Top 7 business tips for being a successful ND

One thing I am passionate about is spreading the message about Naturopathic Medicine and one way to do that is by helping other NDs become successful in practice. Maybe you are new in practice and wondering how to be successful in practice. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by the idea of setting up a new clinic, marketing, deciding on software, hiring staff and the multitude of decisions that have to be made. I remember when I went to the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, I had made a career change from Marketing (B. Comm) to Medicine (ND) and I lacked confidence in my skills. Remember, there is a reason it is called a medical “practice” – you are learning from your patients every day. There is no doctor or scientist out there that knows it all – and neither do you. Mother nature might be the only one that has the answers and that is why I think it is best to follow her lead ☺. As I say to my patients “Nature is the teacher of science”. There are many aspects to business – business is a broad term that encompasses operations, accounting, finance, marketing/advertising, human resources, organizational behaviour etc – and this article will discuss 7 key points that every ND needs to do well. Clinicians spend many years studying medicine but they have to realize that private practice is essentially a business – especially for naturopathic doctors.

Here are my 7 business tips:

1.Physician heal thyself – when I first started in practice, I asked Dr. Gord Smith for advice. He said “When you learn to get out of the way with patients, then you will be successful.” It took me time to fully integrate what he was teaching me. I have come to believe that working on my own “issues” in the mental, emotional and spiritual realms have been a key point in working with patients. You can only take patients as far as you have gone yourself. I have found that the greatest gift I give to my patients is through the healing work that I have done. To this end, I have created a unique course for clinicians to further their own exploration into personal healing and growth. I highly encourage you to either work with a gifted practitioner you trust or to sign up for this exciting retreat: Beyond the Label Teacher Training. I hear you, I’ve been there. I have learnt that you have to do your own personal growth work to get yourself out of the way in order to help others. If you find you are triggered by what patients are saying, you are getting defensive or taking things personally, then you need to some work (ie The Work of Byron Katie, take my course, counseling).  Even though I reported to a CEO in my previous career, have a business degree and have been practicing for over a decade, I don’t profess to know everything – because who does. So let yourself off the hook with the pressure you are putting on yourself to know it all – you never will. Put more energy into healing yourself.

2. Take one action step every day toward your goals. Since you are “self-employed” you are the one driving your business and the success of it. Don’t let your fears of self-doubt stop you in your tracks. Pick one thing on your “to do” list that you can do today. If you don’t have a “to do” list I suggest that is your action step for today – create one. As someone once told me “Fail to plan, plan to fail”. If you are unsure in business, then hire a business coach. I am happy to consult as with you as well.

3. Give patients hope and love. I think an important point that many are missing is hope. Hope is defined as: to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen. We must instill hope in our patients. The reason we don’t may be due to a lack of confidence in our abilities, in the medicine, in the patient or maybe we have forgotten how important the basic things are. I know many are fearful of giving “false hope” to patients (ie cancer). Remember that you are not the only one guiding the patient. There are often contractual spiritual forces at play that are bigger than us. I believe in the field of psychoneuroimmunology and I ask many patients to watch this video – as it talks about one’s thoughts as it relates to one’s health. The main point in the video is: one of the most important components to your health is your subconscious and conscious beliefs. Thoughts create neuropeptides. Neuropeptides bind to immune cells as every immune cell has neuropeptide receptors. Therefore, your thoughts = your immune system. This is the field of psyconeuroimmunology and the work of Candice Pert in her book “Molecules of Emotion”. Remember that patients are putting their trust in you to help them heal. You need to put faith in them that they will heal. This is called hope. It is not necessarily going to be easy. It is not necessarily going to be hard. It is going to be what you make it. I maintain confidence that through my actions, the steps the patient needs to take and the work of spirit in their lives that they can regain their health on all levels – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – if that is what is meant to be. It is important to remember that health is a lifelong journey – not a destination. We are always making choices today that our future self will thank us for. One of those choices is focusing on HOPE. The other is focusing on LOVE. Really care for and love your patients – I make this a #1 priority with my patients – that they feel cared for and I really grow to love them. No one leaves the clinic without a hug or a gentle touch on the back. I really think that this loving approach is one of the things that has made me so busy. In the end, patients know that I care about them.

4. Marketing/networking and referrals. It is important in marketing/networking to let people know you are available to help. The naturopathic profession has a PR problem and there are many that still don’t know we exist, what we can do, how well trained we are etc. Although I have seen a shift over the last 20 years, we still have a long way to go to catch up in creditability to MDs. If people don’t know that you can help them then you aren’t in their realm of possibility. It is your job (and that of our professional associations) to let the public know about who we are, what we do and how we are trained as primary care providers. Find ways to market yourself and spread your message in ways that you are comfortable with – if writing is your thing, then write for your local paper or blog; if speaking is your strength, then give talks; or if you have a particular interest – in sports, arts, or volunteering, then start with the groups you are involved with. Do your part to get the message out about our amazing profession. One way to do this is to ask for referrals – from existing patients, from like-minded practitioners (ie massage therapists, psychologists, chiropractors, medical doctors, pharmacists etc) and give referrals to the same people you are asking something from. I have taken a lead from my realtor and I give every patient a welcome letter that says “I am never too busy for your referrals – if you know someone that would benefit from naturopathic medicine, please let them know about us”. ☺ I believe this is the ideal health care team for a patient:
a. See an ND
b. See a body therapist (ie rolfer, massage, cranio, reflexology)
c. See a chiropractor and/or acupuncturist
d. See a psychologist
e. Work with an open minded MD
f. Refer to “specialists” as necessary

5. Have a plan. Let patients know what aspects of their health you are working on and how long that will take. Never let a patient leave without having a follow up appointment scheduled. I let patients know that they are on a plan – for example, first we are going to balance your neurotransmitters, manage stress and then address your hormones. While we are doing that we will also work on the organs of detoxification and diet. And after that we will address x, y and z. Patients return because they are ready for the next step, they get results and they want to feel EVEN better. Patients know with me, they must schedule their follow ups even if it is 6 months away as I am so busy – they want to get in and they value and respect that time because they value their health. Once I have helped patients with their chief concerns, I let them know that I am just like their family MD and I want to see them in 6 months – 1 year to have an annual check-in. For many of my patients I am their primary care provider.

6. Be organized and be on time. If you aren’t an expert or if you don’t have knowledge on condition Z – it is fine as you tell them that you are addressing root causes and in the first visit, there are always two diet changes you can make for people (whether it is decreasing caffeine, eliminating pop, increasing water, incorporating more organic foods, eliminating GMO foods) and that gives you time to research their specific condition. Remember though, that you treat people, not conditions.

7. Location, location, location – location is important. Starting in a busy city with lots of other NDs is more difficult than an under serviced area. We do need to recognize that the world of business has moved online – so you need to have a physical space for people to come to your office, but how they find you needs to be online. If you aren’t online, then get there – this is the way of the world so build your website, start blogging and be active on social media. When I was in school, a teacher said the ND/population ratio was 1:10,000. That means that a city the size of Toronto could have over 260 NDs. There are currently 301 NDs – if it were me, I might consider another location. When I was a student, I looked at the size of each city in Canada and the population – recognizing that my preference was to move back to Vancouver, BC where I am born and raised – and decided that Squamish was going to be where I would move. Four years later, love found my heart and my partner wanted to live elsewhere. We ended up settling in Edmonton (after a stint in Fort McMurray) and I love it here! We discussed moving to a Gulf Island to practice, but we chose against it. We discussed moving to Vancouver, but we chose against it. We discussed buying a health food store in Pemberton, BC, but we chose against it. Many factors go into deciding what is best for you and your family. I believe home is where your heart is and wherever you go, there you are. Canada is an amazing country and there are many locations that need an amazing ND like you!

Here’s to your success!!


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