into entrepreneurship and put in the work. My plan is to have a consistent schedule that will allow me to hire another PT to help me seeing patients around Chicago. That will also help open up my schedule for other projects that I have in the making.
Do you think other PTs should do something similar in their own areas if they’re feeling burned out?
One of the main things I learned from Greg Todd is that we need to work within our passion. If we follow the money, then we will just be miserable every day, and life is too short to waste any time. Find what your passion is, either canine or something else, and dive into it.
You will likely hear a lot of naysayers along the way and people will doubt at times that you can make it work. It is up to you to prove them wrong.
I have also listened a lot to Brendon Burchard, and his mantra really stuck to me. His teachings revolve around when it is all said and done, will you be able to look back at your life and answer 3 basic questions: Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter?
What do you do about health insurance?
That is a great question, considering today’s political climate. Luckily, my wife has a very good job with a major hospital system in Chicago that provides great in-network coverage, so I was able to be added as her dependent.
What would you tell someone who is considering canine PT, but not sure where to start?
The very first thing will be to follow me online! (HA) But seriously, I have some side projects planned for 2018 that I am super excited about. I have made one of life goals to direct more PTs to this wonderful field. As PTs, we are primed for success on it, we just haven’t realized that yet and haven’t taken the plunge into it.
This is still a field heavily dominated by veterinarians and vet techs. I truly believe that there is room for everyone and we can all work together, but our PT skills are still heavily underutilized.
Do you have any special advice to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
As previously stated, follow your passion. Find what motivates you to get-up everyday and put in the work that it takes. It doesn’t matter if it is seeing human or canine patients, or something completely outside patient care. If it is a new field, or something that no one is doing yet, even better! Be a pioneer, develop that field and mold it into what you desire. Then, when it is all said and done, you will have left a legacy to future generations of PTs.
That was an interesting story about Francisco Maia’s journey from human PT to K9PT! Thanks, Francisco!