Interview with Jerry Durham, PT - April 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. The reproduction is intended to preserve & share Cinema's insightful interviews.

I was fortunate enough to interview Jerry Durham, PT and Principal of San Francisco Sports and Spine Physical Therapy (also on twitter: @SFsportspinePT) with 3 locations in the San Francisco area. Check out his blog, Rockit Conversion, for a good view into his business & management insights and applications for your clinic. Also, if you aren’t following him on twitter @Jerry_DurhamPT (who isn’t?), then you should. I’ve picked up some valuable lessons from Jerry and I’m sure you will too; and if you’re also into baseball & bourbon, then you’ve hit gold. Here’s a youtube video of Jerry speaking to the Value of Twitter as it pertains to Physical Therapy:


Finally, make sure you check out his conversation with Karen Litzy, MS, PT and Dr. Jared Carter, DPT, MTC about Cash-Based PT at Medbridge.

I gleaned quite a bit from this interview. I hope you find it as invaluable as I have. Enjoy!

Tell us about your career trajectory. What got you first interested in Physical Therapy? And the evolution you went through to be where you are today?

What got me interested was a combination of not knowing what I wanted to do and a great relationship with Ed, the Trainer for our High School football team who was also a Physical Therapist.  After my first semester of undergrad I had no idea what I wanted to study or do. I contacted Ed and after a few lengthy discussions I began taking the PT prereqs and started spending time volunteering in numerous PT settings.  And I guess you can figure how that worked out.

For the rest of it, If I could actually remember the majority of that story I would share it. Just know I worked in literally every possible setting except Peds and Neuro Rehab…my 2 worst classes in school.  I do know I kept switching jobs because “my bosses were stupid, bad, etc”.  Then finally after 7 years of hearing this my wife politely pointed out to me that, “the only constant in all those jobs is…….YOU Jerry!  Its not your bosses, YOU need to start your own business”  (That is verbatim a direct quote.  I will never forget that day over 14 years ago).  That!!!!…… is where all this began.   I immediately told her there was NO way I was starting my own business!

How did you know you were (& are) in the right field of work?

1….. I get to interact with people all day, everyday

2……I am helping people (patients, employees and other PTs) achieve THEIR goals

3……I get paid doing 1 and 2…..

Oversimplified?, No….

Tell us about one of your more difficult decisions (professionally) and your process of coming to a conclusion. Did it work out? Why or why not?

The day I went to my business partner and told him I wanted out…. In hindsight it was a decision made on confusion and misunderstanding of MYSELF.  When we started the business we defined our roles and I believed that I was going want to treat patients until to the very end.  Then about 5 years ago I faced a personal battle when I became burned out with treating patients everyday.

Decision making. What are your filters for decision-making while at work?

Overall it is the company Core Values.  So many times it sounds like a cliche yet I default to them frequently.  We put a lot of time, energy and research into our Core Values.  We actually didn’t come to our current list until about 3 years ago, which is 10yrs into the business.  Prior to that we had a “code”.   The code didn’t carry the same effect, they presented more as rules.  True Core Values are guiding principles, not rules.  One of the Company’s core values is “Put Patients First”.  Yes it’s that simple.  The patients are why we exist.   Whether we are discussing how to schedule, hours of service, what Providers to work with, etc it is “Patient first.”  It’s a great list and really is the guide to functioning properly.  I have adapted a personal list of  Core Values and there is some crossover between the business and my list (my list came after).

Tell us about balancing work & life. Where can couples or individuals go wrong? And how do you approach this?

My business partner was the first one I heard say that “balance” means there has to be a negative. So, to ask about “Work/Life Balance” is implying that there is always a negative occurring. I dont want to approach it as a Negative/Positive. I like to approach it as ‘How do you prioritize your work and Life activities on a regular basis, Daily, weekly, monthly… So, this is where I start the discussions with myself, my wife and with my biz partner.  The question to them is “What do YOU need from me?” Obviously I already know what is expected or I’ve already had the discussion of what I can deliver. I can then make decisions based on my priorities and let people know when and if I can follow through. So, no surprises for anyone. Where people go wrong?, they don’t have frequent conversations with their spouse/partner/significant other to be discussing these weekly at a minimum. Priorities shift daily, weekly, monthly those affected HAVE to be kept in the open conversation. DON’T assume anything.  20 yrs married, 13 years business partner this still holds true

Whether we realize it or not, almost all of us have morning routines. What is your weekday morning routine?

I Love to get up early. I like to be out and about when its dark and/or before others are up. I like to workout early, whether a bike ride mostly on weekends or my gym classes throughout the week. I like to be in the office early before others. I like to get my stuff together and be READY before a patient, meeting or otherwise. I love my music in the morning. When going to gym, working out or riding BART to work its all about my music. I love my espresso in the morning at home and then again at Coffee Cultures in SF.

“Time” for my usual time travel question: Imagine you’ve travelled back in time right after your graduation from PT school and are face-to-face with yourself. What advice would you give the young Jerry Durham?

I would beat the following statements into my Younger head….

-Believe in yourself, your ideas and what you bring.

-Understand that YOU being YOU is the most Valuable thing you can do (Fuck others who say dont be YOU)


-Don’t be afraid NOT to be the smartest guy in the room…You can learn from Everybody

-Find a Business Mentor TODAY (this woulda helped on multiple fronts, not just starting my biz)

-Set up a financial plan and follow it..

-Your parents are right!!…(almost all of the time).

All of those played a huge role in my personal and professional development.  A couple of those came way later than others.  If those were beat into my head 20 years ago, my learning curve would have been far shorter!

(I would also mention to hold that Apple stock I bought at $14 a share…no joke.  But thats for another day)

Just 30-35% of Physical Therapists are APTA Members. Why is this? And how can we get more Physical Therapists on board?

I am a 22 year member of the APTA.  Ive been a PT for 20 years.  I had no idea the first 5 years what the APTA was doing for me, I just knew I needed to be a Member of my Professional Association, I knew it was important to be a part of a whole…..

So to answer your question Why only 35%?…..its poor Value sharing of the benefits of membership.           “Your Customers Don’t Know The Product”

This is happening on at least 2 fronts……

1…. I believe The APTA has done a poor job sharing the Value of Membership (aka Marketing themselves)..  Go to the website,  if I’m a “maybe member” why am I gonna join?  There is absolutely no Value Proposition until I clicked 3 times..  Then the reasons were canned reasons EVERY association uses.  The SOLUTION?… their needs to be stories by members from multiple sections across multiple States SHOUTING the individual value they receive!  You have to have multiple stories so all kinds of “maybe members” can place themselves in the story.  Have acute care, peds, home health, private practice, neuro, research and student PTs sharing stories.  APTA did a great job at CSM doing this with their videos reports from CSM.  Post those front and center on the website!

Remember the question above when I said look at other industries?  Well APTA has to look at other successful Associations, god forbid maybe even the Chiros!   With so many prospective members stuck on the “cost”, you only get stuck on cost when you have trouble finding the benefit.  I know they are looking at reduced cost options, why?  Quickest path to reducing value in your product is cutting cost,  thats the kiss of death. It then just becomes a commodity game.  I propose focusing on SHOWING the “maybe member” the Value of membership on multiple fronts and in multiple ways so the cost becomes a smaller and smaller issue.

2……Poor job by the PT Schools instilling a sense of Professionalism and again the Value of an Association in a Profession..  They have a captive audience of the future of our Profession for 3 years.  How the hell are these future DPTs not bought in by Graduation Day?  Now, with that said I can speak to schools like Pitt that I know first hand participate on many levels building the Value of membership with their faculty and Students.  I also know of individuals, like Eric Chaconas at USA, and at other programs both students and faculty doing the same but nothing as deep as Pitt.  (there may be more out there, I just don’t know them).  Unfortunately, they are the exception.  I have contacted multiple schools over the years in CA offering my time (read FREE) to share the value I have received as a Member of the CPTA, APTA and PAC board Trustee,  I have been turned down far more times than I have been invited.  I have had polite rejections with multiple excuses that range from “political” right down to lame ass!… The SOLUTION?….have the faculty engaging and pushing the mindset of our future professionals towards joining the Association.  The students have to be given the week of CSM OFF from school.  All programs need to participate in their State Legislative days.  The Students need to be made to attend the State conferences.  All this HAS to occur so that the students are exposed to the multiple benefits of membership in a Professional Association.  Solution 2?… above multiple outside speakers sharing their stories about Value of Membership (see above)…..If schools can still teach Ultrasound, they can do these things!

The solutions are easy, they MUST be executed frequently, and then again and again….

Social media do’s & dont’s?

There are so many rules right now.  The only truism to Social Media is: THERE ARE NO RULES.  Whatever you believe to be the rules, is something that you believe.  Thats fine, just understand its your rule, not a universal.  So again there are no set rules.  All and All, thats a good thing.  I found this great quote recently while preparing for a Twitter talk.  Its by Thomas Edison  “ Hell, there are no rules here, we are trying to accomplish something”!…… #KABOOM        So guess what,  You get to define what you want to do.  There is no equation to success.  The only real question to answer is, What are your goals?

So are far as Dos and DONTs……

DOs:  Be whoever you want to be and own it.  If you just want your Professional side.  If you just want your personal side.   If you just want to talk SF Giants and Beastie Boys! Those are all fine…. its your choice.  Again ask yourself, What are your goals?

DON’T:  If you choose to be there representing YOUR Profession, DON’T forget YOU ….ARE……REPRESENTING……YOUR……..PROFESSION.   With that said, if you want to be an Ass and argue just know that you are being an Ass!

Yes its All that simple…

If there were 2 or 3 things every Physical Therapist could do to get better, then what would they be?  

1…….”Get Inside your own head so that you can get the Hell out of it.”  Do what YOU need to do to grow your Self Awareness.  (Read more, visit a psych, etc)…Find your Strengths and find your weaknesses.  Once you find them decide what YOU want to do with them.  Just acknowledging your weaknesses is 99% of the solution…… change them or don’t, its up to YOU.  And by the way, ITS NOT ABOUT CHANGING, Just own them.  Don’t let ANYONE tell you that you need to change, as long as you are aware, thats the solution.

I know I’m Loud…Deal with it!  I know I talk to much…..I’m working on it.  I know when I’m right and I know when I’m wrong……

2….Start reading about, learning about and looking towards other industries for Healthcare solutions.  I’m a big believer in the quote from 1899 by the head of the US Patent Office, “Everything that can be invented, has been invented”.  I see that as don’t reinvent the wheel.  Use the wheel and make it better, lighter, more long lasting etc.  So, look for the similarities and differences in other industries that you believe applies towards Healthcare. Think Disneyland, In-n-Out Burger and any company filling a niche you didn’t believe existed.  Look to the Leaders in those Industries.  Read about them, their History their successes and failures. A great example of this is Corner office.  A book which is a compilation of interviews with multiple CEOs across multiple industries.   Use the ideas and thoughts and proven systems to drive your growth and to grow the Profession.  Why reinvent the wheel?  I’m having conversations with people now I would have never imagined talking to 3, 4,5 years ago!  I talk to them because I have questions and I want to learn what they know.  People are always happy to share their knowledge, just ask.

3….Look for a Mentor NOW…. whatever your interest, find a Mentor.  Interview them and see if they fit your goals then set up regular scheduled meetings. Nothing will improve you faster.  I recommend 2 mentors,  1 who is a PT and one who is outside of Healthcare.  This someone should help guide and coach you in life/world/business.  A great Mentor makes you think, they don’t feed you information…  They will answer YOUR question with a question.  Ultimately you will be far ahead of those without mentors….which is most people!

Books – your favorite ones & how they’ve impacted you? What are you reading right now?

Biggest Impact:    Start with WHY  Simon Sinek      made me dig deep to consider WHY Im doing what Im doing instead of always focusing on WHAT and HOW I do.  Then using that WHY to connect with others both professionally and in the business.  He uses contemporary examples like MLK, Steve Jobs and Herb Kelleher.  He also uses current and past companies to show the true effects of using your WHY.  This is a great personal and professional development guide….Its not a spirtual book.

2nd Biggest Impact:    To Sell Is Human    Daniel Pink        He nails the fact that everything we do involves selling.  From a job interview to deciding on where to go to dinner tonight with a significant other….Its ALL “Non sell Selling”.  He hits on 3 major points that we must all be aware of while in a conversation.  He even uses PT as an example in the book.  This is a MUST read by all in Healthcare.  This thinking is necessary to move yourself forward personally and professionally.

A favorite Book is also “Barking Up A Dead Horse”   Tom Batchelder     he does an excellent job exploring the egos role in selling and why this awareness is key in successful sells (which is EVERYTHING!…. as noted above)

As far as what I’m currently reading, I tend to pick up 2-3 books at a time.  I love to take notes and highlight so when I do it takes me awhile to get through all the books. Currently, Compelling PeopleThe New Elevator PitchConfessions of a Sociopath and Letters from Seneca. As you probably notice 3 of those books come from the Farnam Street Blog of recommended reading that Mr Cinema Airturned me onto. The Farnam Street Blog site is an awesome Sunday morning read that can get you thinking in ways you never imagined.  I recommend everyone go there on Sunday and take a pass through…. It is awesome brain exercising.

Life is full of amazing and memorable experiences. Tell us about one of them.

Your interview, my answers.  Im going to share 2……

1….The first 5 yrs of my PT career I worked Per Diem in the Acute Care setting in Napa CA.  The Hospital there had a contract with the Veterans Home in Yountville CA.  The Veterans home is the largest in the US housing over 1,000 US War Veterans.  My memorable experience is the number of incredible people I met who served for our Country.  Their stories were amazing and they were some of the most humble people I have ever met.  I met one gentleman who served and fought in 3 wars.  This was the early 90s….. he served in WW I, WWII and the Korean war.  I met a gentleman who served in the mounted Infintry for the US Army.   I met a man who served in the landing party on D Day.  I met women too who served.  These stories and these people will live with me forever.  That simple little acute care job effected me forever.


so last year on little notice I went tandem hang gliding!  This experience was incredible. We went off Mt Tamalpais in Marin over huge redwoods and even ended up out over the ocean. This was a once in a lifetime thing for me….

Jerry, thank you for this interview! There’s much to be learned from it, and definitely worth revisiting periodically.

Find Jerry Durham, PT on twitter @Jerry_DurhamPT.

My Quarterly Letter summarizes my favorite books read in the last quarter. If you'd like to join the growing list, then you can let me know here


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