Judging by comments from our readers, many of you have great, innovative ideas that you cannot always use in traditional workplaces. There are three ways to gain increased control of your practice:
1) Locate and get hired by a facility that honors your expertise and supports the kind of OT you want to provide. Fabulous, when it works!
2) Overcome resistance and gradually infuse great OT practices into settings that did not previously have them.
3) Start your own independent practice and control the quality and nature of your services.
Before you get the vapors and generate 500 reasons why you cannot start a private practice, let me just say that it’s OK to start very small and to take your time. Actually, that’s best. Also, it does not have to be all or nothing. In fact, giving up your day job one day to jump into a small business the next is not generally ideal.
Small is wonderful. Slow is fine. Part time is beautiful, too.
Not pursuing the career that you truly want and love is neither wonderful nor fine. Not fully developing your unique translation of authentic occupational therapy is a tragic loss for yourself and the many people who would have benefitted from your service.
Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants are well-positioned to be successful entrepreneurs. We offer services that are unique and valuable. We can craft novel and effective solutions to real-life problems. We are passionate about our work and emotionally connected to those we serve. Our clientele can access our services directly, without needing a physician’s referral.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of working with a few private clients, here are some initial baby steps to get you started:
• Read about OT practitioners who have private practices and learn about the wide array of forms that these can take. I found several great examples in the AOTA Administration and Management SIS quarterly archives and OT Practice publications. There are some terrific independent practice OT bloggers and websites out there, too.
• Connect personally with OTs in private practice via social media (i.e., LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) or word of mouth among your OT pals. Ask questions and listen well.
• Spend time imagining, writing or mind-mapping about who you want to serve, what you would provide and where. Hint: The easiest and least financially risky approach is one that uses natural environments and equipment, such as clients’ homes or workplaces and community settings. Happily, this also is the most relevant to their everyday lives.
• Go to where your ideal clients gather, and ask if there’s a need and interest in your idea. While planning my practice, I obtained permission to attend parents’ meetings at a therapeutic school and was able to assess and spark interest in my ideas. A colleague connected with local Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis support groups as she was developing ideas.
• Start learning about the business and legal sides of a small practice. It’s not as scary or hard to learn as you may think. Just take it in small steps, and keep at it. There are resources for this; here are just a few:
Developing a small practice is not for everyone. However, if you feel a persistent urge to develop and try something that’s truly your own, I hope you’ll start taking small steps forward. Unless you make opportunities to craft the career of your dreams, you’re not really living up to your professional potential. You earned your OT credentials because you wanted to love your work and you worked hard for that privilege. The best opportunities are those we make for ourselves.