Interview with Erica Meloe, PT, OCS, COMT, MBA, MA - December 2013

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. The reproduction is intended to preserve & share Cinema's insightful interviews.

The world of Physical Therapy is comprised of some truly remarkable individuals. Erica Meloe is one of them. Her story is unique and her insight is practical. Get in touch with her on twitter @EricaMeloe and in person at her private practice in NYC – Velocity Physio. Enjoy the interview!

Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you decide to become a physical therapist?

I didn’t want to retire on a trading floor. After graduating with my MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business, I worked for 10 years at a global investment bank, selling international fixed income and derivatives to financial institutions and hedge funds. Around the 7year mark, I started to map out a plan in my mind where I wanted to be in the next 5, 10 years. And it was not sitting on a trading desk.

I listened to a lot of Tony Robbins during that time! I have always loved problem solving and “figuring things out” and enjoyed exercising and recreation. I looked into Exercise Physiology and went back to school at night, while still employed, and obtained a Masters degree in that discipline. I met a Physical Therapist who was also enrolled in the program and she opened my eyes to the potential that physical therapy had as a future career for me. I could combine my strengths as a problem solver as well as my natural abilities to effectively deal with people.

What drew you to NY? And why did you decide to start your practice, Velocity Physio, in NYC?

I was born in the New York City suburbs. With the exception of the year that I lived in Madrid, Spain, I have spent most of my life in the NYC metro area. Since I have worked all my life in New York, it was natural for me to start the next phase of my journey here. Ironically, when I chose PT as a career, I realized that I could work anywhere but I stayed. Sometimes the grass is not always greener on the other side.

What is the driving force behind Velocity Physio? And how does Velocity Physio separate itself from the crowd? (after all, NYC can seem a bit crowded)

A bit crowded is an under statement, we have at least 3 PTs in the same building! Because of such conditions we try and deliver massive value to the consumer. We offer a clinical reasoning process that surpasses many of our competitors.

We never give up. I know that sounds strange but I have a lot of patients who have been elsewhere and they tell me their former practitioner said they could not help them anymore. I think that we can always help and educate, even if it is referring them out.

Having worked on a trading floor for so long, I understand the aches and pains that go with working in that environment. The constant sitting and staring at multiple screens with such intensity and with two phones to your ear at times; this does not come without an occasional ache in your body. I empathize with this sub group of people. There are not many practice owners who have an MBA from Stern and who worked on a Wall Street trading floor for 10 years. My story differentiates me.

Markets, industries, and companies all seek stability; healthcare is currently entering a new phase. How is Velocity Physio preparing for the new and unpredictable healthcare environment?

By being a step ahead of everyone else. Anticipating market dynamics before they happen. Continuing to be passionate about what we do. Not settling for the BS that our insurance companies try to get away with. Hold them accountable. Mastering our strengths, fine tuning our clinical reasoning process. That’s what we are good at. Not settling for competency. As Marcus Buckingham, wrote in Now, Discover Your Strengths, “You grow most in your areas of greatest strength. You will improve the most,…..and bounce back the fastest in those areas where you have already shown some natural advantage over someone else”. Practice owners who get better at what they are best at, will be able to meet these challenges. Your ideal customers will find your value and pay you for it.

Go out of network, market your cash based services, go on a course, volunteer overseas as a physical therapist for a week or two. If you go abroad, you will realize how good we have it here, in some respects.

I don’t necessarily agree that all companies and industries seek stability. Without a bit of uncertainty, risk and innovation, one will never grow. Do you want to be just adequate at what you do or master it? Adequacy and stability are overrated.

Travel back in time to when you were in PT school. Knowing what you know today, what advice would you give yourself?

That’s an interesting question because I gave up a financially rewarding career to go back to school. I would advise the student to pay attention to the trends in healthcare. When I graduated PT school, it was during a time when no one was hiring! The Balanced Budget Act was in full swing and the Medicare Cap was just instituted. There is no way as a PT Student you could have prepared yourself for that, realistically. I would also have advised myself to seek a mentor out, someone who was already established as a PT. Mentors are so important for both personal and professional development. And I think as a student in a field that was undergoing so much change, it would have been nice to see the field from a different perspective.

When I was at Stern in my last year of business school, NYU set up “informational Interviews” with alumni and they endeavored to match you both with regards to industry. These were very helpful in the sense that it opened my eyes to the opportunities in my field. When I was in PT school, I did not have that opportunity. I would urge students to request this if their programs were not offering it already.

What hobbies or extra-professional interests have impacted you as a PT? And how?

My love of sports has made me realize how close we are to the next injury. And how much discipline it takes to rehab it. Not to mention the toll it takes on a patient, mentally. I also love to read. I think I have read almost every personal development book out there and my patients are better for it as well as the many clinical textbooks and journals I have read over the years.

I also love to travel and realize that I can’t do as much of it as I would like. However, combining this interest with my fluency in Spanish as well as my “ Learner” strength, makes me wonder if I can take advantage of the many volunteer opportunities overseas for a week or two. Being in another country, empowering other people, integrating wisdom into their practice-that is magic.

You’ve mentioned volunteering abroad twice! Can you provide websites or contacts for a PT to pursue this opportunity.

The organization that I am familiar with is called Health Volunteers Overseas. But I am sure there are others, like Doctors Without Borders.

Share your favorite authors or books. Why have you enjoyed them so much? And how have they impacted you?

I am a big Jane Austen fan-love historical romances of all shapes and sizes! They take me away. Danielle La Porte’s work has really impacted me as well. Her Fire Starter Sessions and The Desire Map are must-reads for anyone who wants to go on a journey of personal development. She rocks! Also, Tony Robbins‘ work is just absolutely amazing-I keep going back and back to it. He is the ultimate strategist. He gets it. Can’t forget to mention, George MartinThe Game of Thrones. I have read ALL the books. Just genius!

From a clinical perspective, David ButlerLorimer Moseleyand Louis Gifford-their works have impacted how I deal with pain, both personally and with my patients. I took a yearlong course, called the Discover Physio Series with Diane Lee and LJ Lee in 2012 in Vancouver. It truly changed the way I practiced, took me to the next level. Personally and professionally, it was the best course I have ever been on. They nailed it. The new book The Pelvic Girdle is well worth the read.

I loved your conversation on “Healthy, Wealthy, and Smart 2013.” The phrase “Uncontested Market-space” particularly peaked my interest. Which uncontested market-spaces do you see existing in PT today? Why does it exist?

They exist because no one has gone after them, or better yet, no one has created them yet. The example, I used in that interview was Cirque Du Solei. They created a new experience for the average circus goer. They shaped a new consumer, one that wanted a high-end circus experience without the popcorn and smell of a traditional circus ring. They can co-exist because they are different experiences, different pieces of the pie, so to speak. Same with Curves, they went after uncontested market space.

In Physical Therapy this can be anything. The example I used in the interview with Karen was, wellness and prevention. If a dentist can get a patient in the door for a bi-annual cleaning why can’t a PT see a patient for some insightful treatment and education? The mistaken myth is that patients should see a PT when they are in pain. That is where everyone sits right now. Why not take the leap of faith off the wall and give the patient a new experience? The sky is the limit.

The world of finance is fascinating and brutal. What lessons have you drawn from past experiences working on Wall Street?

That I can take risk with a capital ‘R”. It takes a lot of courage to give up a six-figure salary, walk away and then go back to school full time. Having worked in sales most of the time while on Wall Street gave me the confidence to deal with many personalities. Also, I had to act quickly at times, (that’s putting it mildly!) and this attribute has come in handy as a Physical Therapist.

Why is it important for Physical Therapists to be involved in the political process? And how can PTs get involved?

Because if you do not get involved, our legislators will never know your voice or realize that anything is wrong. How can a PT complain about Medicare, reimbursement issues and not lobby their local and national Congress? If they do not make their voices heard, they should stop complaining. Forging a relationship with the people who have legislative power, is one of the more intelligent things a PT can do. If we want to show value, then what better way to start than our local and national government. Become a member of your Political Action Committee (PAC), either nationally or locally or both! Without our support, they cannot get the message out.

This past July, I was privileged to have attended the Private Practice Section (PPS) Advocacy Fly In Washington DC, where members of the PPS Section met and discussed issues like the Medicare Cap, the flawed SGR as well as Opting out of Medicare , amongst other topics, with their members of Congress. I saw first hand what it was like when an impassioned and intelligent group of individuals got together to make our voices heard. Many people say lobbying is a waste of time, it is quite the opposite, it is richly rewarding. 

Many PTs sense a problem with the “brand image” of Physical Therapy. Is there one? If so, what is the problem? And any ideas to remedy the problem?

It is tough to have a general “brand” as it pertains to Physical Therapy, because there are so many disciplines, The ultimate goal I think, is movement, if you will. Everyone has a different message and I think if we develop a “Brand’, so to speak, with the words “Physical Therapy”, it will be diluted. Every Physical Therapist should have his/her brand, and if they don’t, they should get one. That will prepare them for the healthcare world in which we know it. Speaking of differentiation, creating a “unique” you, will be your answer. This brings me back to the story and how people will remember you. I am not a branding expert, but if you exhibit and do what comes naturally to you, that will authenticate and brand you. Because, in the end, if you don’t rely on your strengths to succeed, you will only flaunt your weaknesses and that is foolish.

What advice would you give to the entrepreneurial PT who wants to start his own private practice?

Be prepared to take risk and be a leader. Join the Private Practice Section of the APTA. I would also start to talk to other practitioners who are already in Private Practice, as this will really help you. This is BIG-don’t underestimate it and do not be afraid to ask for help. Having a good accountant and lawyer are also very important. We’ve been through a few accountants so far!

You’re a busy lady! How do you manage your day to check off items your to-do list?

That is an ongoing problem for me-my time management. When I do a to-do list, it usually never gets taken out of my bag! I think that scheduling actions or activities into your calendar is probably the ideal solution. If a certain task is not done after a week or so, then you have to have a conversation with yourself!

Life is an adventure. What has been your most memorable adventure so far?

I have had a few! A rock concert in the Roman Forum in the’80’s. Living in Spain for the year – every day was an adventure, frankly. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with my father-what a memory… There still is room for more!

Erica, thank you for sharing your story and professional pearls of wisdom. Let’s do it again sometime.

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Jason Boddu