Fall 2019 Alumni Profile

Interviewed by Lil Crump

Have you ever thought of opening a physiotherapy clinic with a university friend? In this Alumni Profile, The School of Physiotherapy, Class of 2003, BScPT graduates Justin Whittle and Chris Cluett share their valuable insights about what it's like to start and grow a business with a friend.<

"Always think forward. always be open to something new." 

"Let your passion guide your career path, not the other way around."  

What sparked your interest to enrol in Dalhousie’s BSc Physiotherapy program?
Justin: While studying kinesiology I became very interested in human movement and performance. Courses in anatomy, exercise prescription and athletic injuries was the spark that led me to consider physiotherapy in the Dalhousie program. 
Chris: I was impressed with the School’s reputation for having a solid physiotherapy program lead by a great faculty/staff.  
What are the most important things to know about yourself before starting a private practice?
Opening our private practice has taught me so much about myself and our profession. All I knew prior to starting was that I had a desire to carve my own path and do something different. I honestly didn’t know what it would look like. I’ve learned plenty, and I’m still learning more each and every day.   Before starting a private practice Ask yourself, “Am I cut out for this? Do I want certainty or am I ok with stepping into the realm of uncertainty?" It's important to remember that when you work for the hospital or a private clinic you have one job! When you work for yourself you have many jobs!
What are the pluses and minuses of starting a business with a friend?

Being friends for us meant that we knew we had more similarities than differences. Our work ethic had been well established and served our practice well. For us, I don’t see any negatives to being friends.

Through the course of the last 15+ years our lives diverged because of personal and family goals and commitments and while there have been times that our individual evolutions have caused challenges, in the end our  pre-established common ground has allowed us to overcome challenges and continue to move forward.

Being friends means you know each other well and have established that you can work well together. Having a partner allows you to have a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. And the more friends you have (including your business partners) when you're in business for yourself - the better!

Business Challenges are inevitable, and although they can strain a friendship, it’s important to remember to voice your differences in a respectful manner and always find middle or common ground.  
The benefits of clinical placements for SoPT students is apparent, is there value for the clinical instructors that accept students into their practice?
We’ve prided ourselves as being a teaching organization for many years. Offering clinical rotations and valuable hands on experience teaches us as much as we may teach any student. We remain up to date with the current academic application to clinical work that the students bring with them and students continually remind us to start with the fundamentals. No two students are the same which means we’re continually adding new teaching approaches, or nuances, under our instructor's hat. With any luck we grow as much as any student may grow while working with us.  The clinical partnership with Dalhousie is equally important to our staff as it is to the students. Our clinicians learn from students also as they are exposed to new treatment approaches and techniques that are current and based on latest research. And as always, it's great to have an extra set of eyes and hands to work on our clients. 
What do you see to be the biggest challenges facing recent PT graduates as they head into healthcare? What opportunities will they have that were not available when you graduated?
New graduates today have plenty of opportunity. Throughout our country physiotherapist’s are sought after in a variety of public and private roles. Compared to 15 years ago, physiotherapy has enjoyed a greater sense of awareness and recognition in the general public, which has opened up even more opportunities. While these developments are very positive overall, I think the noise of opportunity also poses challenges to new graduates. I would advise new grads to take some pause before deciding on a new path or experience. Consider if the current experience has been maximized based on their initial goals and consider which opportunities fall in step in their long term career plans, beginning with a minimum of 3-5 years. Long term thinking usually leads to the best decisions. 

The greatest challenge for new graduates might be figuring out which opportunity, out of the many available, to pursue! The key is to focus on passion, strengths and interests. Once that has been identified, focus on the practice area that’s the best fit!

There are a variety of opportunities in various public-regional health centers, private practices and collaborative practice health centres. Another emerging opportunity is Telehealth or virtual health, where physiotherapy and medical consults can be completed remotely from secure encrypted video feed from a recognized platform.  

What do you do when you aren’t working?
Cycling is my go-to activity. I took up road cycling fairly recently and am now aiming to ride 5000 km this year. Cycling is where I get the greatest escape from work and some of my best ideas.  I like to run, it’s a great way to decompress, be in the present moment and get some fresh air while your at it!  

Although these business partners don't always share the same opinion, they do share a passion for enhancing the lives of the clients they serve, and an ongoing excitment in seeing their team succeed.

For Justin and Chris, business success is not only measured in, numbers of clinics open, clients helped or products launched, but also by the value of giving back to the community that helped them grow into the leaders they've become today.

Additional information about Chris Cluett and Justin Whittle.