Soooo many students get out of university thinking that the hard part is over and that once they start their own private practice, they’ll be choosing their hours, earning more money and flying to the Bahamas for a holiday every year. It’s something that, in my opinion, universities don’t prepare you for enough. The harsh reality of private practice is that it is freaking hard, especially if you plan on starting your own business. So, here are my two cents.
The Upside of Starting a Private Practice
You Get to “Set Your Own Hours” and Be “Your Own Boss”
Often that is the shiny part of why people start their own business. More about that double-edged sword in the…
The Learning Curve
Probably the biggest positive of working in private practice is that you get a much wider range of conditions that you could get exposed to. They might not be at the acute, clinical level where you have to do a nasogastric feed on a paediatric child but you’re going to have to deal with humans, emotions and counselling. You need to know your food knowledge and you need to be able to treat any and every condition on the fly with zero preparation. The learning curve is exponentially larger than that of a new grad hospital dietitian role, and because the curve is larger, if you succeed in this environment, you will be growing a lot faster than others.
That’s a huge pro if you survive it.
Yeah, there are probably a few more positives than that, but I think the shiny is often sold by everyone else (insert shitty business coach trying to sell you a perfect dream and take your money here), let me give you a dose of the reality. The “downsides”.
The Downsides of Starting a Private Practice
You Know Nothing
You don’t know what the hell you’re doing as a dietitian, so what makes you think you can also learn how to run a business at the same time? If you plan on starting your own private practice the first day out, you’re an idiot in my opinion. You don’t know what private practice is like because universities don’t prepare you for it. Some universities are getting better at it, but most don’t. Looking at it realistically:
- You’ve got no business knowledge or strategy
- You don’t know what competition is out there
- You don’t know how you’re actually going to do it
- It’s actually way, way, WAY harder than what you think
- If you do manage to start up, you won’t be able to go anywhere because everyone relies on you
- There is a massive lack of support (especially if you do it alone)
Yes, you can start an Instagram and get a few people in that way, but its longevity that matters. Many people aren’t setting up companies to be successful long term, they are thinking wayyyy too short term and being wayyyyy too impatient.
Overheads & Time Costs
So many people get out of university thinking, “oh, I’m going to start my own business so I can set my own hours and I don’t have to work as much and I can make more money.” And it’s simply not like that at all. There are costs (financial, time, personal). There is a lack of security. It’s freaking hard. Realistically thinking, costs that you will have to cover include:
- Rent – both at home and work
- Electricity – same as above
- Professional development
They’re your minimum static/fixed costs – what you need to cover at minimum to keep you and the business afloat. Then outside of that, you will need to figure out your “hourly rate” and how much you need to make to cover the costs of living. Remember to calculate your true hourly rate by how much time is actually spent on the business and in it, rather than just what you charge your clients.
Let me tell you though, there is a lot of truth to the whole “working 100hrs a week so that you don’t have to work 38 hours for someone else”. If you don’t care about that work, then this isn’t a negative.
Let’s be real here, everyone will tell you that admin fucking sucks. It suuuuuucks. I spend about $250K or something stupid in admin staff wages, just to try and remove some of the admin from our dietitians because it is the WORST part of private practice, hands down.
Some people are great at marketing themselves and getting work, but dietitians generally suck at this. We never learnt how to do this effectively at uni, and stereotypically we are some of the most introverted, self-conscious and insecure people getting around. Marketing to clients, marketing to GPs, selling yourself, it all feels scary and dirty. You don’t know if you are doing it right, and even if you do do it right, you will fail more than you succeed in your marketing efforts.
And don’t get me started about having to ask people for money at the end of the consult…talk about awkward haha.
How Can You Make Private Practice Work?
In the end, it is so much easier to work for someone else (especially initially). So, if you ARE set on going into private practice, identify a company that actually is successful in private practice that has a workload there. Please emphasise “successful” because anyone can start a private practice, you won’t learn from just anyone unless you only want to learn what you don’t want to do. By working for someone else, you get to see how they do things, how it all works, you learn all the processes, procedures, legal requirements, legislation and much more.
To get the most out of it the best thing to do is to identify a company that can support you – not just put you out there to pasture. In private practice, that’s few and far between so you need to find someone that’s able to give you that and you need to make that call upfront in the interview. Don’t just take a job unless you can be certain that you can get the support you need (whether it’s through the job or elsewhere).
If you’re still keen on starting your private practice, go for it. But hopefully, my words assist you in thinking about what is involved. But if it scared you off, or you think working in private practice for someone else is the right move first, apply for every role that comes up all over Australia. Don’t let distance stop you. The more options you give yourself, the greater opportunity you have to land something great. Something that will take you to a level quicker than what you would just staying “close to family and friends”. Who knows what will happen, but my bet is you’ll find something you didn’t know you would, enjoy it more than you thought, and you will be stronger for it.
There are about 34 other things I could say to add to this, to give you all a road map to succeed in starting and running a private practice, but for now, just take in what I wrote. If you have more questions, DM me on Instagram – @bossdietitian.
Obviously, a bit of shameless plugging, Fuel Your Life is always hiring new dietitians and we pride ourselves on the level of ongoing support we provide our team. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or head over to the Dietitian Life Job Board to find out more about the roles we have available at the moment.