How to save time and money with your student program--5 steps.

Oh, I have been there before—fully committed to the future of physical therapy, loving to be a CI and have students in the clinic, but wondering if I was slowly draining myself and the business because of the time and energy that it took.  As I wondered about this, I actually did some calculations and saw that with the time that we put into our students (and the dismal lack of billable time that a student has in the neurologic outpatient setting), we were actually losing about $2000 per student.  Yikes!  As a small business we couldn’t afford that.  But, we weren’t willing to give up our student program.  So, we had to make some changes to turn our program around.  I am so excited to share this with you because it has truly changed our business forever!

I have broken it into 5 easy steps—and the first step you already know:

1)   First step—find the perfect student (Check out our last blog post and Erin's FB live).  She already shared the ways we have done this process to streamline and save money.  (By the way—you can still get our student interview questions here).

2)   Students soar as your colleague—and your patient’s will love them!

Now that you have your perfect student you are you ready to have them soar at your practice.  My first suggestion for their success is really a mindset suggestion:  consider your student as your colleague from day 1. Start with how you welcome your student to the clinic. Let them know that you love them and that they are going to be a huge part of the team.   Next, think about how you introduce them to your clients. Your students are going to come with amazing skills, likely some skills that you don’t even have, and you can build them up to your clients. I like to introduce my student to my clients like this, “Hey this is Heather, she is in the third year of her doctoral program (the #1 program in the nation) and we get to have her as part of our team! We are so lucky to have her here because she comes with a background in neurologic research and she has loads of new skills because she just completed classes with one of the forefront neuroscience researchers.  She will have lots of great and new ideas for us”. 
Wouldn’t you want to be seen by that student?  I know I would!  With your student feeling like a colleague, they get a great boost of confidence and your clients will trust them and gladly continue paying cash or their large co-pays to work with them.

Now, you do need to ensure that your students have some great skills.  So in order for you to have a supreme confidence in your student,  I am sure you will want to schedule a ton of learning and practice with them.   And then the big question is, how do you do this while saving time and money?


We had that same question and we started with automating our student orientation and learning.  We’ve recorded videos, created handouts, we recorded mentor sessions with previous students and we put all of it together in an online Teachable course for free. Each student completes the orientation before they start and then each week we have a specific learning goal and online module that they review before we meet first thing on Monday morning.   For example, our first week learning module is all about empathy and the care of our clients.  (Having a big heart is such an essential part of our practice—so we learn and practice it right from the start).  As part of the online learning module they review one of the key articles on therapeutic alliance, they watch my favorite Brene Brown video on empathy, and then they implement a self-reflection using the Care Measure throughout the week with 3 patients.  (PS I’m happy to share the outline of our learning modules that we do with our students, just sign up here and we will send it your way).


3)  Students as your business partners
Step 3 to saving you time and money in your student program is thinking of your student as your business partner.  Get your student on board with building your business! We tell students when they’re interviewing that they better be interested in private practice because they will be learning a ton!  We have students take a big role in business operations.  Some of the things that we have them do:

  1. Write blog posts—based on some key questions that clients asked during the week.
  2. Record videos of some of the common exercises and/or education that they did with clients during the week to put on our YouTube Channel
  3. Analyze the profitability of new programs.
  4. Design, lead and manage aspects of a new wellness program (We have had students lead a kick-boxing class, weight lifting class and even a Zumba class).

The possibilities are endless!  Implementing the wellness program project alone was a huge way for us to make up for our student $$ deficit.


4)  Become a schedule goddess
Number four might be the hardest one and I definitely have to thank our amazing office manager for our success.  If you can work the schedule right you can: 1) save time for mentoring, 2) improve productivity (even with pesky Medicare rules), 3) Not put in late nights for your students.
First for mentoring time: we plan 30 minutes at the beginning and the end of the day to meet with the student to plan, discuss goals, and reflect on the day.  So yes, that is extra time, however, you should be saving even more time on things like notes follow-up emails, and creating home exercise programs for your clients because your students are sharing that load. In essence, what used to be your documentation time becomes your mentor time.  Blocking that time is the first key to being the scheduling goddess.
The second part of becoming the scheduling goddess is skillfully creating overlap schedules for you and your students.  We do this for our clients with Medicare and it grows our student’s independence.  For example, we may start together with a client with Medicare for 15 minutes (this is the time we would bill for), and then the student might see them on their own for 45 minutes (unbillable time) while we are seeing another client.    Having a whole day set up like that allows us to be able to reach more clients and have the students have an independent full load of their own clients by the end of the semester.
Your final trick for scheduling is to use a quick way to communicate, reflect and mentor outside of the clinic.  I use this a lot because I am always running to pick up my kids from school after work and don’t have time to wrap up.  So, we put notes in an app called Wunderlist. It has put an end to long email chains and we can quickly chat back and forth with planning and feedback. 


5) Students in the community

Last, but not least, is number five.   Have your student lead community service missions as a part of your team.  One of the most amazing things we have added to our student program is a free screening day for people with FSH muscular dystrophy.   We have partnered with the FSH Society and have done this for two years now, and both years our students have exclaimed that it’s one of their favorite days.  They perform functional, movement and neurologic screens with people with FSHD for an entire Saturday.  The students and clients get an amazing experience and it is a huge boost for us as a clinic to live out our mission of serving the community.


Ok, there you have it—save time & money, build your practice and business, live your mission and make the world a better place because you are sharing your neuro love with the future of PT!  I hope that we have given you some ideas and ways to make a student program doable for your clinic.  Our program continues to grow every year (this year we had 6 students over the course of the year—a record year!)  And, we are at last not losing money on the program!  In fact, the students’ contributions to our wellness, community and marketing have a positive impact on our bottom line.   Best of all, I am so proud when our students graduate and take on roles in residency programs or top positions (or we hire them), but overall go out empowered to make changes in people’s lives.   And in the end, if we can continue to grow opportunities for students in neurologic settings, the access to specialized care for all clients grows. 


We would love to hear from you.  What are you doing in practice to make your student program successful?   Are you taking students, or are the barriers too big?


Join us in our private FB community to continue the discussion.  And join our newsletter online to grab both our student interview questions and learning module outline to get you started on the right path of a successful student program.