Today I’m excited to chat with acupuncturist Danielle Dupell about her first year out in practice. Danielle graduated in 2015 from Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture in Seneca Falls, NY. I interviewed Danielle when she was a third year acupuncture student, and I’m so excited to follow up with her now that she’s in practice. (Check out Danielle’s initial interview as a student here!)
Danielle opened Avenue Acupuncture in her hometown of Plattsburgh, New York right after graduating with her Master’s of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine degree (MSAOM) in August 2015. Avenue Acupuncture is a bustling practice located in the ADK Wellness Alliance. In her free time Danielle enjoys cooking, exercising, reading, and spending quality time with her family.
Today Danielle shares with us:
- Which marketing efforts have worked for her so far, and which ones haven’t?
- Danielle’s top advice for current students.
- What one thing would Danielle do differently if she could start her practice over again?
(All photos were taken by Morgan Gordon and edited by James Montefuesco.)
Hi Danielle! Thanks so much for coming back to Modern Acupuncture for a follow-up interview. Last time we talked, you were an 8th trimester (third year) acupuncture student at FLSAOM with one semester left before graduation. You graduated last summer, in August of 2015, and have been in private practice for about six months now. How does it feel?
It feels absolutely amazing to be out in the real world in private practice. Seriously, school was a very difficult chapter in my life. I am happy that I’m done with school and actually out practicing. I’ve come to realize just how important it is to get a quality education as an acupuncturist. I realized quickly that FLSAOM has given me all the clinical tools I need to succeed and be a quality practitioner.
Can you describe your practice for us?
My practice is a small one in a very busy massage therapy clinic. I have two treatment rooms, a small office space, shared waiting room and shared bathroom. I am located in downtown Plattsburgh, New York (basically the most northern point in New York State without reaching Canada).
Currently I work five days per week and I am seeing 20-25 patients per week. This doesn’t quite equal five patients per day because I tend to be busier in the beginning part of the week. The most patients I’ll take in a day is eight to nine. Anything more than that tends to feel a little overwhelming. This amount of patients feels like a good number for me; I am able to pay my bills and still save a little bit of money.
I also don’t feel too overwhelmed although some days do feel slow. Sometimes (as strange as it sounds) I am thankful for those days because private practice involves a lot of other work besides treating patients. It’s nice to have that downtime to keep up with my books, order supplies, do research on cases, etc.
In our initial interview, you mentioned that you were worried about running a business. You said that it might be a challenge to get into the entrepreneurial mindset. How is that aspect of practicing acupuncture going for you?
That part of practice is my least favorite. I’m definitely growing myself in that aspect though. I truly underestimated the amount of work it would be to start and run my own practice. It’s super rewarding and lovely to not work for “the man,” but truly my patients are my bosses.
It’s lovely to call the shots, but there’s a lot of extra work when it comes to running a business. At times, I feel like I’m stumbling through the “firsts” of doing things. For example, the first time I had to file my quarterly income and sales tax, I fumbled for sure. There is a learning curve overall, but I’m super proud of myself.
Do you use a practice management software? Pros and cons? Cost?
Good practice management software is key. I cannot imagine my life without it, to be honest. I use Unified Practice and Quickbooks Online. Unified Practice is a smaller company based out of California and New York City. They are useful for practice management and electronic charting.
United Practice has an iPad app for charting that is specific to acupuncturists. I’m so happy I took the plunge with them. I have the ability to utilize online scheduling which is a godsend for me. Since I’m a sole practitioner who does everything, including scheduling and reminders, this has saved me so much time, energy, and effort. In addition they have excellent and prompt support who know me by name and help as best they can! Their software is very easy to use.
I also decided to invest in Quickbooks Online because I needed some further organization. With Quickbooks, I can easily track sales and expenses. I can file taxes much easier, keep inventory, and generate various reports such as profit and loss. My total cost for both of these is roughly $65 per month. (This is about the price just of just ONE patient appointment.) Highly worth it for me. In the grand scheme of things, both of these are a must for someone who is apprehensive about organization or keeping everything straight.
Do you take insurance? How do you stay organized with your insurance billing?
I do not outright take insurance. I supply my patients with a superbill, which has all the necessary information for the patient to submit the insurance claim themselves. Since insurances are so variable, I decided that it would be more cost effective for me to run a cash practice. I don’t have the extra income at the moment to hire someone to do my billing. Maybe in the future, if I become busier, I would consider hiring a front desk person to help me.
What’s your favorite part of being in practice so far?
I just love what I do! I love making people feel better. Sadly, oftentimes people seek out acupuncture after trying every other therapy imaginable. It is frustrating at times for me as a practitioner since I do know that I could probably make a more substantial difference if I saw that person years prior, but even if I can make some difference to someone who is suffering, it’s very rewarding. I also can’t lie about the fact that it’s nice to finally be making a living!
My least favorite part is surely the administrative part of things. I sometimes find myself in a pickle trying to be organized. While I do strive to be better each day, it’s still not something that I love. Luckily these days, there are good technological options out there to help. I love being a clinician and diagnostician, so I will do whatever it takes to do what I really love. Unfortunately for me, that does mean struggling through some occasional paperwork.
You also mentioned in our previous interview that you hoped to find a mentor after graduation. Were you able to find someone? How does that relationship work? What kinds of discussions do you bring to her/him?
Yes, I have many mentors. Mostly they are professors of mine from school, but also older students, and even students that I graduated with who are now colleagues of mine. I reach out to them via phone or e-mail when I have questions. It’s important to have honest people who will help at a moment’s notice. I ask them all kinds of questions, especially questions about business or their clinical thoughts on a case and how to proceed. Off the top of my head I have about five people that I could reach out to if I need support. It’s important to recognize that while I don’t have all the answers, I do have tools to find answers when I need them.
What advice would you give to acupuncture students who are in their third year or about to graduate?
I would say to work on your business plan and ask tons of questions in your last year. Overall, my education was very clinically based, not super heavy in the business aspect in the grand scheme of things. It’s always easier to ask questions when you are around your professors. Do as much as you possibly can while in school and you have many people to support you and give you feedback. I also advise third year students to do research on the place they are setting up a practice. Make sure you set yourself up to succeed. It takes a lot of legwork, but it’s always better to go in with an idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
So far, what has been the most important or relevant piece of advice you’ve received about running a business?
The most relevant thing someone told me was to make sure to put myself out there, network, and do trades with other practitioners. I started doing trades with massage therapists, chiropractors, and mainly anyone who will trade with me. Not only do I get a chance to find out what services they offer and how to refer to them, but it also helps them understand better what I do. It seems like a win-win.
The other important piece of advice is to not get too cranked up or worried about making rent or paying your bills (to the point where it starts to interfere with your practice). While, of course, those things are super important. Slow times are bound to happen. But it doesn’t mean you are going out of business. This is just the natural ebb and flow in business.
What is the most effective marketing tactic you’ve used so far in your practice?
The most effective marketing tactic I’ve used is to just do good work. Plattsburgh is very word of mouth-oriented. People here talk a lot and if you do good work and are getting good results, my experience is they will talk to other people for you!
Another tactic is to not be afraid to ask your patients to write testimonials. Those who are skeptical or thinking about trying out your services want to hear from other people that you are a good practitioner.
In addition, don’t be afraid to educate your patients. I try to educate my patients as they are getting treated. This makes them slightly more knowledgeable about what I do and better able to talk about my services to others.
Google Adwords. I always ask where my patients have heard about me. Most are referrals, some from social media, but I have only received one patient who said they saw my Google ad. I think that may be just the area I’m in; when people are looking for quality service, they ask their friends, not Google.
Any big plans coming up for you? Changes in practice location, opening another office, etc.?
A couple people have offered me office space. Mostly, I think they are interested in adding acupuncture to their existing businesses and offering a different service to their patients. As of right now, I’ve decided that I’m staying put. I don’t have anything to complain about. I’m currently running a decently busy practice with just one location. Plus, I love this studio space! I enjoy being here. I’m not sure what will happen in the future, but I’m staying put for now!
What would your dream practice look like? Or, what will your practice look like once you’ve “made it?”
I kind of feel like I have already “made it!” In terms of looking forward, I’m not sure, but currently I’m taking things day by day right now. I think that it would be nice to be consistently at 25-40 patients per week. Other than that, who knows! We will see what the future has in store for me!
If you could go back in time and do one thing differently in opening your practice, what would it be?
I would have done more in school. I would not have underestimated the amount of time and work it would take to get my practice off the ground. I would have said to my previous self: “Self, it doesn’t get any easier, it just gets different. Opening this business will be very difficult and time consuming but you will do it – and be successful!”
Anything else you’d like to add?
Self-care is really important! Don’t think that just because you’re busy, you can’t take time for yourself. I would encourage anyone who is in a medical or service industry to take the time to care for yourself. For me, that means weekly to bi-weekly massages and regular chiropractic appointments. It’s not selfish because you cannot pour from an empty cup! It will essentially make you a better practitioner with a better ability and more space for other people’s suffering.
Thank you Danielle! I hope new and seasoned practitioners alike are inspired by your good advice and how far your practice has come in such a short time.
Hopefully all the students reading this will take your suggestions to heart and start thinking about the future of their practices now, instead of waiting. I personally agree with you; it’s never too soon to start planning for your practice, and your future self will thank you for being so proactive!
Have questions or thoughts for Danielle? Leave them in comments and she’ll get back to you!
Are you a new acupuncturist? What one thing would you do differently if you could start your practice over? Tell us in the comments!