What’s your name and full title?
When did you graduate from PT school, and from where?
Florida A&M University in 2001 with a BS in PT
What did you do after school?
Following the Medicare cap situation, jobs were pretty scarce, so I took the first thing I could find working in an Occupational Medicine (Worker’s Comp) clinic.
What did you enjoy about that role? What did you enjoy less about the role?
The two things I enjoyed most about the role were:
- Having direct access to the referring doctors. I learned SO much by being able to walk over there, ask questions, look at x-ray films. We didn’t learn as much with diagnostics in the bachelor’s program, so that gave me real-world experience.
- I also liked that fact that if I caught something really serious that needed medical attention, I could walk them over to see what I saw. I also got to really hone my Spanish skills. In the summers, I spent about half of the day speaking Spanish.
The down side of a Worker’s Comp clinic was that we took walk-ins: walk-ins for injuries, walk-ins for pre-job placement testing.
This meant that I could have 18 patients on my schedule already and get walk-ins. That was challenging, but I learned quickly about time management.
The other challenging part about that setting was, especially as a new-grad, wondering if I was ineffective as a therapist or the patient was being driven by secondary gain.
At what point did you decide you wanted to try something non-clinical, and why?
I’d had weight challenges ever since PT school, until I finally decided I was going to do something about it. I removed 60 pounds by starting with salsa dance classes, because that’s all my knees could take at the time and I loved it.
Then I progressed to CrossFit and cycling. So Fit Ladies (Social Fitness for Ladies) was born when I decided one day that I wanted to bring women together to show them that there were fun ways to move their bodies that didn’t involve running and lifting weights.
From there, I got certified as a life and wellness coach to support the other aspects of being healthy and fit.
Did you try any other therapy settings before leaving patient care?
I have worked in all of the settings (except peds and academia). Ortho outpatient to management, to contracting in 2007 where I worked in inpatient rehab and memory care, LTAC, HHPT and acute care and psych.
What are you doing these days, and why?
These days, I split time between contracting in acute care and coaching. After coach training, we were left to fend for ourselves when it came to getting clients. Because of the work I had done to set up my contracting company and with So Fit Ladies, I was able to get started and get clients a lot faster than my coaching colleagues, who started coming to me for advice.
Since then, I have been helping other coaches launch their businesses. I have seen how working on the health and wellness side of things gave me a lot of freedom and flexibility that I didn’t feel like I has a PT, even as a contractor and it really helped me get out of burnout.
Now I help other PTs who have gone on to get coaching certifications start their businesses. It allows us to combat burnout by giving us the freedom, flexibility and autonomy to treat who we want, how we want, from where ever we want, without the drama and salary caps.
Do you still practice clinically? If so, do you intend to do so long-term, and how much/which settings are you currently in?
I still work in the acute care setting part-time because I LOVE being a PT, but after two back injuries and a torn rotator cuff, I don’t think I’m going to be doing that for the next 25 years.
What made you decide to pursue a life coaching track?
It was an accident. I reached out to a business coach to help me set up my wellness coaching business and she recommended The Life Coach School to get more skills in coaching.
I was supposed to enter the Weight Coach track, but the training got postponed and I didn’t want to wait, so I entered the Life Coach track.
It was the best move ever because it helped me manage work-life boundaries and has really helped me become a better therapist because I found that I was able to motivate patients and get more out of them.
What is your role like now? How long have you been in this particular role?
I developed a Burnout Resilience program for one of the major hospitals here in Atlanta last year and do individual and group coaching for the rehab department.
I also coach PTs interested in health/wellness/prevention on how to set up their businesses and attract clients.
What is a day in the life like for you?
On non-hospital days, after my morning routine, I go to my home office and work on any presentations or content. Midday I am usually connecting with other PTs, OTs or SLPs who are trying to make a difference in our professions because I think there is strength in numbers and there is always an opportunity to refer to one another.
In the afternoons, I am either on calls with potential or current clients. I shut things down at 5 pm so I can make it to the 6 pm class at the gym. I’m usually back home by 8 pm, where I spend time with my mate, Netflix and chill, read a book, or interact with other PTs and OTs in a few Facebook groups that I’m in.
What are your favorite things about your current role?
My favorite thing about being a coach is the freedom and flexibility it offers. I get to work from home, or sometimes a cafe or co-working space.
I get to choose the people I work with, people who are excited about and invested in their results. I got to go home for six months to take care of my mom before and after her knee replacement because my tools were my laptop and my phone.
What are the biggest challenges in your role?
There are several challenges as a life/health/wellness coach.
You have to gain several skills that we don’t typically need as a PT, like marketing (AKA attracting potential clients).
This definitely means learning the skill of copywriting (writing to help people make a decision about your services/approach), and it may also mean writing a blog, or starting a podcast or a YouTube channel.
After all, you can have the cure for cancer, but if no one knows about it, it isn’t doing anybody any good.
You have to learn sales skills. When people are investing money, they want to make sure it’s the right solution and you are the right coach for them. As a coach, most of the time in the beginning, you are doing EVERYTHING by yourself, so you have to have organization and time management skills.
Finally, you have to stay focused.
There are 50 million ways to building a coaching business, whether you’re doing it online or offline. As you start down the rabbit hole of the Google Search: “how to start a business,” you will be tempted to download every freebie and try every technique because either you see other people doing it, or you think it will catapult you to the next level.
The challenge is to keep things simple and focus on a few things you can do well. I really struggled with that and have found the working with my coach has helped a TON with that.
What is a typical career path for someone in your role?
Most of us come out of coach training with the understanding that we will have to build our own businesses and find our own clients. However, that is starting to change. I know a couple people who have been employed by Noom, a health coaching company.
[Editor’s note: I know of at least one graduate of Non-Clinical 101 who is employed as a health coach at Noom!]
It is my understanding that The Life Coach School where I was trained, now hires coaches that have been trained by the school. Professional coaches are also being hired by major companies to provide services through the HR Department.
When coaches build from scratch, often it starts with one-on-one coaching, then people move to group coaching to leverage their time.
At that point, many start to think about ways to scale their business, whether through a digital course, membership site or hiring others to help them with the coaching program.
What is the money like in life coaching compared to therapy?
It varies wildly. I have found that it depends on a number of factors like:
- The target demographic: Coaching for a middle manager and coaching for a CEO will have a different perceived value and the client has different ability to pay)
- How robust the solution is: Are you providing a do-it-yourself course or are you working with the client one-on-one for a year with an all-inclusive retreat?
- The confidence of the individual. I remember an OT friend of mine, who has a 10 week weight loss program that sells all day, everyday from $5K-$8K, depending on how much access you get to her, telling me that she used to sell it for $699. As she became more confident, gained more skills, got better results, she increased the price of the program. I know coaches making $30K/year and others making $1 million+. That’s why learning the business skills are so important.
How stable is life coaching?
Life coaching, as well as health/wellness coaching, as a profession is on the rise. More and more people are realizing that we have not been taught certain tools to really thrive in our lives and we have certain blind spots in our thinking and approach, so it’s helpful to have someone outside of ourselves who will tell us the truth and hold us accountable to our goals.
That said, startups go out of business everyday.
It is important that if you get into coaching you go in eyes wide open, be willing to learn, make mistakes and get feedback, and keep moving forward.
What type of person would be successful in a role like yours?
- A self-starter. When you work for yourself, you have to be even more disciplined than when you are an employee because you are wearing ALL of the hats. There is no one to tell you what to do and when to do it. If you goof off, you are delaying revenue and if coaching is your primary source of income, that could spell disaster.
- Someone who really cares about people. Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. It requires you challenge and stretch yourself. That you put in the work, that you learn new things, that you fail, dust yourself off and try again. If you are only in it for the money or the laptop on the beach lifestyle, this is probably not the best avenue for you. I think we all want to help people and in the beginning it is about us. Us making the money, us getting rejected if someone says no. After a while, something changes in you and you realize that this is bigger than you. When you REALLY get clear about your mission and the people you are here to help, the business takes new meaning.
What would you tell someone who is considering doing a similar role? Do you have any specific advice?
If you are considering coaching, it is one of the most rewarding things you can do. My biggest piece of advice is to forget about the money initially. Stay in your current gig so that money is not a source of stress and you can really get clear about your mission and who you are meant to serve and how.
Get a business coach. Running a coaching business does not require a lot of money in terms of start-up costs, but you can waste a LOT of time and money if you don’t have plan in place, someone to give you feedback, and someone to help you build confidence so you get out of Confusion Land and side-step some potholes along the way.
If you choose to get a coach, make sure you follow his or her work, and that you understand their style and approach. Try not to get caught up in the hype.
If you choose to do it yourself, make sure you are clear on your vision, strategy, and skills needs so you don’t spend a bunch of time or money on courses that collect dust on your hard drive.
Why should PT/OT/SLP professionals go into wellness?
1) We already have an incredible base of knowledge because we had to learn the anatomy, physiology, exercise programming, etc. We had to study what normal function was in order to understand how to restore it.
Therefore, we are also suited to help people optimize function. Much more so than the person who is Instafamous because they have a six-pack, took a six-hour online course and are willing to talk about what they do.
2) Many of us are into health and wellness ourselves. We play and/or played sports, so why not take what we do, who we are and infuse it into our work? That is one way to stay fired up about your work and beat burnout.
3) The whole point of APTA’s Vision 2020—at least my understanding of it—and the elevation of the degree from a BS/MS in PT to the DPT, was to make us the front line health (not sick) care providers. In the archived Vision 2020 document, it says, “Consumers will have direct access to physical therapists in all environments for patient/client management, prevention, and wellness services.”
Most of the states have some form of direct access, with the least restriction around direct access provided when you are performing health/wellness/fitness. This allows us to have the maximum amount of autonomy, which also has a direct correlation to burnout.
The more autonomy you have, the less you tend to burn out.
4) Focusing on health and wellness, especially if you are in the coaching or teaching space, allows you greater flexibility and freedom to work remotely. Until telehealth PT, we did not have the option to telecommute and even that is not scalable—which means that even though you get to work from home, you are still limited in your income because there are so many hours in a day and you have to be present at a certain time to do the work.
This also happens to be the case with one-on-one coaching, but I also teach therapists the other business models that allow for greater freedom, flexibility and scalability that simply are not available with the traditional practice model, even if you become a telehealth physical therapist.
OK, TaVona. Here’s the million-dollar question! Why aren’t we dominating the wellness space?
That’s a good question. I have had a number of conversations with PTs who are tired of working with unmotivated clients, and want to work with those who are invested in their results—but they find themselves confused about where to start, not to mention overwhelmed with all of the software and how to find clients. Plus, they feel intimidated by the skills they have to learn as a business owner that were not taught to us in PT/OT/SLP school.
I understand what that feels like, so I have done my best to streamline and simplify the process of starting a wellness business. I can’t remove all of the work, but I can help reduce some of the overwhelm.
The APTA’s expansion of our scope of practice into health/wellness presents some interesting challenges that I have contacted them about, and I am interested to see how things unfold in the next few years.
There is a lot of ambiguity around what is PT and what is not.
- Am I using my health/wellness coaching certification or am I using my PT license?
- If I am a PT with no other certifications/training and I am playing on the wellness/prevention side of the fence, what is required in terms of documentation?
I am not an attorney, but what I recommend you if you are interested in starting a wellness business is read your state practice act several times and make sure you understand it. If you have questions, contact your state board. You may also want to consult a health attorney to make sure you understand. If you have a health/wellness/fitness coach certification of some sort, adhere to HIPAA and write SOAP notes as you would with any patient.
What are the biggest questions around the wellness space?
Well, I already sort of touched on that in the last question, but there are a LOT of big questions that have yet to be answered, at least in a way that provides us some sort of blueprint to follow. And we PTs love structure, so we are craving a blueprint that doesn’t quite exist…yet. This is especially true when you consider it from an entrepreneurship lens.
Here are some of the biggest questions I hear. The reason people have these questions is that the answers are always changing. That’s a big reason why there’s no blueprint; entrepreneurship moves quickly, and answers are always fluid. That said, if you join my Wellness PT Society, we regularly address these questions. So be sure to join!
- Do I have to get certified as a health/wellness coach to do this work?
- What tools do I need and how do I set everything up?
- How to find clients when there are so many people in health and wellness?
- What is the best way to start marketing my services-a blog, social media, video, etc.
Do you have any books or podcasts that you recommend to someone pursuing life coaching?
My FAVORITE podcasts for someone considering life coaching is The Life Coach School podcast.
On the business side, my favorite is Online Marketing Made Easy podcast. There are a TON of books I would recommend (I’m a total book nerd), but The two coming up for me right now are The War of Art (not the Art of War) and The Four Agreements.
What’s next for you? What are your professional goals, and your goals for the profession?
What’s next? Bringing together as many PTs who are also coaches in the Wellness PT Society as my personal mission to save as many PTs as I can from burnout, boredom, and glass ceilings.
For now, I think this is the best way to support so many of us who LOVE PT—but are not really feeling the rigidity of the traditional practice, and instead want to focus on the prevention, health, and wellness side of PT.
Where can people find you?
Thanks for your insight, TaVona!