What to Do Before Graduation
by William D. Esteb
As graduation draws nearer, the reality of actually applying what you’ve learned in a real-world practice setting starts to sink in. And no wonder. Book learning and academic responsibilities required your total attention. The realization that the purpose of this education is to help patients is often lost while memorizing details, preparing for tests and worrying about passing board examinations. The tragic result is that many students emerge from chiropractic college ill prepared to apply their valuable skills on a win-win basis with patients.
As a chiropractic patient for more than 2 decades and after touring hundreds of chiropractic offices, I’ve seen firsthand what happens. Countless new chiropractors are disgorged from chiropractic colleges with an admission ticket onto the playing field, but severely lacking the critical skills essential to exchanging their hard-won talent with a paying public.
Are you far enough into your education to know for sure that your calling is chiropractic? Great! Here are some things you could be doing to better prepare yourself for the empty feeling that often shows up 24 hours after you walk across the stage in front of your loved ones to claim your diploma:
Enhance your communication skills. In my chiropractic travels, I’ve found only one thing that shows up as a precursor to “success,” however you wish to define it: communication skills. Better communicators have better practices, better relationships, and frankly, better lives. I’ve seen incredible communicators with less than stellar adjusting skills captivate, motivate and inspire huge numbers of patients. It had nothing to do with their technique, their use of X-rays, city size, wardrobe, birth order or during what visit they delivered the patient’s first adjustment.
Here, I’ll repeat my standard admonition to join a Toastmasters group and get practice sharing your ideas in front of an audience. It is guaranteed to improve your ability to communicate one-on-one and to enhance the self-confidence that patients find so appealing. But let me share with you something patients find even more attractive: a good listener. In fact, listening is what great communicators share in common. This is where new doctors usually panic. They incorrectly think that the key to motivating patients is memorizing a tried and true, can’t-miss, sure-fire script. Nothing could be further from the truth! Being an incredible listener will serve you much better.
Unfortunately, listening, for most of us, is mostly about waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can say what we think is even better and more important!
If you can develop the discipline now to improve the acuity of your listening skills, patients will literally hand over the keys to their kingdom. Discover the truth in the counterintuitive observation that it’s not what you say to a patient, it’s what you ask.
Volunteer for emotionally risky opportunities. During the course of your studies, you’ll be presented with a variety of opportunities. They may include everything from hosting guided tours of the college and organizing fellow students to assist with commencement ceremonies to representing the college at community events and career day activities at a nearby high school. Take on as many of these as you possibly can.
If you’re going to elevate yourself above the role of mere technician, you must become a leader. And the various leadership opportunities that present themselves while you’re at school give you the chance to exercise the patient and staff leadership “muscle” you’ll find so helpful when you’re finally in practice. Better to fail now when the stakes are relatively low.
I know. You’re too busy with studying to devote any time to what seems like such meaningless distractions as the food drive for the homeless shelter or volunteering to staff the chiropractic booth at the home show. No problem. Others will take your place and you won’t be missed. But what you’ll miss is the experience you’ll gain from the social interaction and interpersonal skills necessary for successful practice. Bottom line? The B+ you turned into an A- by missing the weekend’s activities to study will do little to prepare you for the real world when you graduate.
Practice telling your chiropractic story. In case you haven’t noticed yet, the mainstream media, soaked in advertising revenue from the drug cartel, isn’t (and won’t be) a friend of chiropractic. With efficient conduits like radio, television and print blocked by the pharmaceutical industry, how is the typical citizen going to discover the truth about the nervous system that controls every cell, tissue, organ and system of the body? You!
Use the time before graduation to experiment with ways of presenting the chiropractic story in a compelling way. Look for opportunities to explain your unique view of things to whoever will listen.
I spent some time with a major player in chiropractic who is the acknowledged leader in new patient screenings and outreach events that attract huge numbers of new patients. I asked him his secret. He told me that he simply shares the beauty and simplicity of the chiropractic message with as many people as possible. His intention is to tell the story. The result is new patients. Reverse these motives and getting new patients is a distasteful chore. Point to the story, not your office.
The assisted care facility down the street might be a great place to start. Or volunteer to teach the “systems of the body” for the third grade elementary school teacher who usually emphasizes the circulatory system and infects her charges with her own fear of germs. Use these pre-graduation opportunities to practice the art of articulating your vision of chiropractic.
Develop a list and tour offices. There are already dozens of chiropractors around the country practicing the way you hope to practice. Have you met them yet?
Now’s the time to make your own Top Ten List of practices doing what you hope to do when you graduate. They’ve already perfected the paperwork, the protocol and the patient education procedures to achieve what you hope to produce when you’re in practice. Find these offices, take a tour and buy the doctor lunch!
Contact the key practice management groups and ask for the names of doctors who practice as you hope to. Write or call to introduce yourself. (If the fear of doing that stops you, you don’t really want it bad enough!) Ask for an opportunity to visit on a school break or a road trip you’ve planned that will take you through their part of the country.
You’re likely to discover something amazing. After your office tour and buying lunch at the field doctor’s favorite lunchtime place, you’ll discover that the most successful chiropractors aren’t operating in a scarcity model and will happily share with you on just about anything you ask. (And if they won’t, they’re not successful, they just look that way!) The key is to know what to ask. Better questions, better answers. (Same with patients.)
Create a journal of your future office. When I was growing up, I remember waiting each year for the Christmas edition of the Sears catalog to arrive. Aptly named the “Wish Book,” it provided hours of inspiration for my brother and I. While you’re conducting your office tours, take photographs of office details and collect brochures, letterhead and even yellow page ads from the offices you visit. Assemble these artifacts, along with your personal commentary and impressions, in a journal or practice wish book. As you add to it and see what’s possible, you’ll notice yourself becoming less dogmatic and more accepting.
It is essential that you round out your chiropractic education with working examples from the real world. My own travels have given me a greater respect for the diversity found in this profession and have helped refine my beliefs. It will do the same for you. When wishful thinking confronts reality, reality always wins. This is especially helpful to recognize now, before dealing with the whims and motives of idiosyncratic patients!
A journal that documents what you want in practice will profoundly accelerate your having it. Perhaps at this idealistic stage, it will also help you understand why the way you think your practice should be, is not viable, practical, legal or even desirable!
Yes, learn the left-brain stuff necessary to pass the tests and get the license so you can help facilitate the healing the world needs so desperately. But before you graduate, before your very livelihood depends upon it, practice the right-brain skills that are so essential to being influential and inspirational. When you do, you’ll change the world in a most powerful way.
Connecting the Dots
Published in 2005
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