As a part of my interview series with prominent medical professionals about “How To Grow Your Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lev Kalika.
Dr. Lev Kalika, owner of New York Dynamic Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy (NYDN Rehab), is known for revolutionized how back pain and other motor disorders are treated by introducing Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) and groundbreaking technology, such as CAREN (Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment), to the U.S. Dr. Kalika is an expert in the conservative treatment of back, hip, knee and shoulder pain, as well as sports injury disorders.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your ‘backstory”?
I developed a strong passion for movement and body mechanics in the late 1980’s when my brother opened his first body building gym in my hometown of Odessa. I was a medical student at the University of Odessa just when body building was surfacing in Odessa. My love for this sport was so deep that I began teaching myself English to read literature on the culture of body motion. I was especially interested in the CNS (Central Nervous System) and how different muscle groups interacted with each other and the rest of the body. By this point I was in medical school and was on my way to New York City to escape the Soviet Union before the collapse. In the process of my education I developed a chest pain and for two year I was undiagnosed. Fortunately, by sheer luck I had consulted a chiropractor who was able to eliminate my symptoms within one month. This was my first experience with chiropractor. Given my background in soccer (I played professionally as a junior and suffered multiple injuries). The idea of functional medicine gave me the appeal to open my practice introducing my passion and pairing it with my new business ideas which opened in 2011.
What made you want to start your own practice?
I was inspired to start my own practice when I graduated National College of Chiropractic in 1997. My great uncle was a famous Soviet neurologist who was able to connect me with two world renowned doctors Professor Karel Lewit, MD and Vladimir Janda, MD where I completed a fellowship in Prague School of Rehabilitation. After working under these giants my mind was set that I wouldn’t practice any other way. After my fellowship, I moved back to New York and took a position working under another doctor. This position showed me that neither patients nor physicians had any idea what functional rehabilitative medicine was. This is when I decided to open my own practice.
Managing being a provider and a business owner can often be exhausting. Can you elaborate on how you manage both roles?
Yes! As a business owner and provider, you need learn how to be able to wear many hats and learn as you go. In my case, my sole purpose was to get as many patients better with the different skill sets, I learned. Most people weren’t used to my techniques so for the first 5 years that I was practicing I made it a mission to introduce my methods to as many patients as possible. Later I started to expand my education and create more comprehensive and integrative care. It was just about the time when internet was beginning so I had this idea that I will start educating the public on medicine and functional medicine. That was successful because no one had done it at the time. To me my patients were always the priority to the business, so I learned from my own mistakes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good support at the time, so I did everything myself spending extra hours at home or in the clinic learning the business aspect of the clinic. It took years to figure out how not to jeopardize my clinical model and standards which it required and stay profitable. Being that my practice is in the heart of NYC and I have the most advanced technology in private rehab clinic in US my overhead is very high, but if you enjoy doing what you do simply don’t wear an expensive watch or drive an expensive car. You need to choose your priorities.
As a business owner, how do you know when to stop working IN your business (maybe see a full patient load) and shift to working ON your business?
As a business owner and full-time doctor, I try to make time for both sides of the business as much as I can. I see full patient loads about 4 times a week and one day a week I focus solely on the business and evolving my practice. I do research as well as working with different developers to set myself apart from other people. Most types of medical practices are constantly evolving because medical science is constantly changing, and you always learn something new, so it is always an ongoing process.
From completing your degree to opening a clinic and becoming a business owner, the path was obviously full of many hurdles. How did you build up resilience to rebound from failures? Is there a specific hurdle that sticks out to you?
In the beginning, there were MANY hurdles that I had to overcome. I found that setting positive goals for myself helped me overcome failures. There are always setbacks, especially in the medical industry. I had a patient that was in excruciating pain. She complained she experienced this pain for years but no one what able to help her. Her attitude was negative from the beginning, so she was skeptical of the fact that I can help her. I offered her extracorporeal shockwave therapy which would work for her issue. The hurdle here was convincing the patient that this will 100 percent help her without trying to sound like a salesperson. I told her to think about it while explaining potential risks and backing off from convincing her. She decided to try ESWT and of course it worked! You must learn how to understand the patient and be more empathic if there is no easy solution. Sometimes there is no optimal, fast or easy solution, but most patients expect that if you are a reputable clinician you will have fast while long lasting solution.
What are your “5 Things You Need to Know to Grow Your Private Practice” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Patients are always the priority. Be true to yourself and your patient.You never want to compromise a patient’s health to sell a service. Be true to what you know and what you know about the patient. You should also have appropriate and ethical responses and be empathetic to their problems.
- Your reputation is the most important part of growing your practice.When growing your practice, your online reputation (reviews/positive posts) as well as word of mouth increases patient volume which shows potential new patients that you are reputable and reliable.
- The biggest driver for your practice is not your advertisement, it is not a referral from another doctor, but a referral from your own patient.Your patients know best! The people that have seen you before most likely had a positive experience and will encourage others to come. So, tell a friend to tell a friend!
- Hire reliable staff members! When you have reliable people that work for you it helps YOU do what you do best.
- Be flexible and attend postgraduate courses because this is where you learn from peers about their ways to practice, update your knowledge and find out about innovations. In order to be at the top of your game you need to advance with the newest treatment options for your patients. It helps with your appeal and keeps your practice fresh and updated.
Many healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization”. How did you overcome that mental block?
I feel that if you prioritize your patient’s wellbeing over insurance you will monetize your value as a doctor. You should always try to put yourself into the persons shoes and if the patient is happy then you will see the value in yourself and your practice.
What do you do when you feel unfocused or overwhelmed?
I can’t afford to be unfocused since what I do requires a lot of attention and precision.
If I am overwhelmed with any clinical problem and am not satisfied with the diagnosis, I will admit to the patient that I need time to do more research and reschedule the patient for another day. Sometimes it helps to take time off to clear your head so that you can get back to treating patients with a clear mind.
I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career — None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
My biggest mentor was professor Karel Lewit MD, Ph.D who taught me that there are no two patients alike even with the same diagnosis. Since everyone moves in his/her unique/individual way movement disorders require very individual and comprehensive treatment approaches. He also taught me that what you know now may be right tomorrow since medicine is constantly changing. You need to be able to accept the change and challenge your thinking.
What resources did you use (Blogs, webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) that helped jumpstart you in the beginning of your business?
With the exception of blogs where peers share their business experiences, I never felt other resources (webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) to be helpful for me. I think blogs were effective for me because people were honest with the problems they ran into and learning from others mistakes helped me thrive. In the medical industry, there are no two doctors and patients alike. In the beginning, I felt that I benefited from trial and error and learning from my own mistakes. Try to listen to your patients and to your own self. Analyze that and adjust. See how other practices run things but find your own way.
What’s the worst piece of advice or recommendation you’ve ever received? Can you share a story about that?
The worst advice I ever received was that becoming a doctor would make me tons of money. People around me were convinced that right out of school. If you go into the medical industry thinking that’s true, you are sadly mistaken. Often people come out of school with debt and because running a business requires a large investment. So, chances are it might be a little while before you turn over a profit. Its best you become a doctor for the right intentions, not to make a profit.
Please recommend one book that’s made the biggest impact on you?
Backbone by David H Wagner helped me reach my full potential and guided me to my “passion filled life.”
For other incredible interviews, please check out our podcast: Healthcare Heroes.
A special thanks to Dr. Kalika again! The purpose of this interview series is to highlight the entrepreneurs, innovators, advocates, and providers inside Healthcare. Our hope is to inspire future healthcare providers on the incredible careers that are possible!