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Training Health Degree Students to be Business Savvy

Hodges -BusinessMost students entering a professional health care degree program have a great head for science. But they also need a head for business if they are going to succeed in practice when they graduate.

Bruce Hodges, DC, has steered NUHS' business training program since 1997. Today, what the university calls its "Ethical Practice Management" program is part of the curriculum for all of its professional studies students (DC, ND, MSAc and MSOM).

"We show our students how to responsibly and ethically promote and market their practice in their community. We train students to take responsibility for their practice and give them the tools to successfully build and manage a practice without the use of so-called 'practice managers'," says Dr. Hodges.

"In our business program, we talk about risk management issues, managing employees, billing, insurance, and third-party payers. We emphasize the importance of building a strong doctor-patient relationship. We talk a lot about personal and professional insurance requirements like malpractice or professional liability insurance, as well as personal life, disability and health insurance," says Dr. Hodges.

"What's different about our program from many other chiropractic schools is that we emphasize the idea of working with our allopathic colleagues for the welfare of our patients. So, we cover how to build referral networks with other health care providers in the community. Soon we'll be adding an elective on building inter-disciplinary relationships that will go into further detail."

"During their fifth trimester, our students learn how to market their practice. Each student participates in creating a very comprehensive marketing plan and presentation for their future practice. Then, in the seventh trimester, they create a business plan that will encompass all aspects of their practice including the financial projections," explains Dr. Hodges.

"This is where we bring in experts such as bankers, lawyers and real estate people to guide them in preparing their plan. The unique aspect of our business plan project is that the student has to present it to a banker or other certified financial professional and have it approved by them in order to begin their clinical internship," he explains. "If their business plan doesn't pass, they don't go to clinic."

Bankers and outside professionals have told Dr. Hodges that this business plan project is unique. They have never seen this before in any of the other health professional schools. "What's kind of neat," he says, "is when they go to the bank, they often make actual financing deals while doing their project!"

"We stress that students become proactive while they're in school to create opportunities for themselves when they graduate. We then advise our students to start out lean and mean when they graduate and then grow, rather than start out too big and overwhelm themselves with debt and stress. That has hurt so many young doctors - starting out with too much overhead."

"We show our students it is not as difficult to open and manage a practice as they may think. But we also emphasize right from the start that the student has to accept the responsibility of not only being a doctor but also business person, whether they like it or not. That's the way it has to be," says Hodges. "Unfortunately, some students don't feel comfortable with business because they're scientists. That's why we train them to understand it, not fear it."

Why is National's business training curriculum called the Ethical Practice Management Program? Dr. Hodges answers: "We wanted to connote that we are teaching our students the proper and ethical way to manage their practices. Unfortunately, some sectors of the chiropractic profession - as well as other alternative medical specialties - are tainted with very unsavory advertising and promotional gimmicks. What we do is let our students know that you don't have to resort to gimmicks and that such behavior could ruin your professional reputation. Throughout the course, we always emphasize the importance of maintaining your professional reputation among your peers and your patients."

How is the course received among students? "Well, I hear from many of our alumni and there seems to be a common theme," Dr. Hodges chuckles. "They call to tell me that they hated doing the business plan in school but that boy, they are happy now that they did it!"

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