You don’t have to spend a lot of money or go into debt to begin. Just start somewhere. Building a business isn’t about the perfect logo or website or intake system- these things can evolve as you grow and understand more organically how your practice is developing.
As a part of our interview series with prominent medical professionals called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Samantha DuFlo.
Dr. Samantha DuFlo, PT, DPT, PRPC is a physiotherapist, certified running coach and leader in the field of women’s pelvic health and wellness. The founder and director of Indigo Physiotherapy in Baltimore, MD, Dr. DuFlo maintains a thriving clinical practice, with a focus on pelvic pain and dysfunction, sexual health, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery. With a doctorate degree and extensive training in pelvic health and rehabilitation, Dr. DuFlo helps female athletes — from novice runners to Olympic-qualifiers — optimize their bodies for peak performance and injury prevention while pregnant and returning to sport postpartum.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?
I was raised in a family of several generations of entrepreneurs, so even at a young age that drive was fostered within me. I remember growing up, in our kitchen was one of my Dad’s mantras: Drive, Determination, DuFlo. Although I have always been very driven, the actualization of entrepreneurship didn’t occur until much later in life. I had returned from involvement in a university and an NIH-funded research stint in Malawi, where I had worked with a team on community needs assessments in rural hospital and health care settings, particularly in mother to child transmission of HIV. It lit a spark in me and the passion for working with women throughout their life changes was born. When I returned home, I dabbled in various pelvic physical therapy practice settings but nothing spoke to me and I felt that something was missing from the patient care, but what I sought didn’t exist: I had to create it. I launched Indigo Physiotherapy in 2017, beginning with a self-made logo and renting just one room in a wellness center as a solo practice. Five years later, Indigo now has three practice locations, a retail boutique and a yoga studio that caters to our niche.
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?
This is an interesting question, as I have given a lot of thought to mentorship recently, and what that means to my generation of women. For mentorship of values, I always looked towards my Dad. He talked often about how business is building authentic relationships. From him, I learned the valuable art of networking. For mentorship from a business model standpoint, well, that didn’t exist for what I was looking to create. However, having a strong team beside me, including my accountant, my legal team, and my HR consultant, really guided me along the way. I think the concept of mentorship is evolving to reflect the values of the modern woman. I believe strongly that women should get paid their worth for their work, while so often they are asked to donate their time and labor to “good causes.” Mentorship, I believe, should change to reflect that. An unimaginable amount of sweat equity and unpaid time has gone into many female entrepreneurs getting where they are — let’s start paying them for their mentorship.
What made you want to start your own practice? Can you tell us the story of how you started it?
From Indigo’s initial launch five years ago to the many additions along the way, I’ve been led by the desire to create something when I see a community need or gap in care for women’s perinatal and pelvic health. I would see individuals that had experienced trauma, whether sexual or birth trauma, for treatment of pelvic pain in this stark, cold hospital based outpatient clinic with bright fluorescent lights overhead, and it was triggering to people’s sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system when I was trying to have their neuromuscular and musculoskeletal system back off and let their body ease into healing. I wanted to create an environment that was truly conducive to healing, that was validating people’s journeys through pain or incontinence, and could offer various modes towards that path to healing. Along the way, I would see a need, for instance, for perinatal yoga that emphasized preparation of the pelvis for birth or a safe space for female athletes to be assessed and trained postpartum by experts in the body’s physiological transformation with birth; and so I created it. My team really helps people and that is deeply and intrinsically satisfying.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Almost everyone that I see becomes an interesting story and an integral part of why I do what I do. Early in my career, I saw a client that was referred from her doctor for strengthening due to a pelvic organ prolapse diagnosis. During my time with her, she became pregnant again, and with her new symptoms, early on I realized something was remiss. It wasn’t all adding up. I suspected she may have a hypermobility disorder, sent her to a specialist, and a diagnosis, modified bed rest, and a handful of months later she had a healthy baby and delivery. Her mind was blown. That’s why I am good at what I do. I look beyond the surface, beyond the “this is weak so strengthen it,” and hunt for the “whys.”
Because it is a “helping profession”, some healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization.” How do you address the business aspect of running a medical practice? Can you share a story or example?
This is a great point, but I don’t struggle with this concept as much because by creating a system of transparent costs, our clients know exactly what to expect from their session times with us. We find that by operating in this way, we attract motivated clients that want to play a central role in their own healthcare plan, and will work with us to achieve their goals. Additionally, I pay everyone on my team fairly, regardless if they are a full time pelvic physical therapist or a part time yoga instructor. Paying my team fairly as well as funding significant amounts of continuing education for them allows me to create a practice of experts that are happy coming to work. I want to believe that the pandemic is creating a shift in values for our society, with more emphasis on health.
Managing being a provider and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?
Coffee helps a lot! Add Mama to that list of roles, and I am a busy woman. I love what I do, so maintaining direct patient care continues to be very important to me — it also helps me to keep a finger on the pulse of latest research and trends in my field, as well as the needs of my clients. I have learned to allocate certain days and times to do practice management and ownership roles, and keep fairly tight boundaries with my time. Entrepreneurs faced with this duality of roles face burnout at high rates. I avoid this by practicing meditation daily, scheduling in time to exercise — running is not only meditative to me, but it’s when I daydream up some of my best ideas — and hiring excellent managers and clinical directors on my team to balance out some of the tasks. It’s a constant hustle (and certainly not for everyone) but I find the challenge of it all extremely rewarding.
From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?
Navigating maternity leave when Indigo was still in a growth and development phase was a real challenge. There are a lot of misconceptions about working for yourself — yes, iit means dictating your own hours and schedule, but it can also mean that you take the lion’s share of the workload initially and sometimes your schedule might have many late nights. I spent most of my pregnancy creating various systems to facilitate my leave by hiring staff I could trust to allocate decisions to and preparing my clients for the transitions. It wasn’t easy, and I certainly didn’t get as much time home with my daughter as I would have liked to, which is why I have become a strong advocate for a federal system of paid maternity leave for birthing parents in our country.
Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview. What are the 5 things you need to know to create a thriving practice, and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You don’t have to spend a lot of money or go into debt to begin. Just start somewhere. Building a business isn’t about the perfect logo or website or intake system- these things can evolve as you grow and understand more organically how your practice is developing.
- Burnout is real. You can’t take care of your clients or your staff if you aren’t being well taken care of. Pay yourself, take time off, set boundaries with your hours, your energy and your clients.
- Create a team of support around you, and pay for their services. A good attorney, accountant, HR consultant, graphic designer- these people are priceless if they are really good at what they do and understand the field you work in. Starting out with a strong, guided foundation means less time, hassle and money later.
- Practice what you love. Owning your own business can be really challenging, frustrating, and exhausting at times- but also immensely rewarding. If you love what you do and can keep your hands on treatment of clients, it helps the reward factor as you see people healing.
- Tell everyone that will listen what you do. Talk about your practice, network authentically and develop relationships. Networking is more than asking for a referral, and can be a huge asset to developing a client base.
As a business owner you spend most of your time working IN your practice, seeing patients. When and how do you shift to working ON your practice? (Marketing, upgrading systems, growing your practice, etc.) How much time do you spend on the business elements?
Business development is often just as important and seeing clients: seeing clients today pays the bills today, but business development pays the bills next year. Five years in, I now have the opportunity to take more time for development as I have more staff to help with management, clinical direction and seeing clients. I spend 1–2 days per week out of a 5–6 day workweek in non-direct patient care activities. You learn your business and when it is more or less busy with clients, and fluctuate your schedule based on those needs.
I understand that the healthcare industry has unique stresses and hazards that other industries don’t have. What specific practices would you recommend to other healthcare leaders to improve their physical or mental wellness? Can you share a story or example?
Whether it is evaluating many clients with trauma or chronic pain, or physically performing the job as a physical therapist, being a healthcare professional can be both mentally and physically taxing. Maintaining physical strength, inclusive of postural strength, is equally as important as mental health. I recommend developing a schedule that includes cardiovascular movement, such as walking, running or spinning to burn off steam and improve aerobic health, as well as something like Pilates or yoga, to facilitate posture, breath, and strength. Mindful meditation should be a daily grounding point for every healthcare professional. It may vary depending on what speaks to you, whether that’s dance, strength training, or boxing, but make it habitual and schedule it in just as you would seeing clients or working on your business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
‘Failure is a prerequisite for a meaningful life.” So many of the people I admire have failed at something, but these change-makers and risk-takers grow, adapt, evolve as a consequence of failure. I don’t want my daughter to know a perfect Mama, I want her to know a Mama that was brave enough to fail.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success and good health!