After working in the Army, the Veterans’ Administration, and various hospitals, in 2009, physical therapist Sterling Carter decided to open his own physical therapy clinic in Sugar Land, Texas. With free time recuperating from an injury, he drew out the plans and layout of his clinic. Mr. Carter completed a Bachelors in Physical Therapy at Langston University. He then earned a Masters degree at Texas Woman’s University with a specialty in orthopedic care. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, pertinent for sports-level therapies. Currently, he is pursuing a Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Simmons College.
1. How did you choose physical therapy as a career?
Originally I was a premed major at Langston where I had a scholarship. Then I was called into Desert Storm which changed my outlook on life. After returning, I decided I did not want to spend another eight to ten years in school and training. I did want to remain in the medical field and chose to go into physical therapy which in that time, you could practice with a Bachelor’s degree. [The requirements have since changed to graduate degrees.]
2. How did you decide which program to apply for and attend?
My first degree was in biology at Langston. Seeing that Langston had a physical therapy program as well, I remained there to earn my PT degree. I studied at Texas Woman’s University as their graduate program was here locally in my town. My doctorate program is a transitional work/study program at Simmons.
3. What surprises did you encounter in your training?
The time and dedication to the amount of learning. You have to study large amounts of material with good time management.
4. How did you get your first PT job? What is your career background?
I worked as a physical therapist in the U.S. Army in the reserves and in active duty for nearly 20 years. For awhile, I was able to work at several hospitals and home health care places as well.
5. What were your goals/intentions in furthering your education (Graduate school, etc.)?
The physical therapists that practiced with a Bachelor’s were grandfathered into the new licensing requirements (of having to attain a graduate degree for practice). I could technically work without going to graduate school, but I felt it was necessary to continue my education. In fact, most working physical therapists do have a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.
6. Why did you decide to open up your own clinic?
It had been a longtime dream to operate my own clinic. I also felt I had reached a ceiling working for others and for hospitals. I wanted to venture into something else where I can make different contributions.
7. What was the most difficult aspect in opening up your own clinic?
The financial part. Having to attain a capital first to begin preparations. While I did apply for bank assistance for a start-up business, I did have to prove to the banks I also had a certain amount of capital to work with.
8. What do you believe helps in standing out from the rest of the competition?
Providing a comprehensive physical therapy and rehabilitation service along with other services such as weight-loss programs and fitness programs. We offer up-and-coming treatments such as cold laser for soreness and joint pain and machines to treat spinal conditions. We also have sports-related clinics for athletes who want to build and maintain their skills, such as baseball clinics and volleyball clinics. I believe also in working with clients and getting physical therapy for them efficiently. That I can provide consultation immediately and make the check-in process faster.
9. Were the other services you offered such as weight-loss programs something that you thought of when you first planned out your clinic?
Yes, with potential competition of other physical therapy clinics, you have to stand out from the pack.
10. How did you choose your locale?
I had to do research and see where could I target the best clientele. Since the main city area was saturated with physical therapy places, I looked into the outskirts where there was less competition.
11. How did you choose your equipment?
We have equipment that is standard for physical therapy. With a fitness background, I was also familiar with the various apparatus.
12. Did you have a designer/planner create your floor plans or did you do it yourself?
I had some generalized ideas, and I did work with a planner, a rehab sales consultant that I knew from a previous practice.
13. What issues did you encounter and/or resolve in your start-up?
At first, I was trying to do a lot of work on my own. Eventually with increasing business, I had to hire additional staffing such as a receptionist, scheduler, and PT assistants.
14. How did you get your staffing?
Just classifieds and word of mouth, as I had worked at various locations during my career.
15. How did you attract clientele and advertise?
Local magazines, our website, radio, postcards, and Google Ads. I did half of our advertising through cold calls to physicians in the area as well.
16. Do you promote your services at health fairs?
We pretty much try to advertise services everywhere. We emphasize that not only we are a physical therapy clinic, but that we do sports rehabilitation and fitness programs as well.
17. Since you offer weight loss programs and exercise-boot camps, do you incorporate a workout schedule yourself in your own clinic, or do you use your own home gym?
I could use the equipment, but I do have my own gym and a gym membership as well. Fitness is very important to me.
18. How did you determine your operation hours for clientele?
We offer early morning hours into the evenings. One day a week is devoted to new and potential patients so that we can give them enough time for introductions to services. On Fridays, the workday is shorter to lessen overage of hours and to free our staff for other commitments.
19. What benefits have you seen in operating your own clinic?
It has provided me more freedom to spend time with students interested in physical therapy. I have also been able to be an entrepreneur in the African-American community, and serve as a mentor for those interested in business and healthcare.
20. What advice can you give to PT students who want to start their own business?
Start early! Don’t delay, you really want a head-start as others may establish clinics way ahead of you and create competition. It can be stressful to start up your own business, so learn as much as possible about the business management side.