The following is a case study of Ashley Jones, an occupational therapist from Garsfontein Pretoria.
It’s really nice to have you on board just to talk about private practice and being an occupational therapist and everything around that.
What does an Occupational Therapist do?
So an occupational therapist, focuses on function. So be it for children, for adults or be it for the elderly we want to see function. And function ties into your occupation and that’s why we are occupational therapists in that occupation is anything that you should be doing in your day.
So it can be activities of daily living which are things like bathing, dressing or eating. It can be also be instrumental activities of daily living which is preparing food or doing washing or cleaning. And then we get our work, education and play and all of that depending on on what phase of life they are.
I actually did a post on our Facebook page, I wrote about function and what are the occupations and what are sometimes the hurdles that we face in these occupations. If it’s a client that’s had a stroke, they might not be able to bath themselves anymore. And they almost need to relearn how to do it, or to find ways to compensate. And so it’s all about treating these hurdles that are affecting your occupation and what’s important to you. If you hate cooking and never want to cook again, we’re not going to teach you how to cook our rehab isn’t going to focus on that. Its about helping you to be the best person that you want to be.
Did you always know you wanted to be an occupational therapist?
So for me, it evolved I was where the general public is at the moment and didn’t really know what it was. Even with having a brother that was in occupational therapy, I didn’t really know what it was.
But I’ve always had a passion for children. So that’s where my interest stemmed from and I sat and thought okay, what can I do with this. My first thought was to go into psychology and specifically be a child psychologist. And then I sort of stumbled on OT and just reading it and reading about the way OT does it and how they look at things, and what you focus on. On a person’s inherent job, on their own motivation on all of that, that was like “WOW” and I was sold and went on to study it. It’s an amazing career to be in.
Did you always know that you wanted to go into private practice?
Yes I did know that I wanted to go into private practice and it almost strengthened throughout my studies. And going and working with other occupational therapists, made a phenomenal impact on my career and what I had chosen. So I did know I wanted to be in private practice, I just didn’t think it would come as quickly as it did. I thought I would be in that profession for 10 years and then I change over to running my own practice.
But the opportunity arose and I went with it. I was like, I’ve got this space, let’s go and and it’s been it’s been an interesting road. It’s a very rewarding thing to have something that you can put your passion into. Your full passion and your interests and just reach a wider population, through doing talks and webinars and all of that. So that’s been a very exciting part for me, but it does come with numerous challenges. There are things that no one really tells you about. And then two months into the practice, you realize, Oh, hang on, I need to get this up to date or I need to comply with these regulations. So it’s a bumpy road, but I definitely think it’s worth it’s more ups than downs.
So when you say there were some ups and downs along the way could you tell us a bit more about that?
I think a lot has to do with that the more management parts, being an OT doing therapy almost comes naturally. And you love it, but then to actually sit down and think okay, where do I want to go to? Do I want to run a multidisciplinary practice and have a speech working alongside me? Or do I just want to be be my own person and work on my own.
And I think I had a straight path that I’d set for myself, but that was one of the most difficult things to adapt to. For me, I mean, I play with children for a living it’s a very fun job but you sit down and try and do taxes which is really not my strong suit. And so a lot of that was quite difficult for me and luckily I signed up with a billing company smeMetrics from the start. So that almost took a load off me from word get go. But there’s all the other things like marketing, accounting, financial planning and all of that, that you sometimes let slip by the wayside?
Did you have a mentor or someone to show you the ropes?
So yes I definitely, at the practice I worked at, before I opened my own practice. I was lucky they involved me in things such as billing, medical aid codes and everything. So already then, I had that skill passed on. And, you know, it all depends on who you’re working for. But the lady I worked for has still to this day, been an amazing mentor.
When I told her, I’m going into my own practice, she sat down with me. And said, just make sure you have this and this and this, and this in place. Which was amazing, and I often look back and think, how much how difficult with this road would have been. If it wasn’t for her that sat down with me. I would have, had to figure that all out by myself and probably sometimes not in a good way, you know, a parent crashes into your gate,and you don’t have the right insurances, you’re gonna learn a very difficult lesson.
And so it definitely is very important to have a mentor. And, you know, if you’ve worked under them even better, because you know them and, and they know you, and they know where your personality lies and what you might neglect as well.
What advise would you give someone who is thinking of going into private practice?
I think the most important thing that I’d say to someone is, “where does your passion lie”. Private practices is so diverse, and especially with occupational therapy, there’s so many routes you can go. And I think the first one is to, find that passion of yours. What is your passion? Do you love working with older children or younger children or adults or mental health and just to go from there?
Because, the business side is hard, but you can get it right and there are resources out there. But you follow that passion and you slowly start seeing, what are your expectations? Are you aiming to work in a school or do you want to see the patients being a pediatric OT. And then take it from there, slowly it’s almost like eating an elephant one bite at a time. Once you have that in place then take the next step further. And look at what therapy styles are you going to offer? Do you like sensory integration or DIRFloortime®? What I believe is what grows your business is your passion. And yes there are hurdles in the journey but as long as you have that passion and can follow I think it’s the most important to do that.
But research is really a very important thing as well. You need to have a look at where other occupational therapy practices are. Decide are you going to work at home, do you want the tax benefits from that? Or do you want to work from a school? Where is the closest practice to you? You can’t open up another practice three houses down and think you’re going to have a constant flow of clients because it may not work that way.
But I think the first thing is just to take the first step. As you start going through that and you get your expectations in a row you can cover the more abstract things. That we don’t necessarily think about. Things like your taxes and your insurance which is very important and probably should be first.
Is there anything from a practice management perspective that really surprised you?
So with my journey into the practice management side I found that bookings play a big role. If you are in therapy all day , how do people book an appointment. That’s a big consideration, and you need to have things in place to deal with that scenario. I came to learn quite quickly that we also have to have that relationship with the parents from the start. They see your name from a Google search or from a friend or whatever and do take that step and phone you is actually a big thing. So you need to meet them there and you need to tell them what you do and how you can help.
Is it’s a case where you don’t see teenage children so thing to be able to say I understand this, this is your base place you should go to see someone with that interest. So for me, the bookings has been a constant for me. It’s not, the receptionist taking your bookings and it’s you doing it and you establishing those relationships.
I think all round the financial things are the most difficult. But you do learn as you go and to have a support network around you with people that specialize is very important. I mean, I did the practice management course, to help start my own practice, just before I went into practice. At my age, I still got my little bookie, where I wrote down the notes. I go back, there and check, I have crossed all those things out? Have I met all those expectations, but it’s a constant thing you need to just keep up to date.
Working from home has that been what you expected? And is that something that you would recommend to someone as opposed to working at a center?
Working from home has worked very well, for me. When I decided that I wanted to open my practice I wanted lots of space and I needed lots of space. And that’s, what made the choice to work from home, with a center, you might not get that experience.
But with that, it does come come down to environment. If you going to someone’s home, and they keep up the maintenance it doesn’t always give the base image. So you have to stay very up to date, if you work from home with those type of things. And it’s sometimes things you don’t think about, if you have a friend visiting, what do you do in that situation. So I think luckily for your pediatric clients, it is a better thing.
But I do feel that a center also has a very good approach and you can knock on other people’s doors a lot quicker. And one thing I’ve battled with from working from home, is that it was quite a lonely experience. Coming from a practice where there was another two occupational therapists to suddenly being all on your own. No one was there to quickly, bounce ideas off of. That is difficult and and that’s something that I’m working towards it to actually turn the house that I’m working from into a multidisciplinary area. And that will take a while.
But you I think, for starters it’s actually more beneficial to be with a group of people. If that’s your personality,or you are not great at being alone.
Would having an assistant would help, or do you just schedule certain times of the day to do things like admin phone, back client etc.
I personally feel like an assistant would be easier and would be to benefit me as a person. So that I can spend most of my time doing what I love, and that’s seeing the kiddies you and treating them. Unfortunately I think often when you start private practice, it’s not always in your, financial ability to have that.
But I think it is a very beneficial thing to look into. And to get that going right from the start so that you don’t let one clients slip through the cracks and never back to them. Because I wouldn’t like to phone a doctor, because I’m sick, and they never get back to me. It’s the same with an occupational therapist. But definitely would be an asset to any practice to have an assistant that can take on the things that aren’t your strong points, be it debt collection, or anything like that, that an assistant or system can take on as well.
If somebody was thinking of becoming an occupational therapist what advise would you give them?
If there’s anyone listening that thinks, this is the right route for me. My advise is to really do your research and follow that passion of yours. You can move mountains in your own practice, but you can also move mountains working for someone else, if it’s your job to do it, go for it, you know, flourish from there.
Contact Details for Ashley Jones
Ashley also did an interview with the Moulding Health Team about ADHD in children you can listen to that episode here