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Opportunities & Challenges When Starting a Functional Medicine Practice

Daniel Kalish, DC

The idea of going into private practice can make clinicians nervous; you may be unclear about the risks and opportunities that come with running your own healthcare clinic. I’m here to let you know that you can do it. For the past 5,000 years, private practice was the only model available; only recently have physicians had an opportunity to work for large healthcare organizations. If you made it through licensing exams and graduated with a degree, then you certainly have the ability to start and run a successful Functional Medicine clinic. 

Within the world of business, there are different levels of business acumen required to succeed at various business ventures. For example, the CEO of a large, multi-national company like Apple or Nike has to have extremely good business skills and training, much like a superstar NBA basketball player has extremely well-developed basketball skills. How many CEOs are there? How many NBA stars? Not a million or two—the numbers are relatively small.  

At the bottom of the business acumen scale are the small local businesses we all frequent. The drycleaners, the place you go to get your haircut, the local bicycle shop, or your favorite local restaurant. How many of these types of businesses are there globally? Millions and millions. What is the skill set required to run a corner grocery store? It’s a level of business acumen that literally millions and millions of people have. 

Running a small private practice in Functional Medicine has the complexity level of running a hair salon. You need to take in payments, bill people, have a customer list, make appointments, cancel appointments, establish an appointment cancellation policy, get a business bank account, pay quarterly taxes, be sure you meet all the local, state, and federal regulatory rules, and so on. The point is: running a small private practice in Functional Medicine is relatively easy to do. Once you are all set up, it will practically run itself. What type of support might you need? A bookkeeper, CPA, lawyer, insurance agent, staff, cleaning services, IT support, and business coach… It takes a village. However, this is the exact same support staff every single restaurant you’ve ever eaten in must have to be successful. 

Making the Transition

As I’ve watched hundreds of doctors make the transition from an insurance-based, large employer model to a small private practice, I have learned quite a bit. At first, it all seems incredibly hard, but it’s not hard for long. It does take a lot of time and effort, but so does setting up a restaurant. One or two years of initial hard work, and you will have the personnel and systems in place that will support you for many years to come. 

How do many practitioners feel when they have their new clinic set up and running well? Empowered! Satisfied! In the flow!

We all entered into medicine to help other people who are suffering. When you build your own infrastructure and see it working, and see people healing as a direct result of your private practice, it brings a level of contentment and satisfaction that I simply don’t see among practitioners in large medical groups. 

The benefits of private practice are many: you have control over your schedule and the ability to exercise, meditate, eat well, and spend time with your family every single day. You are able to spend the exact amount of time you want with every patient, and be fully paid for every minute you work. There’s a reduction in the volume of paperwork, and more freedom to act as a clinician and leader.

As I watch this transition occur in others, I see the joy and sense of mission coming back to those who were thoroughly drained of positive energy. I see that inner light going from dim to bright. This transition is always a time of great emotional upheaval. Any fear you’ve ever had about money or success or professional status or recognition from your peers will be triggered. Any insecurity about your skills or your ability to truly help people will come up. 

Rest assured, there is an active community of other practitioners, teachers, and mentors who are here to offer support to those interested in joining the Functional Medicine movement. While the transition can present challenges, once it’s accomplished, we consistently see practitioners excited and reinvigorated as they enter the next phase of their careers.  

Daniel Kalish, DC, IFMCP, is founder of the Kalish Institute, an online training program dedicated to building Functional Medicine practices. Since 2006, the Kalish Institute has helped develop practice models for over 1,000 practitioners worldwide. 

Read more about how to make a career in Functional Medicine work for you

What does it take to build a successful practice?

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