“Why did you open your practice?”
I’m often asked this question, and I get it- who would leave behind a 16-year career at various established physical therapy practices with great PTs, good pay, and a stable work-life balance for the stress of opening a business on their own?
I’ve been a Physical Therapist for 19 years.
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. It was a small, blue-collar town called Bloomsburg. Life in northeastern PA was simple. My parents never went to college, but my dad’s Midwestern upbringing made him a disciplined and rigid worker at the nearby nuclear power plant. While he worked the night shift, my mom raised me and my two siblings. Though we were never pressured, it was expected of us to work hard in school and eventually attend college.
When I was 12 years old, I broke my elbow at diving camp. No, the water didn’t break my elbow. The true culprit was the trampoline we used when practicing our dives. The elbow is a complicated joint and it required rigorous physical therapy to regain my motion…that I never actually achieved! I still cannot properly bend my left elbow today! I never wanted someone to “fail” in physical therapy as I did. My unsuccessful (and VERY painful attempts) at physical therapy set the stage for me to become a PT one day. Becoming a PT became my life’s work. Throughout high school and college, I took every opportunity to shadow, volunteer, and work in physical therapy clinics.
As I look back, I didn’t realize this was the start of my entrepreneurial journey. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I’m very risk-averse and never wanted to stand out in the crowd. I was also never the leader; I was simply good at giving my best, studying hard, and following directions.
However, I was always a dreamer and had a distaste for status quo. Pushing myself to see new things and adventures inspired me. As soon as I graduated from college, I headed to the big city of Philadelphia for physical therapy school. Because I knew that I would become a PT, I enrolled in an entry-level Masters of Physical Therapy program at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia straight out of high school and was able to complete my degree in 5 years. Upon graduating in 2000, a new adventure awaited. Life was too short to stay in the Northeast. I was ready to explore. I packed everything I owned into my Nissan Altima and moved to a strange and exotic place I had never been- Atlanta, GA! A friend of a friend needed a roommate, and voila! I moved in. This was it. This where my PT career began.
Over the past 19 years, my career has taken several paths. I worked in every large outpatient physical therapy company in Atlanta and even traveled with a Broadway musical to treat the dancers. I was always keen to learn new techniques and ideas. I took every opportunity to grow my knowledge and build my bag of tricks. However, I never thought of myself as anything more than a PT.
While working, I listened to people’s stories, their dreams, their goals and the problems they were facing during their daily routines and workouts. I developed excellent treatment plans, pulled out my best hands-on techniques, and quickly clients improved by returning to all the activities they loved. This was my dream- helping others achieve their goals.
What I didn’t know was that my skills, personal connections, and success rates with my clients were better than other PTs. Clients appreciated me and continued to see me long after their condition improved. Yet, this was the dilemma- how could I continue to go above and beyond with my clients within a system that doesn’t value that?
The system—our current healthcare model. It’s a broken model that rewards you for increased patient volume and less for patient superior care. Seeing multiple clients at one time and discharging them before their functional goals are achieved is standard protocol…all because their insurance stopped paying for their care.
After 16 years of working in a changing healthcare system, I was no longer living my dream. I was a hamster on a wheel going nowhere. Something had to change! I was still dreaming of living! With the support of my amazing husband, I took the leap to spread my wings. I left the nest of a secure, stable job with flexible hours to dive into the world of entrepreneurship.
The journey continued by seeing clients in their homes to keep my overhead low. I traveled to my clients with my treatment table in tow and gave them the best care possible. Word quickly spread and my clientele list grew. After about a year (and many meals eaten in my car), I was ready for another change…I had to find a permanent space for Functionize to grow.
My entire career was spent working in Midtown Atlanta or it’s surrounding neighborhoods. I knew I couldn’t look far for a permanent location and Decatur soon became my top choice. In June 2016, I opened my doors inside the Commerce Plaza in Downtown Decatur. After a year of hustling to build the practice, my hard work paid off and the business steadily grew.
Today, we have 2 PTs, a Pilates instructor, and a dietitian. We are having fun and enjoy watching our clients succeed in their goals and thrive in their function. As I look back at the past 3 years, I realize how much perseverance, grit, and what a huge leap of faith it took to come so far. This small-town girl with big dreams is finally living her dream and loving every minute of it!
Thanks for reading!
This story was inspired by the artwork on our front office wall. The large painting with the tree of life and the words, ”Are you living your dream, or still dreaming of living?” was designed by local Atlanta artist, Laura Wellem. I purchased this custom piece before opening up my practice in 2016. The artwork spoke to me as I took the step to plant my roots and grow my practice into something greater than I could have ever imagined.
Lauren Sok, Founder of Functionize Health & Physical Therapy, brings 19 years of physical therapy practice and expertise in treating orthopedic and sports medicine related injuries. She incorporates a functional medicine approach in treating the whole person to find the root cause of a problem, rather than treating one body part at a time. Lauren holds a Master of Physical Therapy and Bachelor of Science in Health Science from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. She is a Certified Stott Pilates Instructor, a Clinical Instructor at the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program, Emory University, and is trained in Redcord Neurac and Trigger Point Dry Needling. Lauren’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found at www.functionizehealth.com.