Exclusive Interview w/ Ann Wendel, PT, ATC - October 2014

The following is not original material. This interview is reproduced with permission from Cinema, a former Twitter personality & blogger who left the social media world years ago. The reproduction is intended to preserve & share Cinema's insightful interviews.

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better – N.N. Taleb

Ann Wendel, PT, ATC, CMTPT of Prana Physical Therapy and growing Twitter-fame is a real-life example of Antifragility. I admire her not simply because of the fact that she won the acclaimed #sexyPT Award in 2014, but also for her resilience and ability to adapt to life’s vicissitudes.

We had a chance to pull together an interview recently and I was shocked by what came out of it. You’ll learn quite a bit from the read, and yes, there’s also some Exclusive Breaking News regarding Prana Physical Therapy. Ann’s response to this latest challenge is pretty amazing. Enjoy!

First, what did you have for breakfast today?

I was rushing out the door this morning to catch a flight to Kansas City, so I had eggs and a banana with almond butter.

Hard-boiled eggs for breakfast can get a bit boring after a while. What do you do to keep breakfast from turning mundane & repetitive?

Most mornings I eat leftovers from dinner the night before (protein and veggies); but, now that my kids are teenagers, there aren’t many leftovers anymore! On weekends when I’m home I try to make something that will last most of the week like a quiche or casserole. I make myself eat something every morning, even when I’m not hungry, because once I get going with patients, I might not get a chance to eat for several hours. I always eat some sort of protein and try to eat a vegetable like butternut squash or something. Many people have trouble with the idea of eating vegetables for breakfast, but butternut squash or sweet potatoes are slightly sweet and taste like comfort food to me.

You finally became an APTA Member last year. You’ve had your reservations and have been very open about it. What catalyzed the change?

Jerry Durham and Matt De Bole. Seriously. We all met up in DC for dinner and not even halfway through dinner they called me out on not being a member. They told me I had no right to complain about anything if I wasn’t going to be part of the solution. And I thought about it, and realized they were right. Both Jerry and Matt are very active in the APTA and are passionate about advocacy. I decided that I would get involved and try to work toward change from the inside. Since then I have been active in APTA and in both PPS and SOWH.

You recently joined the Editorial Board of PPS Impact Magazine. Why did you join the board? And, what does your role entail?

As you know, I have a real passion for writing about issues that affect our profession. When I joined PPS there was an opportunity to volunteer for different positions within the section. A position had just opened up on the Impact Editorial Board, and I jumped at the chance to participate. I want to learn more about the entire process of writing, editing, and publishing a monthly magazine. As a board member, I am responsible for content at least twice a year. My first assignment is due in October. I am contributing two feature articles, a member spotlight, and a tech review. I wrote one of the feature articles, and I have another PPS member writing the other, on his area of expertise. I think they will come out in early 2015. We have a very dynamic group and I’m excited to attend my first board meeting at PPS in November.

You just returned from the WebPT Ascend Conference! How was it? Why is it an important conference? And what is one of your biggest take-aways from it?

The Ascend Conference was fantastic. It was a one day conference focused on the business of therapy. We had some really amazing speakers on topics ranging from starting your practice to developing a website to preparing your exit strategy to sell your practice. I was there to provide social media coverage for WebPT and I was fortunate enough to sit on the final panel with all of the presenters. It was an important conference because it filled in the gaps of what most physical therapists would admit are their weaknesses: branding, marketing, networking, and business skills. We come out of our PT programs well prepared for a career of working as a physical therapist; but, we are terribly underprepared to run a practice. We need conferences that focus on how to be an effective leader, and how to grow a private practice.

During the conference, the subject of chiropractors and their marketing techniques kept coming up. I Tweeted that, “Chiropractors are taught how to brand, market, and run a business from day one. Let’s teach #DPTStudent about #bizPT.” That tweet received so many retweets and favorites, and is still being shared a week later. My point was that instead of looking down our noses at other professions (who are thriving, by the way), perhaps we should learn from them. We don’t have to use fear tactics and soft science to lure people into physical therapy; but, we could learn a thing or two about how consumers think by studying how consumers respond to marketing messages from other fitness and healthcare professionals.

SPEAKING OF CHANGE, PRANA PHYSICAL THERAPY IS UNDERGOING A MAJOR TRANSFORMATION! Tell us about what we can look forward to from you in the near future.

Yes, your reaction when I shared the changes with you was priceless. You said that you had to re-read my email several times to make sure you were reading correctly. I have debated about how to share the news with everyone, so when you asked me to do an interview, I figured I would give you the exclusive scoop.

I had been thinking a great deal over the past 6 months about the direction I wanted to take my business. When I reopened the practice in 2011, I was focused on providing physical therapy services. I started writing and blogging out of my experiences with getting the practice off the ground, in a very different environment than I faced the first time around in 2003. I have always loved writing, but I never did it on a regular basis until I started my blog. As the months went on, I realized how passionate I was about writing and connecting with other therapists through social media. Out of that passion, a whole new branch of my business grew. I am so fortunate to have connected with companies like WebPT, BossFit Magazine, Girls Gone Strong, and MedBridge as an outlet for my writing and speaking.

After growing the writing side of my business fairly quickly, I struggled a great deal last year with trying to balance running the PT practice and growing the writing and speaking side of my business. I was undecided on what I wanted to do long term.

In late July I found out I would be losing my office space (I was subletting) with only 5 weeks notice. I was devastated at first, and tried to scramble to find new office space on such short notice. It was difficult, because it didn’t make sense to find a large office and sign a 5 year lease, as we want to move out of the DC area once my kids are in college 5 years from now. I also thought about the implications of hiring staff and growing the practice, only to want to close it or sell it in 5 years.

Once I calmed down a bit, I sat and really thought about what direction I wanted to go in for the next 10 years, and I realized that I couldn’t keep up the current pace. As much as I loved my clinical practice, I am currently more passionate about sharing what I know through my writing and speaking. I made the difficult decision to close the in-person, patient care side of my business, eliminating the need for office space. Once I did that, it opened up new possibilities.

I have cleared time and energy for multiple projects I am working on and have been able to say yes to more of the type of work I want to be doing. In addition to joining the Editorial Board of Impact magazine, I have recently joined the Advisory Board of Girls Gone Strong, an organization run by my friend, Molly Galbraith. GGS is dedicated to providing the most current information to women in the areas of fitness, health, and nutrition, and through GGS I have the opportunity to reach thousands of women with good information about injury risk reduction and treatment. I was also honored to recently be asked to join the Clinical Advisory Board of Perfect Fit Health, joining my friend, Chris BisePerfect Fit is going to be doing some amazing things and I’m so excited to be part of the company. Additionally, I am continuing to produce webinars and provide consulting services to individuals and practices looking to learn more about marketing directly to consumers.

In an effort to continue to learn about #bizPT from a slightly different angle (to add to the experience I have with running a cash based practice), I have taken a position as a Clinic Director. This will allow me to gain experience with Medicare documentation and billing, as well as the opportunity to mentor new therapists and take students through clinical affiliations. Taking a position as a Clinic Director allows me to stay up to date on current clinical practice without the 24/7 stress of running my own business right now. This will allow me to develop the writing/speaking/consulting side of my practice without financial strain.

You recently joined the Advisory Board of Girls Gone Strong. What drew you to GGS and how did this relationship begin?

I have been drawn to GGS from the beginning. When they first announced what they were doing, I told my husband, “I want to be a part of this!” I believe so strongly in their mission, and knew that I could contribute to the organization. I became friends with some of the “girls” over the past few years, and continued to support what they were doing. I had dinner with co-founder Molly Galbraith last spring, and she shared with me that they were undergoing some organizational changes, and that she was looking to put together an Advisory Board. When she asked me to be part of it, I had to force myself not to jump up in the air! I am so fortunate to contribute a monthly column to the blog called “Ask Ann” where I answer a reader question related to physical therapy. I was also asked to speak at The Women’s Fitness Summit in Kansas City this weekend, co-hosted by GGS. I’ll be speaking alongside some amazing women at a conference with all female presenters and only female attendees. I am so looking forward to empowering women to take care of themselves!

You write for a variety of media outlets – MedBridgeBossFit magazine, and WebPT. (I heartily recommend you to read her articles. They are fertile grounds for ideas and conceptual thinking in your practice, including your practice of healthy living.) How did you establish these relationships? How can I establish similar relationships?

It all started with WebPT. I use WebPT as my EMR for my practice, and they asked me to do a member spotlight piece in 2011. They interviewed me by phone for the article and I talked with them for a while after the interview was over, mentioning that I would love to write for their blog. We came up with a contract, and I have been providing an article every month since then. That relationship continued to grow over the years, as I really love the culture of WebPT and their commitment to our profession. I met co-owner Heidi Jannenga at PPS last year, and got to know her a bit. I was thrilled to be asked to participate in Rehab Nation, a think tank type meeting hosted by WebPT, and the Ascend conference this year.

My relationship with MedBridge began in a somewhat similar fashion. I followed them on Twitter, and enjoyed talking with them through social media. They reached out to me last year and asked if I would like to contribute an article. My first article was on the kettlebell swing, and I included a video. I met the whole MedBridge crew at CSM in Vegas, and talked with them about doing more work together. I am happy to support them because they provide high quality educational products. We have some really exciting projects in the works, but I can’t share about them yet!

My association with BossFit started with following Chris Brogan on Twitter. His writing and speaking really resonated with me, and I frequently shared his articles and commented on his blog. When he announced on Twitter last year that he and Jacq Carly were starting a sister magazine to Owner Magazine, called BossFit, I started paying attention, as BossFit is a magazine dedicated to the health of busy business owners. They tweeted that they were looking for writers to contribute, and I reached out to them and sent some samples of my writing. Fortunately, I was chosen to contribute, and have been writing for BossFit monthly since then. I had the pleasure of meeting Chris and Jacq in Boston, when they hosted an Owner/BossFit Live event last March. I was interviewed by Chris on the topic of physical therapy, and got to share with the audience a bit about what I do. Since then, both Chris and Jacq have become dear friends.

In all these instances (and every other writing opportunity I’ve had), the constant is that I pursued the opportunities. I never waited for someone to approach me or ask me if I wanted to contribute. I offered to contribute and provided samples of my work. In the writing world, this is called a query: you write to an editor or contact at a publication, and share your idea with them in a way that attracts their interest. I only reach out to companies that I resonate with – if I feel passionate about their mission and about the topics they cover, I pursue the relationship. For anyone who wants to get started writing, my best advice is start writing! Don’t wait to be asked, don’t wait to send it out until it’s good enough – just do it. Decide where you want to contribute and start building those relationships.

I really admire how you’ve leveraged the many changes you’ve experienced over the last 7+ years. What lasting truths have you distilled from these experiences?

Everything changes, and I’m strong enough to turn it around and make it work. I think that we run into trouble when we resist the natural changes that occur in life. In the natural world, everything has a season. Work, life, and relationships also have seasons; yet, we resist this truth and it leads to failure and unhappiness. If we can acknowledge that changes are natural and endings are normal, then we can recognize a necessary ending and make a decision in a timely manner, allowing us to pivot our business or life in a way that serves us best. When I lost my office space, I talked with my friend, Sandy Hilton, and she recommended the book Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud. It was such a helpful book, and I highly recommend it. It clarified things for me and made me realize that it was healthy to change the way I was running my business, and to view it as a normal evolution of my passion.

The big lessons I’ve learned are to welcome change and endings as a necessary part of life, and to be decisive and act, so that you can stay successful in both business and personal relationships.

Tell us about your biggest take-aways from the Ancestral Health Symposiumthat you attended a couple years ago.

Because of my diagnosis with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis about 7 years ago, I developed a keen interest in reading research about the effects of nutrition and lifestyle on health. As I read, I was drawn to the Ancestral Health movement. The first AHS was held in 2011, and I wanted to be part of the experience the next year. I was thrilled to present a poster on the Effects of Ancestral Nutrition on Type 1 Diabetes, at Harvard in August  2012.

The biggest take aways for me (from the entire movement) are that we have to focus on health in a whole person/lifestyle manner in order for changes to be lasting and effective. We need to encourage our patients to eat whole, nutritious food, engage in healthy movement, sleep for 7-9 hours a night, minimize stress, and build a sense of purpose and community into their lives. We can’t just treat a shoulder or a knee. With Direct Access, we are often the first healthcare provider that a patient has seen in years. We need to ask questions about general health in our initial evaluation and then provide resources for patients to make lasting changes.

I know you love The Alchemist & A Wrinkle in Time. Any other favorite books? 

I’m a bit of a history nerd, so I loved Joel Achenbach’s book, The Grand Idea. The book detailed George Washington’s business and personal life  immediately after the War of Independence. It detailed his plan to transform the Potomac River into the nation’s premier commercial artery. Given that I live only about 4 miles from Mount Vernon, I was fascinated to read about the area surrounding my house, and how Washington developed all of his holdings in the area.

You’ve just traveled back in time to and are sitting face-to-face with your 20-something self. What advice would you give yourself?

I would tell myself that it’s all going to be ok. That no matter what happens, I can turn it around and make a really satisfying life for myself.

What top 3 things can everyone do to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life?

Sleep. Go to bed by 10pm and sleep in a cool, completely dark room for 7-9 hours.

Eat. Eat a whole, unprocessed food diet of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. And eat three good sized meals a day. It helps to regulate your blood glucose, insulin response, and hormones.

Lift heavy weights. Start light, learn good movement patterns, then increase weights appropriately. We need to continue to lift heavy things as we age – skeletal muscle is protective and necessary as we age.

Ann, thank you very much for sharing your time & lessons in this interview! I wish you the best of luck in your latest adventure – I’m sure it’ll be a great one.

Follow Ann on Twitter @PranaPT

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