Mark Sanna, DC, ACRB Level II, FICC

Mark Sanna, DC, ACRB Level II, FICC

One of the more challenging aspects of owning your own business is that the proverbial buck stops with you. This entrepreneurial aspect of owning a practice frustrates many chiropractors. Being the owner of your practice requires you to exercise your skills in leadership in order to get your team to work together and take direction. This is true in all forms of business, including the chiropractic practice. However, you can’t lead others unless you’re in a good position to lead. The proper care and feeding of your practice team begin with proper care and feeding of the team leader—you.

Burnout Is a Serious Threat

You need to be aware of how sharp your sword is before you try to sharpen someone else’s.

Burnout is a serious threat. It steals the passion that inspired you to go into practice in the first place. Without passion, your ability and willingness to do what it takes to make your practice a success quickly diminishes.

Symptoms of Burnout

  • You find yourself resenting your patients instead of wanting to help them.
  • You dislike your employees because you think that they’re making constant demands.
  • You snap at your spouse when asked how your day went.
  • You’re constantly feeling pressured and unable to relax.

At first glance, these behaviors may seem ridiculous, but unfortunately, they are indicative of a way of life for many chiropractors. They’ve become stuck in fast forward and so entrenched in their practice that they “don’t have time” for friendships, having fun, being creative, hanging out or simply resting. They have difficulty relaxing enough to sleep at night. When they do wake up, they speed through their morning routine and rush to arrive at the practice on time. By the time they do arrive, they’re ready for a morning break. This is a classic formula for burnout!

You have two simultaneous roles in your practice. You play both the role of an employer and of an employee. If you worked for an employer who expected you to work non-stop, never allowing time off, paying less than you are worth, you’d soon have your resume updated and you’d be out the door. While you would never consider treating your employees this way, many practice owners work themselves harder than they would ever ask someone on their team to work.

Faced with the increasing pressures placed upon all health care practitioners, it’s not uncommon for practice owners to take on more than they can handle. They increase the number and speed of their activities, raise their goals, and introduce new systems at a furious pace. And after initial success, too often they try to make this furious pace the new normal. What began as an exceptional burst of achievement becomes chronic overloading, with dire consequences. Not only does the frenetic pace sap your energy, it can zap the motivation of your entire practice team.

Keep Yourself Fresh and Engaged

How do you keep yourself fresh and engaged? What are you going to do to keep yourself from being overwhelmed?  Begin by delegating or outsourcing the tasks that are draining you and creating an unhealthy environment. If insurance billing and collections are zapping the life out of your practice, consider outsourcing these functions to a billing company. One of the most useful roles a practice management consultant can play is to provide a non-emotional evaluation of what’s working and what isn’t in your practice.

Like a fish that isn’t aware of the water it is swimming in, you may be too close to your practice or too emotionally engaged to remain objective. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to.  A good consultant can help you find simpler, easier ways to do what isn’t working. Just say, “Okay, this is an area that’s draining our practice. Coach, how can you help us?”

Schedule Regular Time Off

Some doctors insist that they can’t take time off or they can’t afford to hire a covering doctor.  Whatever point your practice is at, you are the pilot of your ship. If you feel that you can’t step away from your practice, start putting a plan in place so that you can take time off in the future. It’s been said that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. It takes nothing away from you to pass on your flame. But how can you light the fire in your practice team if your candle’s not burning?

Learn to take care of yourself. This is why taking adequate time away from your routine is so crucial. Taking care of your mental psyche includes taking the initiative of giving yourself proper time to relax and unwind. Clearing your mind is not only good for reducing the stress that accumulates during everyday life, but it also provides an opportunity to take a step back and re-assessing what you have been doing and the direction you are heading.

Take Care of the People Who Take Care of You

Be aware of the work environment that you’re creating for your employees. Make sure that you’re treating your practice team the way that you would want to be treated. Preventing burnout must be part of your business plan. Begin by scheduling weekly one to two-minute long standing meetings with each team member on a one-on-one basis. This will provide you with the opportunity to acknowledge and praise them for their successes and to perform a “gut check” to see if problems are brewing – long before you might discover them otherwise. This is also your chance to listen to hear if problems are brewing with other team members.

Use cross training to build your team. Give each team member the opportunity to share their role with another member of the team. By learning each other’s job responsibilities, individual team members become aware that they’re not an isolated component of the practice.  This helps to make sure that everyone “gets” the big picture and understands how the work they do helps the practice achieve specific goals.

Cross training makes team members more valuable (and normally provides job security). Often people don’t want to learn new skills because they’re afraid. And they don’t want to teach others their skills because they’re afraid they will become less valuable to the practice. In reality, the more each team member knows, the more valuable they are to the practice. To make cross training work, identify the critical skills that make your practice function. Set up a schedule of activities to train team members and give them an opportunity to grow in a safe environment. You can build upon this idea by holding monthly in-services during which your team members have the opportunity to showcase their role in the practice to the rest of the team.

Acknowledge and Reward Success

Reward your team members for a job well done. There are countless recognition programs in place in chiropractic practices. The most successful programs are custom tailored to what inspires the individual members or the team. Ask each team member to create a wish list of those things that would motivate them personally to hit their goals. Rewards do not always have to be monetary in nature. Non-monetary rewards form one important part of a complete recognition program. Nonmonetary rewards include such items as being thanked publicly at a team meeting, having lunch with the team member of their choice, or receiving an extra day off. The desired outcome of a rewards and recognition program is to improve performance. Each team member should have their own list of goals and the associated rewards, ranked by value, based upon the significance of their achievement to the practice.

Build a culture in your practice that encourages accomplishment. Take the time to poke your head into your team members’ space just to say “thank you” for a job well done. This brief moment of acknowledgment will ensure that the individual knows what they did was important and is appreciated by you. In addition to acknowledging your team’s individual efforts, you can celebrate success extravagantly by popping the cork on a bottle of champagne when your team hits a collective goal, or in a more low-key fashion with bagels the next morning with a note of thanks. The important thing is to ensure that individual efforts are noted and appreciated.

Share Your Goals with Your Team

To make your goals live you need to write them down and verbalize them. Share them with your team and to ask each individual to help hold each other accountable. Practice visualizing your goals vividly and communicating them with energy and enthusiasm. If you want your team to help grow your practice, you must share your vision of what you want the practice to be. Establish beginning and ending points. Your team won’t know if they’re moving the needle if they don’t know where they are today and they’ll have no way of knowing when they cross the finish line if they don’t know where the finish line is. Set a goal with your team to become the very best team possible and celebrate your accomplishments along the way!

Dr. Mark Sanna is the CEO of Breakthrough Coaching. He is a member of the Chiropractic Summit and a board member of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress. You can learn more about Breakthrough Coaching by visiting or by calling 1-800-723-8423.