This post was contributed by Ann Wendel, PT. Ann is the owner of PranaPT, a member of WebPT, and an active social media participant. Thanks Ann! 

If you read my blog or follow me on Twitter (@PranaPT) you know that I have a thing for Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog). His writing is full of wisdom, shared in clear, short, relevant messages. I just finished reading his book Linchpin and was struck by his definition of the word “art.”

“Art is an original gift, a connection that changes the recipient, a human ability to make a difference. Art isn’t a painting or even a poem; it’s something that any of us can do. If you interact with others, you have the platform to create something new—something that changes everything. I call that art.

Art is the opposite of trigonometry. Art doesn’t follow instructions or a manual or a boss’s orders. Instead, art is the very human act of creating the uncreated, of connecting with another person at a human level. What we’ve seen is that more and more markets will reward art handsomely, and hand out the compliant work to the lowest bidder.

Kathy Sierra does art when she teaches us about user interfaces, and Mary Ann Davis does art when she pushes the edges of what pottery can become. Art feels risky because it is. The risk the artist takes is that you might not like it, might not be touched, might actually laugh at the effort. And it’s taking these risks that lead us to get rewarded.”

As he further discusses in the book, an artist is somebody who does “emotional work,” work that you put your heart and soul into—work that matters. With wisdom, he says, “it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” Essentially, art is the “intentional act of using your humanity to create a change in another person.”

“If you want customers to flock to you,” he says, “it’s tempting to race to the bottom of the price chart. There’s not a lot of room for profit there, though…In a world that relentlessly races to the bottom, you lose if you also race to the bottom. The only way to win is to race to the top. When your organization becomes more human, more remarkable, faster on its feet, and more likely to connect directly with customers, it becomes indispensable…What makes you remarkable is being amazing, outstanding, surprising, elegant, and noteworthy.”

This idea of making art and becoming indispensable resonated with me this morning. We needed to get our cat into the vet quickly, and up until a few months ago, we always used a vet on the other side of town. We drove through terrible traffic, often at rush hour, because they provided amazing service. However, over the last year or so, we had become less and less thrilled with our interactions. So what changed? They were bought out by a larger organization and were now publicly traded.

Our last few trips to the vet cost us increasingly more money as they ordered tests that seemed unnecessary and prescribed costly medications, all the while spending less time with our pets. It seemed as though the vets were now stuck on this treadmill of staying on top of the quotas mandated by their parent company. Their cost was rising as their art was suffering. They were quickly becoming less human; less remarkable; and quite frankly, dispensable.

This time, we tried a new vet’s office, and I was happy we did. They spent time with us, listened to our concerns, offered multiple options for how to proceed, and treated our pet with great concern and care.

This experience particularly resonated with me as a physical therapist—as a health care provider. In our market, much like the story of my vet, we’re increasingly driven to race to Seth Godin’s aforementioned “bottom” in an effort to make a small profit or break even. However, for the sake of our patients and our profession, we need to become more remarkable rather than less. We need to become more human and more relatable to our customers. We, as therapists, need to support therapist-owned practices—clinics that are focused on making art. We need to focus on giving the gift of kindness and humanity while offering evidence-based practice.

As it stands, therapist-owned clinics are in danger of being swallowed up by large corporations. Therapists are then forced to manage a higher caseload of patients, often spending only 20 minutes with each patient. In this case, patients are treated with protocols, as if their needs are identical, and they’re bounced around from therapist to therapist without having the opportunity to build a relationship that positively influences their care.

We can’t allow this to happen. Instead, let’s prepare physical therapists to run their own practices; mentor new grads as they learn the business side of our profession; and support and encourage non-corporatized private practices. We need to connect with our patients, show them that we are their physical therapist, and demonstrate our value. Making a phone call; sending a birthday card; offering well-wishes for a sick family member; discussing stress management techniques; and providing relevant articles and links just because we were thinking about them are all examples of how we make art within the physiotherapy space.

Those of us in private practice may not get financially rich (initially) doing this. But as healthcare continues to suffer and patients increasingly take ownership of their healthcare options, we will build a practice of patients who value our gift—our art. And that’s a success in my eyes.

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