Being a physician these days is not easy, and it can feel even tougher to run one’s own private practice. One sobering survey found that 8% of practices had closed during the pandemic.
But there are ways to make it work—and there’s good reason to try. Tara Scott, an OB/GYN turned hormone specialist who is now the chief medical officer and founder at Revitalize Medical Group in Akron, Ohio, says the number-one benefit of running your own private practice is the autonomy and ability to make your own schedule.
Still, in addition to understanding the medical side of things, you need to know how to run a business. “Essentially you’ve got two jobs,” she says. If you want to start your own private practice, here’s what doctors already doing it recommend.
Consider your startup cost
If you want to start a private practice, it will probably require some money. It may also require some unpaid time. “When I started my second practice, I didn’t pay myself for over six months,” Scott says. “I had to purchase speculums on eBay at the time.”
Her second practice was self-funded, and eventually, she was able to start paying herself a salary again. Her latest practice received funding from a company that was a part-owner until she bought them out several years later. There might be other options, too, like small business loans.
Create a budget and keep overhead low
Make a budget and make it early. “If you don’t have budgets, then spending can get out of control,” says Patrick McEneaney, a podiatrist and owner of Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists in Chicago. That doesn’t mean you can’t change things as the needs of the business change or understand that some areas might need more flex. But it will help you figure out where you need to prioritize spending.
Be clever about discounts, too. McEneaney recommends looking at group purchasing options, which can often offer steep discounts. Associations you’re already part of my also have discounts for things like office supplies.
And be wary about vendors trying to sell you new machines that will make you loads of money. Before you purchase anything, figure out how you’d implement that service into your business, McEneaney says. If the numbers don’t work, let it go. You don’t want to end up with a room full of equipment you don’t use.
Plan for multiple revenue streams
If you’re a single-doctor practice, or even just the person seeing the most patients, that means whenever you take time off, the practice generates less income. Finding a way to bolster income with additional services and offerings becomes necessary fast, Scott says.
Some people might add procedures like Botox injections to their roster or sell supplements. Scott does speaking gigs, teaches other doctors, and has an online course for patients about hormones and wellness.
Don’t skimp on marketing
Scott was surprised how much she had to learn about social media in order to market her business. She’s hired someone part-time to help her, but she still does a lot of it herself—and it brings in a lot of her clients. Especially for niche cash practices like hers that focus on wellness over standard medical care, people aren’t going to come to her just because she’s geographically in their area—she has to stand out as a specialist worth forgoing insurance for.
“Even though the cost of social media management and website and all your digital advertisements can be a lot, it can be a very powerful tool for you,” McEneaney agrees.
Networking with other doctors is another way to get people through your door. “I try to find people in my area in similar situations. So if you’re a single-doctor practice, a lot of times you can connect with another single-doctor office and figure out how you can generate referrals and connect with each other,” he says.
Physicians have a bad reputation with technology, in no small part due to electronic records, which can be a nightmare to set up and maintain. But there is actually plenty of useful tech for doctors if you’re willing to look for it, from automatic schedulers to online prepaid billing and push-button coding, says Paula Muto, a Massachusetts general surgeon and founder/CEO of UBERDOC. Even credentialing can be done online now.
“Like everything in life, you have to just spend time learning the software,” Muto says. “Nothing is beyond understanding.”