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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