Preparing for Business without Losing Focus in School

Written by Jennifer Bahr, SCNM ND Candidate

When you are in school it seems like you have so much you have to do – many projects to complete, tests to study for, patients to follow, organizational meetings to attend, and heaven forbid some attention to your personal life.   It's much easier to say that you are going to learn to be a good doctor now and worry about the business side of things later. While I doubt anyone would disagree that the primary focus of anyone in school is becoming the best clinician you can be, I would argue that it is possible and crucial to keep business in the forefront of your mind. Naturopathic medicine is about not separating focus on things when they are inherently related. We don't give painkillers for headaches and carminatives for gut discomfort – we treat the food allergy that causes both. Being a good doctor will be your business. Remembering that the two are intrinsically related while you are still learning both will help make your life easier once you have a bustling practice.
Keeping business in mind while in school doesn't have to be daunting. There are some simple things you can do to save yourself time in the long run and help you get into the practice of being both a business owner and a physician.
1.      Practice time management skills. In my humble opinion, this is the most important thing you can do to help you stay in a business frame of mind. Too often as students we get into time consuming habits with our new skills that will be hard to break when our time actually converts to money. Try determining what time you want to allot to your new patient and follow up visits when in practice. Double that and use it as your starting point in the clinic, gradually working toward your goal by the time you graduate. Similar efforts in studying patient cases and for exams can be helpful, although not as easy to set up specific parameters for.
2.      Keep a budget. Start with a simple personal budget using Excel, tools through your bank, or a Smartphone app. Be realistic or overestimate your costs. Having a good handle on your personal finances will make it easier to learn how to manage your business finances. Look into the future with your budget as well. How much will you need to take the NPLEX? How much for licensing?   Association fees? What do you plan to do for funds in the time between graduation and getting your license? Having a budget will help you prepare for all of these things, mentally and fiscally, and will help alleviate the stress that comes with having to scramble to make it all work.
3.      Network. Even in medicine, business can be about who you know. Networking early will allow you to refine your skills if you aren't very comfortable with it. It can also help you build your referral network, find business opportunities, and give you a chance to explore what has and hasn't worked for others. Take advantage of student rates for conferences in areas you are interested in. Go to the free conferences you aren't interested in. Go with a goal of talking with a certain number of people. If you are less certain about it, consider joining a school group such as NMSA, N-ACT, philosophy clubs, service clubs, etc. These groups can give you a reason to work with others and help increase your confidence in networking.
4.      Make use of your classes and assignments to create personal protocols and handouts. I am not a fan of wasted time or duplicated effort. A task done well once opens up so much more time for the more pleasant things in life. Keeping business in mind when doing these assignments can make it easier to put genuine effort into it, even when you really just want to get through it.
5.      Approach things you are required to do with a business mind, specifically class and preceptorships. As I mentioned above, use your time as a student to figure out what has worked for others and what hasn't. Save yourself some time! In class, keep notes on protocols that will be particularly helpful for your intended practice format or business model. Keep them in a separate file that you can easily access.
6.      Keep abreast of health trends in the area you intend to practice in. When you visit home (or the area you intend to settle in) pay attention to the concerns of those who live there. Think about the specific location you would most like to have your business and walk around. How many others in the area are doing what you want to do? How many could be good allies or a referral base? These questions can help you to build your protocol file and give you direction in your networking or preceptorship goals.
7.      Write a 5-year and 10-year plan. Keep on track by seeing where you want to go and then establishing steps back from there to determine how realistic your goals are. Include a vision in your plan. Knowing what you are working for and why makes it easier to stay focused and on task, both with the business and education side of things.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and not all of these things double as both school and business. The things that you have to set aside time for outside of things you would already do are the budget and the 5- and 10-year plan. Both of these will probably require a one-time commitment of an hour maximum. These should then be revisited from time to time for 5 to 10 minutes of tweaking as necessary. Everything else can be done in the process of doing things you are already engaged in anyway.

Business can be daunting, especially for those of us who just want to help people. But business is important. Start nourishing your business mind as a student with small steps such as I suggested above. Take additional classes if you are so inclined. I believe wholeheartedly that with a healthy business you can better care for your patients. With healthier businesses, collectively we can better care for our profession and ourselves.

 Thank you to Emerson Ecologics.