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 Will Butler, DPT, who went from physical therapist to financial advisor and clinicians’ advocate.
What’s your full name and title?
I’m Will Butler, DPT. I call myself “an irreverent magnifier of human potential and advocate for financial literacy.” I guess you can also call me a financial advisor.
One of my missions is to change healthcare by improving the life of the clinician. I help driven, well-humored clinicians live better lives. Oh, and I have an appreciation of food, strength sports, and humor. I traded movement for money as my primary treatment modality.
Where did you go to PT school and when did you graduate?
I attended University of St. Augustine and graduated in 2013.
What was your specialty, if anything, while you were a PT?
I worked in outpatient, but I had no “specialty.” But my favorite cases were active adults demonstrating overstress and chronic pain issues.
Personally, I fit that mold most of my life and found that it was never “this treatment” or “that movement” that solved my own problems. Instead, a combination of approaches helped me the most.
When the pain became manageable—and formerly blacklisted movements became a staple of my daily life—it led to a feeling of change in all facets of my life, which was AWESOME…and I wanted the patients I treated to have similar “awakenings.”
At what point did you realize that you would rather be a financial advisor vs. a PT?
Hmm…there’s not really a single instance. There are several, I’ll list a few:
I started in PT school and continued into practice. I got sick of hearing the primary solution to autonomy was patient access.
Many therapists don’t need more patient access to have more autonomy. Autonomy isn’t more patients; it’s the comprehensive professional understanding of one’s field and the mastery of one’s trade.
One of the biggest pieces of any professional’s puzzle, regardless of setting, is money. Money, especially in the form of income (what you get for what you give) and expense (think: cost of entry, most often associated with loans).
I got frustrated as a clinician. I was constantly hearing, “Dr. Butler, you’re awesome! I’m sending my family to you because you’ve changed my life!” and feeling, “I’m a circus monkey—doing tricks for dollars.”
I often suffered from imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is real; we know it, study it, write about it, and talk about it…but I didn’t know what to do about it.
I believe when we understand who we are inside and outside the clinic, our professional autonomy grows because of it. I didn’t understand my benefits, my loans, my retirement, or my compensation. As a result, I didn’t understand my real purpose as a clinician…because I was buried by concerns about my benefits, loans, retirement, and compensation!
This just amplified the imposter feelings. I relayed these feelings to one of my college buddies and BFFs, Geoff. He is a financial planner here in Ohio, and he told me I wasn’t special or unique, and that almost all professionals feel the same way, ESPECIALLY in healthcare. We spend all our time learning how to care for others.
His advice? “Will, do something about it.”
I suffered some financial fallout after a personal loss.
Another reason I decided to transition is rooted back to 17 years ago, when my father passed away unexpectedly.
My father was the breadwinner (dumb term), and left my pregnant mother widowed and with no life insurance payout. This happened not because my parents didn’t think my father needed life insurance, but because they thought they had it and it turns out the policy wasn’t in place. This miscommunication caused a serious financial fallout in my family.
One of my first interactions with someone in the financial services industry was pretty negative. It turns out that the financial rep who was supposed to put the life insurance plan in place for my dad’s business didn’t fulfill his professional responsibilities. This was obviously a BIG PROBLEM.
Furthermore, life gets busy. We’ve got a finite cognitive capacity and my dad didn’t do what he should’ve done long ago: establish a legitimate personal financial plan. For his entire life, my father had always bet on himself and up to this point, he had always won.
But what I learned when he passed away is that “Life is the house and the house always wins.” And what I’ve had to accept is that my father was a great man with good intentions, but life honors actions over intentions every time.
The things I liked most about my father are traits I see in nearly every clinician—caring, hardworking, altruistic to a fault, intelligent, fun—and it scares me to think that many clinicians could end up in similar situations because life gets busy. So, I’ve taken the negative fuel to move people in a positive direction.
I’ve felt my entire life I’m a better megaphone than most ☺ I like to communicate, though all my ex’s would disagree—ha! But, seriously, what good is oil if you can’t get it from below the ground to above the ground? That oil needs to be found and needs a conduit to the surface—I want to serve as a financial conduit to those I care about.
I like to help people solve problems (out of pain and into function, literally and metaphorically). Who better to help than those who help others, it’s a built-in “pay-it-forward.” Combined with what we know about stress, I have to believe that if I can help decrease a colleague’s stress, it will translate into better quality of life to their families and patients. It’s a win-win.
So why did you leave PT?
I can be a PT, I know it. I did it. I had wonderful professional offers and my patients got better. But, for the time I practiced, I felt trapped.
I felt like the walls of the clinic confined me. I felt there was more that could be extracted from my talents, and the weight of day-to-day practice was keeping me paralyzed a bit—I wanted to delve into the financial world, but I was too busy. I lack the ability to juggle multiple significant focuses, so trying to establish and grow a financial practice AND excel as a clinician felt too daunting for me at the time. Will I go back to the practice? Maybe. But at the time, it felt right to step away.
I wanted to be near my family. Based on advice of a dear friend and patient, who has since passed, and the feedback from my sister, I felt I needed to relocate to Ohio to be near my immediate family, especially, my youngest brother, John. One thing about my planning practice is that it’s mine. If I need to make time, I don’t need to clear it with anyone. True, with a PT practice, it’s not impossible to have flexibility, but it comes with a bit more red tape!
Finally, I like experiences, and this is quite the experience.
What appeals to you about financial advising? Is it similar to PT in any way?
Financial advising definitely is similar to physical therapy in that it’s all about forming relationships. I know and continue to meet so many awesome people ALL OVER the country whom I never would have met otherwise.
As a clinician, I didn’t know who I should talk to about my financial health, and it felt terrible. By taking ownership of my financial health, I also feel more empowered to help other clinicians do the same.
Using the biopsychosocial (BPS) model, it’s easy to see how pain (and its treatment) are still a significant part of what I do. Mitigating people’s financial pain and stress has tremendous carryover to their lives. Because I have experienced this personally, being able to help others in this way is extremely fulfilling to me.
Helping people extract feelings and cultivate ideas of what they want their life to be is a large part of what I do, and it’s something I’ve always done, even since grade school.
For anatomical comparison, at times, I get to serve as a professional ligament, helping to prevent aberrant financial motion. Other times, I am a professional tendon, helping transmit creative and professional efforts into purposeful life movements.
Unlike the tissues, I often get to be both 🙂 It serves as a personally meaningful way to advocate for my colleagues.
Was your transition gradual, or did it take time? How did you make the transition?
I’d say gradual. There was a lot of studying and whole new set of licenses to obtain.
In terms of business, my skepticism carried over from the musculoskeletal world to the financial world. There’s a lot of prep work for the exams to obtain license and a new language to learn.
Overall, it’s like those who just found out they passed their board specialty exams: You obtain the essential license which qualifies you, then you study, then you put in the time, then you check the criteria boxes, and then you improve through the process.
The designations indicate milestone achievement. Sadly, like in PT, financial industry designations don’t always guarantee any particular quality of care. In fact, at times, they may be deceptive.
What were some of the challenges you met along the way?
The language. Wow, we’re not talking anatomical terms anymore. Also, the highly technical content gets tedious and isn’t my strongest suit…it wasn’t in PT either. Ask ANYONE in my PT cohort! Anyone, professors included.
How do I manage this? The same way life leads us to find others! My planning team is AWESOME. I truly agree with the expression, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This has been my belief system from the moment I realized I would never be the best player on the team and watching “the best” individual get toppled by a good team.
You can get far, but a team can get you farther—ask LeBron and Golden State Warriors, ha!
Were people generally supportive? Or did you face stigma?
Oh man! I’ve heard it all—directly and indirectly, in favor and against.
I’ve always been someone people felt they knew, even without knowing. For example, I was with dear friends in Seattle, they took me to a party. I had just experienced the, “Hey, I know you, Will!” – “No you don’t” phenomenon, and the hosts walked up.
I was introduced, and they responded, “We met at their wedding. Remember?” – I didn’t meet my friends until they had been married several years.
The purpose of the story, for whatever reason, something about me and my story resonates with most people’s narratives. As you would imagine, the more actual common ground, the stronger my purpose resonates.
Therefore the medical community has generally been supportive. There’s lots of stigma, and I’ve definitely faced it, but the negative response is typically mitigated when people choose to listen. It’s primarily, “How could you go from something respected, like a PT, to being one of ‘these’ guys?”
But, overall, the response has been positive.
Since you decided to make the switch, how have you gotten your name out there?
How? Nothing I’ve done would’ve been possible without my social and professional network. None of it! Not even a little bit!
I have tremendous community support. Often, my relationships start on borrowed trust from a friend or colleague, or even a contact from a Facebook group.
Clinicians and I work together to get to know each other. The process of establishing a financial “plan of care” cultivates each unique relationship of trust. From there, people often send those they care about to work with my team.
This has turned into working with all kinds of professionals and family members, and it’s awesome.
I have had to spend some time putting my name out there in the PT community. I use platforms like blogs, forums, and podcasts.
Do you feel that everyone needs a financial advisor? If not, what would be the reason to choose one or not?
No, not necessarily. However, most should have a financial team, at the VERY LEAST for initial implementation, positioning for retirement account distribution, and certain business situations.
The thing about reading blogs, books, and financial website is that none of them truly care about your unique needs, or your behaviors, or what YOU want your end goal to be. As in the clinic, these considerations don’t dictate everything, but certainly MUST be considered.
It’s like asking our outpatient PT selves, “Do we legitimately believe everyone absolutely ‘needs’ us?” My answer is often, “No.”
Not if they have the time to invest in figuring all this out and acting accordingly. The literature is there. You don’t need a degree or license to get a textbook and read it for self-care.
I believe it’s not the management of money that leads to financial success, it’s managing the behavior—a whole other topic and layered like an onion.
For those who don’t have a financial advisor, it is still a good practice to develop relationships with a licensed professional for times when financial products need to be understood and implemented. For example, insurances, longstanding investment accounts like a 401(k), and looking at strategies for accessing those funds as efficiently as possible.
Often times, the most significant role a financial advisor can play is to help manage behavior and gut check beliefs. If you’re not getting your own personal goals met from a financial advisor, something is wrong.
If worse comes to worst, fire your advisor. I’ve acquired a number of clients from other advisors—not because I’m “better,” but because we connected and I was able to make sense of confusing things in a way that brought greater confidence (a case for behavior).
Conversely, I’ve had conversations where both parties agreed a longstanding relationship wasn’t mutually beneficial and we amicably part ways.
It’s better to fire an advisor you don’t like and search for one you do, than to avoid having one because “you know better” and life circumstance shows you were wrong.
I see this manifest in avoidable GoFundMe pages, which almost always seem to start with, “We never could’ve planned for this…”
Now, this is not me criminalizing crowd funding sites! Life can throw you some curveballs, and there isn’t anything wrong asking for help.
What bothers me is when “want” trumps “need” because emotion overrides rational thought—this way of thinking can lead to some very poor financial decisions. A trusted financial advisor is a great tool in these instances.
What would be your advice to PTs who are stressed about their own financial health?
Breathe! Ha! How would you approach a new patient with chronic low back pain? Think in terms of what you know: evaluations and SOAP notes!
Try to de-escalate, “step down from the ledge,” and capture your purpose and your life goals. That’s part of your subjective.
Write down objective findings (e.g. budgets, debts, assets, employer benefits), then assess everything (hint: you’ll likely need the proper professional for the assessment part, but there are tons of financial blogs, books, and resources out there to help), and begin to establish generally appropriate habits as your plan.
I’d recommend that you start by setting a budget and making a point of understanding loan basics. With time, based on the assessments and reassessments, you can refine your financial plan of care.
What if someone wishes to do something similar with their own career? What advice would you give those folks?
Ask yourself a lot of “why” type purpose questions at different times and different emotional states. Talk those through with people of various professional scope and varied depth of relationship. Don’t get caught up in the feels of your biggest fans; the Dunning-Kruger effect is real. Professional ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s dangerous.
What’s a day in the life like for you as a financial advisor/clinicians advocate?
I wake up, ask myself “what the hell am I doing?!”…usually because I’m wrapped in an odd sleeping posture. Laugh at a meme or two. Feet on the floor. Then, I either stop by coffee shop to do a bit of journaling and/or grab a workout. Then, the day reminds me a lot of clinic life with the exception of location; in this case, it’s likely more like telehealth, but it’s appointment, appointment, appointment, usually into the evening. When not on appointments, I’m responding to emails. And, because I’m far from perfect, I usually get to apologize a time or three daily.
What do I look forward to? ANY chance to stand and talk in front of a group, any chance. Every day is garnished with varied number of “squirrel” moments, which used to bother me, but now I’m trying to harness the creative trajectory.
For someone who is considering going non-clinical, do you have any specific advice for them?
Bridge it, allow a little gray. For example, volunteer or shadow in the role you THINK you want. The expression “the grass is always greener” is still around for a reason.
Sample the drink before you buy the bottle. This gives you the opportunity to make adequate preparations and take measures—mentally, financially, and socially—to make your move.
I do think there will come a time when your “jump” does have to happen, though.
Are extra certifications even necessary for all non-clinical roles, or should clinicians be out there networking instead?
Are extra certs EVEN necessary? It depends. You wanna teach? Probably need some extra “hey, I’m qualified” paper.
Often, less paper is needed than people perceive, though. For example, in retrospect, much of what I liked MOST in outpatient practice could’ve been achieved with MUCH LESS formal academic training and likely fulfilled with certifications and coaching.
It comes down to understanding what YOU want. For this reason, it’s why I REALLY think networking is important because you often find people who are doing OR know someone who is doing what you want to, they can help you figure out the details.
I’ve found what most people want to do requires a first step, humility, and persistence more than extra certifications.
How do you feel about non-clinical options for PTs at this point? Are there enough out there? Do we cover the topic enough in our educations?
I don’t think I’m qualified to give anything other than anecdote. I believe, if you view PT as no different than any other professional pursuit, then there is no shortage of non-clinical roles—if you’re willing to learn and sacrifice.
Now, if you’re asking about non-clinical options the DPT qualifies someone for, I don’t know how to answer that… and would’ve appreciated a bit more focus on other career pathways in my program.
I’m not sure I would’ve listened while in school because I was set on my direction: “learn to be good enough, open and grow practices.” So, listening to alternative pathway and other non-clinical options may have just gone in one ear and out the other.
I don’t know if it’s the obligation of a program to make non-clinical paths known. I do believe it’s an important conversation, but not sure it belongs in school. It probably belongs in places like The Non-Clinical PT.
It’s like personal finance being taught in PT school, should a program be obligated to teach it? With the latter, it would be great if it was BUT we should’ve had multiple exposures to personal finance from Junior High through Undergrad, thus allowing us to focus wholly on graduate level training. BUT, that’s not happening, so it makes sense some exposure attempt should be made.
How does the DPT and its price affect our career options, in your opinion, if at all?
The issue with the DPT cost is that it makes difficult to see ‘other’ opportunities because the inability to risk income because of student loan demands. Nor can many DPT grads afford an area/location for better opportunity because such a significant portion of income is earmarked for loans. The weight of the DPT too often feels indenturing, as opposed to liberating, which most anticipate with graduate level pursuits. Because of the indenturing nature, I’ve talked with many who felt forced to accept certain positions. I’m rambling, I don’t like it. I can say, the DPT is a thing, likely won’t ever change, and we need to adapt to it. I do believe many won’t even consider other “less safe” professional options because of the price.
If someone wanted to pursue a role similar to yours, what would you tell them?
Ask yourself a lot of “why” type purpose questions at different times and different emotional states. Talk those through with people of various professional scope and varied depth of relationship, someone in the field you don’t know well to someone not in the field who knows you best, like an uncle/sibling/parent. Don’t get caught up in the feels of your biggest fans; the Dunning-Kruger effect is real. Professional ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s dangerous.
If someone is looking to get into the financial service side of things, accept that it isn’t a fast track to money. Ask yourself, “how comfortable am I with rejection?” Know that you’ll have many exams to take ranging in cost from a $100 to $1000s. Are you comfortable being self-employed, as many in financial services are.
Also, if numbers aren’t your thing… that doesn’t mean this isn’t for you, but it likely means you need to partner with a number nerd while you’re maybe the face of the operation. The compensations structures vary widely, too.
Thanks for your insight, Will!