Interview with Dr. Ben Fung, DPT

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ben Fung, DPT recently. I’m sure you’ve met him via his website (which I highly recommend) or twitter @DrBenFung. Physical Therapy Twitterverse is bubbling with incredible individuals; and Dr. Ben Fung, DPT is undoubtedly one of them. So, by popular request, here’s the interview. Enjoy!

Bioengineering & Psychology → Doctor of Physical Therapy → MBA in Marketing. What a series of interesting transitions! Tell me how this unfolded.

Coming out of high school in California, I was intent (as many were) to get into the University of California system. Like most disillusioned and misguided high school graduates, I thought that becoming a physician was the way to go. Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD),had a pre-medical track which I found attractive. However, like many in the UC system, I found my academics falling far behind due to the style and system of education in the large campus setting. I found another interest in psychology – primarily in social psychology / social cognition (my focus) and even tinkered with the idea of getting a Ph.D. in the matter. In a mixture of frustrations toward my 4th year of undergraduate work (I finished in just under 5 years), I decided that neither route suited a career path for which I would be willing to pursue. My solution? I took up bartending!

Eventually, I found work as a physical therapy aide at a local health system and found tremendous interest in physical rehabilitation. As I’ve been a patient for a comminuted ulnar fracture, a grade II eversion ankle sprain, and, a massive lower back contusion from snowboarding – I thought that exploring the field couldn’t be hurtful to my future. As with most, it began with volunteer work which transitioned into a part time job and finally a full time job. Several PT’s I worked with kept insisting my undergraduate background was too strong to “allow” for me to “stay as an aide forever.” And thus, I looked into PT programs. The rest of that story, is history.

As for the MBA. This came about after some frustration as a new grad DPT. I came across the usual barriers of upward mobility, “intolerance” to new “D”-PT’s in the workplace, and, the raging desire to help move the profession (and healthcare at large) into the cutting edge, best practice that we all know it can be. I sought mentorship in the CEO of the hospital for which I was, at the time, employed – he expressed that to rise into healthcare leadership, an additional credential was required. The DPT simply wasn’t fully recognized as a relevant degree when it came to healthcare business, leadership, or management potential. However, an MBA, MPH, or MHA would be. Additionally, since I am a physical therapist and not a nurse or physician, health system executives are unlikely to view my professional background as a natural vein into upper management in healthcare. He kept hinting that the MBA was imperative as a strong pairing to the clinical doctorate should I truly wish to rise up the chain of command.

During my (current) MBA studies, I realized that an area for which I found natural acumen and interest was marketing. Marketing is fascinating to me; the study and application of behaviors in the marketplace is the functional expression of business – I think it was the natural concentration of interest as a PT since it’s all about function. The other elements of business certainly were intriguing, but it was the human element in marketing that I found most attractive.

Unique value proposition has (rightly!) become a popular term in PT Twitterverse. How can a PT identify their UVP?

This question actually took me the longest to answer. Mostly because I didn’t want to sound like a downer. I’ll answer this globally and then specifically *sighs* … here it goes:

Globally:

I’ve made mention in blogs but have never directly addressed the UVP for one very (sad) reason. PT’s – at large – do not yet have a UVP. Why? Everything we do, someone else can also do at a cheaper rate, with generally acceptable decrease in qualitative value. Nurses can (seemingly) ambulate patients in the hospital units. Caregivers can (apparently) transfer patients in the home care environment. And, of course, chiropractors, osteopathic physicians, massage therapists, acupuncturists/tui-na practitioners, and athletic trainers all have elements in common with physical therapy practice in terms of manual therapy, dry needling, modalities, and exercise.

Now, I do have an idea – but it requires global PT buy in to work. Service brand consistency. Since we really don’t have anything that is absolutely unique to PT (as surgery is to a surgeon, nursing is to a nurse, and teeth are to dentists), the way to excel is through service branding. It is only by making the PT experience consistent throughout AND bringing the “whole package” as demanded by the consumer that we can truly offer a UVP as a profession. Some of the cutting edge concepts of going about this can be found in my answers below and in this blog post: The Service Experience Value Statement.

Essentially, we need to be the one-stop-shop for neuromusculoskeletal health for the entire family delivered with 5-Star, executive, exclusive, platinum level customer service with Disney/Ritz Carlton style.

Individually:

Branding your practice’s UVP to rise above the competition requires that you do something extra (not better) than the average bear. Concepts such as concierge PT, tele-health PT, executive/wellness PT, family practice/primary care PT should be aggressively explored by physical therapists.

We are in the day and age where information is not as valuable because it is EVERYWHERE. It doesn’t matter that the information may be erroneous; most people don’t truly care. What does matter is the (again) the service brand. Therefore, your service must be unique by doing something extra while also doing everything your competitors are doing, better. It’s a toughy…

And honestly, this goes back to our profession not truly having a UVP. This will only be solved if PT’s band together and start practicing in unison. *SOAP BOX* And… I know that being unique amongst ourselves is important in our profession’s culture. In fact, it is furiously valued. However, this is NOT valued by our customers. How often do we hear that a consumer was dissatisfied by one PT but satisfied by another?

To the consumer, brand unity is more important than individual uniqueness. Until PT’s rise to the challenge TOGETHER – realizing what is best for the whole is better for each individual (inclusive of an obsessive focus on the short term economic outcomes), our UVP will remain a floundering mess.

“Brand” is a very catchy and popular term. Is it overused? How would you define it? And how can one avoid turning his/her brand into something merely superficial versus representative of the meat underneath?

Brand is certainly overused because it has a poorly perceived definition.

I define a brand as a symbolic, conceptual identity by which consumers imagine a firm’s services and products with accepted (or rejected), uniform consistency.

Superficial branding occurs because a firm (or individual) is too focused on the short term. One of the most hilarious examples of this failure: Radio Shack becoming “The Shack”

Additionally, most companies that are too focused on who they want themselves to be perceived as versus what the consumers ALREADY perceive them as struggle in this area. I’ve actually written several posts on brand identity vs. brand image (both on my own blog and others) – essentially, the closer they are together – the stronger the brand you have. This must be established FIRST prior to rebranding efforts.

One last time on branding strong vs. superficial: your brand must represent the most common element of your service/product as perceived by your consumer. If you focus on what you like most about your service vs. what your consumers come most commonly for, you will be lost in your own hopeful narcissism.

Both of us share a love for martial arts. Which styles have you explored? What is it about martial arts that you enjoy?

I’ve explored Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Shuai Chiao (aka Shuai Jiao), Muay Thai, Boxing, Kali/Arnis/Eskrima, and Tai Chi. My current studies are in Brazilia Jiu-Jitsu and Kali. Martial arts is enthralling to me. I feel that it provides mental focus, discipline, and a decent splash of fun in physical activity for which most urban societies lack. There’s also a sense of self-improvement and positive competition that I feel is essential in the scope of human health.

Who are your heroes? Which of their qualities do you most admire?

Boy. This is a toughy. There are too many people I credit as heroes and wish to honor. However, I can certainly focus my admiration and respect to my familial elders (including my in-laws). My parents & my parents-in-law all come from a culture and generation that hold work ethic, personal growth, and a “you need to earn it” / non-entitlement life-attitude that is quickly losing ground in the global attitudes which exist. Working hard to achieve and contribute to the lives of others is a behavior expression which I both admire and hope to express in my own life.

What simple ideas/basic concepts do you believe will help all Physical Therapists become better/smarter/wiser?

The one thing I keep keying in on is “knowing the business.” There are innumerable amounts of clinical experts out there. There are systems, certifications, residencies, fellowships, post-doctoral degrees … you can spend several life times to acquire all the highly regarded clinical merits. However, the one thing I see consistently ignored is knowing the business of healthcare. How many students know precisely how Medicare is billed for, or how insurance covers an HMO vs. PPO? These are things we should absolutely know upon graduation – since we don’t, we MUST learn these to be more effective professionals.

Understanding business and the basic “what’s in it for me?” aspect of business will make every PT better. Why? Because it will focus our minds to deliver what our customers want most, not what we feel is most “clinically appropriate.” Consumers don’t care about that. They care about what they (already) want. Period. Fulfilling that demand, gaining more market share, developing more capital & political influence – these are the ways to become better PT’s – and – the only ways to make our licenses (and practices) better.

Learning business concepts will also clarify the many frustrations in the healthcare administrative world; my eyes have certainly been open since taking a directorial position. I hate to say – the bottom line really does matter. *shrugs* Know the business…. know the business.

Travel back in time to when you were in PT school. Knowing what you know today, what advice would you give yourself?

Get involved in legislative issues – licensure defines practice patterns. PERIOD. If you want to truly be regarded as a primary care, provider of choice for neuromusculoskeletal impairments – one must be first licensed to do so to effectively penetrate the market.

“Conceptual Minimalist” – I love this description on your website. Tell me more about it. What sparked this? And how do you practice/maintain it?

I realized this concept from martial arts. Many times, less is more. It is better to master one or two systems than to dabble in four or five. It is superior to have two or three solid techniques than to have a dozen techniques yet to be polished. This carries over to exercise prescription, treatment plans, diagnosis, etc.

The spark came at a point in time when I simultaneously realized in clinical practice, martial arts studies, and in researching kettlebells (which I regard as conceptually powerful & technologically simple); so many times, it is better to use one exercise that address many issues (functionally, conceptually, fundamentally, and automatically) than to utilize an entire battery of (confusing) exercise patterns that even clinicians find challenges in performing.

Example: Need achieve good posture, hip extension, lower body proprioception? How about a functional wall squat on a balance foam as your exercise of choice?

I make being a minimalist a mental state and operational life choice. I try not to make things too complicated – always holding the bigger picture greater than the details that comprise them. Many times life circumstances are not complicated. Many times the solution is easy. We just make it complicated because its more “fun” – it fuels some type of elemental desire embedded in human nature.

I’m a HUGE fan of your Disney posts. I sense an underlying theme: cross-over application of big ideas. Which industries do you think Private Practice PT’s can learn from?

I think PP PT’s can learn most from industry leaders in service brands – this includes Disney, Southwest, Ritz Carlton, and any high end restaurateur. The reason I so highly regard such industry leaders is because they embody what healthcare needs most – business sense in customer satisfaction and brand development.

PP PT’s need to distinguish themselves as a service brand AND as a retail location. Both are absolutely necessary in rebranding the private practice landscape at large.

Continuing from that thought, share your favorite authors or books. How have they impacted you?

I really like The Art of War by Sun Tzu and Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. They both employ amazing amounts of strategic and tactical value. I favor the Art of War because it has more large scale economic and business value. Nevertheless, both have been wonderful in developing my business sense, general acumen and ability to be keen in ambiguous situations, and, of course, it has helped with my martial arts philosophies.

Life is an adventure. Share one of your more memorable adventures so far?

I’m a sap – and – I’d have to say one of the best adventures I’ve had is ushering in the 2013 New Years with my wife for our baby moon. This occurred at Walt Disney World at EPCOT center. There were parties all throughout the park and we celebrated with romantic fireworks, Teppan grill, international food stuffs – surrounded by one of our favorite places on earth. On the top ranked list includes surfing overhead waves for the first time at Pacific Beach Point (San Diego) and going to Africa (Tanzania) as a quasi-bodyguard (was basically terrified the whole time). Fortunately for Africa, I did get to see the Ngorogoro Crater and many other cultural and geographical interests.

From one foodie to another: tell me about your sinful favorites.

Being from San Diego, I have to say that Carne Asada Fries & California Burritos are a must for inclusion. I’m part Taiwanese by decent; Stinky Tofu is one of my favorite cultural foods out there. Additionally, I love a good sushi night, self grilled filet mignon, and I’ve been dabbling in French red & white wine sauces with some success. Something I absolutely enjoy is French Onion soup made patiently and tenderly with brandy or cognac. Otherwise, some of the good old American comforts are always good – i.e. sometimes, a Costco ¼ hot dog is plainly and simply what the soul needs.

What a fascinating and fun interview! Thank You Dr. Ben Fung, DPT

Find me on Twitter @Cinema_Air

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Interview with Dr. Monique J Caruth, DPT

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Monique J Caruth, DPT, Director of Rehabilitation of Earth Angels Inc (prepare to sing along as soon as you visit her website), Home Health Agency in beautiful Bowie, Maryland; look for @EarthAngelsInc on twitter. You can also reach Dr. Caruth, DPT on Twitter: @mjcDPT. Her bio is weaved into the interview. Drum roll!


Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you decide to become a physical therapist?

I was 13 years old at the time and my family and I were sitting in our living room looking at a test cricket series between the West Indies and India. One of the players got injured and out ran someone who the commentator said was a physiotherapist. Suddenly I truly felt like a fire burning inside me and I stood up, pointed at the television and said, “That’s what I am going to be…a physiotherapist.” Since then I’ve never looked back and the fire keeps on burning.

Trinidad & Tobago is entirely new to me. However, major geographical transitions aren’t. How was your transition to the US? What were your most memorable challenges & surprises?

The transition was not easy at all. It was the most difficult decision of my life to move away from my family but that fire to be who I wanted to be quenched the fear of being alone in a strange country. I was offered a soccer scholarship to attend University. I had never been away from my family for more than 2 weeks. At first I was excited, the joy of meeting new people, embarking on fulfilling my dreams but suddenly I was home sick. It was miserable. I would call home and cry to my parents and sisters but they all kept encouraging me and stating that they believed in me. My mom…she’s Mrs. Optimistic all the time and she would always say every disappointment is for my own good. Being home sick began to affect my game, my productivity dropped and the final blow was getting injured. That injury was actually a blessing in disguise as I went through the rehabilitation, it confirmed that I was entering the best profession in the world. I started focusing more on my studies and to be more spiritually conscious. For the four months of rehab I went through I was able to get a full academic scholarship that even covered me during PT school. During PT school, I stated to one professor that I had no interest in any other aspect of PT but sports and orthopedic. Ha, me and my mouth (shaking my head). That professor did me the biggest favor in my life. I was only assigned acute care, pediatric care, sub-acute rehab rotations then. That opened my eyes and I’ve never allowed myself to be close minded ever since. My life experiences have indeed molded how I practice. Being home sick allowed me to explore the emotional, social, spiritual and financial aspects of people’s lives that affect them physically. I’m grateful for every challenging moment I went through because it prepared me for what was to come next.

How or why did you end up in Maryland?

I went to Howard University in Washington DC. When I decided that I wanted to practice in the US I began exploring states to reside in. Phoenix was tempting because of the weather but that would put me further away from my family. Miami also has warmth but I’m no fan of hurricanes, didn’t experience it in Trinidad & Tobago and no way I would here, even though I would be closer to my family. I didn’t want to be in the cold, I wanted an area that was diverse and somewhat reasonable travel distance for my family so Maryland became very attractive to me, being close to DC.

What is the concept behind Earth Angels? And what gave you the drive to establish this service?

We are asked that question so many times and it is one that we take great pride in sharing. I started off working for a Physician Owned Physical Therapy clinic. As stated before my passion really is orthopedic and sports medicine. Not wanting my skills to diminish being in an outpatient setting, I did PRN acute care at a local community hospital. My business partner also worked full time at that hospital. For some reason whenever we’d go take care of clients they’d always refer to us as their earth angels. You laugh things like these off but you never know the clues that are being left for you along your journey. My business partner and I share a lot of things in common but yet we are so different. We both serve with a beautiful, broad smile on our faces…it’s hard to contain your passion for helping others. I love having conversations with my clients. It helps to put them at ease and it builds a truly symbiotic relationship between clinician and client. With the many conversations I’ve had there was one that stuck out, “Never care about a business more than the owner does.” Several clients encouraged us to start our own business and put our passion into it. I was very skeptical because my business partner and I are both immigrants, I am a young physical therapist barely out of school and didn’t have the financial resources to even start a business. The despair grew as I always left discouraged when I sought counselling from PTs in private practice. There was no sense of sharing or community, you ask questions and people felt threatened. Maybe my passion and drive came off too strongly, I do have a very inquisitive mind you must know. It was something my teachers sighed and complained about as a child but one thing my parents highly encouraged. So even though we founded the company in 2008, we didn’t actually see any clients. My business partner and I continued to work for our respective employers and grew frustrated that health care wasn’t the same any more. When clients came to my outpatient facility after receiving home health I was so disappointed with the lack of progress they had. I asked them what type of service they received and I was appalled with the responses. Simultaneously, though I was receiving a hefty six-figured salary with monthly bonuses, I felt like a cheater, that I wasn’t giving each client the quality of care and time they truly deserved. It was tough to do that in the business atmosphere that was created and the direction the company wanted to go, my heart was not into it. I thought long and hard and prayed about my next move. I decided to enroll full time into school again to get my DPT to improve marketability and pressed full speed ahead to revolutionize home health care. We began seeing clients, for me part time at first because of school; but no matter the quantity of clients we had, they each had the best possible care. Patients after receiving acute/subacute care are most comfortable in their homes and to not go to them and provide great quality service is the beginning of the end for us therapists and nurses in terms of branding. This is an opportunity for us to make the greatest impact. Establish trust and confidence in our services and to empower clients to become more compliant. Patients are most welcoming when they are in their homes and each visit there as a guest I ensure that it is memorable, that I always provide to them something of value. From a business perspective, doing home health you have a direct source to referrals that you can later streamline into your own outpatient practice or refer out to other great PTs.

What hobbies or extra-professional interests have impacted you as a PT? And how?

I love sports…I love playing them, I love watching them, I love teaching them, I love learning about them and even commentating on them. I’ve always been involved in team sports and for all of high school I was captain of all the teams I played on. I was a busy individual…field hockey, cricket, football, basketball and track & field. It was a role I took seriously. As a leader I had to find ways to motivate each member of my team, encourage them to share, make each player feel and know his or her contribution was valuable and appreciated. Sports gave me an avenue to meet new people, explore and appreciate new cultures. Sports taught me discipline, preparation, organization and tolerance. Growing up I engaged in a lot of ministry work, so my spirituality is very important to me. It is what keeps me grounded, sane and optimistic. My clients always ask me if I ever have a bad day because I never show it…nothing but God’s mercy and grace gets me through any and everything.

Share your favorite authors or books. How have they impacted you?

I am enjoying Mark Joyner, Seth Goden, Shep Hyken and Daniel Pink of late since I’m making a huge effort to boost marketing and branding. They have all provided some great insights and strategies that is making me become more confident at selling. In our culture you aren’t raised to sell/speak about yourself…it’s frowned upon as arrogant and distasteful. I must confess that I love reading the book of Proverbs. Did you know that each chapter is dedicated for a day of the month? When I really need to focus and be reminded of what truly matters in life I turn to that book. Not only does it provide valuable tips on living life but also the manner in which to conduct business and treat other human beings.

[Links to books Monique recommends: The Irresistible Offer by Mark Joyner, Amaze Every Customer Every Time by Shep Hyken, To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, and everything by Seth Godin.]

What big ideas/simple ideas/basic concepts do you believe will help all Physical Therapists become better/smarter/wiser?

Simple & basic but will prove to be big is to first act as a clinician but think like a consumer. Put yourself as a PT in the shoes of a client. Walk a mile and experience it and believe me the way you practice, the way you relate to clients and their caregivers, will be so much more meaningful. Don’t be that handsome, arrogant jock that simply goes around trying to get numbers on his headboard, using clients as statistics. They are human beings with emotions…appeal to them and you will always have something of value to offer. Giving value creates loyalty. The success of a business/brand depends on customer loyalty. As a kid, one of our goals was to make at least one person smile a day, not only do I still try to accomplish that, I’ve stepped it up to convert a new client each day. It takes a village…as a profession we have to be a stronger force and that will only occur with increasing numbers of engaged members.

Travel back in time to when you were in PT school. Knowing what you know today, what advice would you give yourself?

LOL, shouting out loud to my young self…”You do not know it all!!!!”,  I would tell myself to welcome constructive criticism because those that offer it they see potential in you and care about you to take the time to invest in sharing ways and means for you to better achieve your goals. Those that don’t care won’t waste time even offering anything good or bad. Don’t beat yourself up about getting a B on an exam, no one cares what your grades are when you leave PT school as long as you pass your boards. Take a few business electives. Chat with managerial students. Meet and sustain relationships with great mentors. Engage in social media. Advocate more for our profession.

Healthcare is churning through phases and trials of change. How are you preparing for the unpredictable?

Yes it is really a fascinating period we are going through. The most important thing for us is to remain true to our identity. We are a small, new agency that was started to provide patient centered care. Our mission still remains the same and it is our belief that as long as we keep doing what is right and best for our clients they will keep coming to us. When clients have options and they know they have to pay for those choices, they place value on what they receive. People want to feel and know they are getting their monies worth. We also know that we are running a business so we have eliminated insurances that aren’t worth our efforts. I do believe healthcare is going back to what it ought to be…about the patient. The focus on wellness…a team effort and clinicians being rewarded based on the quality of service they provide i.e. positive outcomes.

Life is an adventure. What has been your most memorable adventure so far?

Life is an adventure for sure and I see my life as an ongoing journey. I’ve had many trials and tests, lessons learned and memories created. I always knew I wanted to be a physiotherapist, but never in my wildest dreams did I conceive that little precocious girl growing up in a rural village on the tiny island of Tobago would one day separate herself from her family, her source of comfort, strength and joy, leave behind the world as she knew it to pursue her dreams in a huge and whole new country, graduate and begin and grow a business all in 13 years…this has been and still is the most memorable adventure so far and I thank God for placing the right people, at the right time under the right circumstances to make this all possible. This has been great. I enjoyed it. Thank you for allowing me to share.

Monique, thank you very much for the interview. It was truly inspiring.

Find me on Twitter @Cinema_Air