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.
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.
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