The Business of Integrative Medicine: What they Don’t Teach You in Medical School and Fellowships

By Glenn Sabin
medical business development, image of a stethoscope on a magazine.

“A direct-pay business model requires entrepreneurial spirit, marketing know-how and willingness to take risks—three traits that many doctors lack.”
~Erik Goldman

This quote from Holistic Primary Care’s Erik Goldman says it all. I’ve cribbed for talks and workshops presented on building integrative health and medicine businesses and practices and, sometimes, I actually attribute this to Erik!

Paying Their Dues

A physician tirelessly invests more than a decade of her life devoted to scholarly study in college, medical school, residency and fellowships. However, the long journey in pursuit of a medical degree rarely intersects with practical opportunities to learn the fundamental basics of business development and management. This is a most unfortunate reality when considering the ramifications. Let’s take a look.

Missing From the Curriculum

Though vitally important to the success of any organization, this business “stuff” ranks lower on the course of study hierarchy than, say, nutrition, general lifestyle medicine approaches, physician resiliency and patient empathy… but I digress.

There’s virtually no curriculum dedicated to business best practices—entrepreneurship, leadership, sales and marketing unless one’s earning a dual MBA. The same holds true for most colleges that help create and field new integrative health providers, whether acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, naturopathic physicians, or dieticians.

Perhaps you yourself have participated in special training and modules provided by an organization such as A4M or IFM. Or maybe you’ve completed the University of Arizona’s Fellowship in Integrative Medicine program. You’re now ready to apply in clinic your newly mastered specialized skills. But are you fully prepared to go it alone outside of a salaried position within a hospital system, academic center or medical center?

Business Owner or Employee?

If you don’t possess the requisite entrepreneurial spirit, chops or stomach—investing personal treasure and taking risks—to go it alone as a medical practice entrepreneur, you have two choices: acquire the necessary knowledge and develop a sound strategy to help ensure success, or look for an opportunity to work for someone else. This might be at a hospital, in an academic-based system or perhaps as part of a larger private medical group.

Are you Prepared for Entrepreneurship?

You’ve acquired the scientific knowledge around your chosen craft and are now positioned to become a world-class integrative clinician. But are you prepared to launch and build a successful integrative medicine clinic or center of your own? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will creating a sole practitioner clinic be easier to manage than having multiple providers, employees or contractors?
  • What will be required in terms of clinic and business (practice) development planning, administration, marketing and implementation?
  • How will I attract enough clients (patients) to pay the bills, make a decent living, and save for retirement?
  • Does my plan realistically and effectively match up to the type of medicine I aspire to deliver and speak to the actual needs and demographics of the local population I will serve?
  • How does my plan account for and compare to the established competition in my community?
  • What is my clinic’s (brand) unique selling proposition and how will I consistently communicate my clinic’s unique value proposition to the community it serves?

Guarantees, Risks and Rewards

Being part of a large institution with guaranteed decent salary and benefits is attractive to many practitioners, especially to those who aren’t interested in the additional responsibility that comes with being an owner or administrator.

And there certainly is ample opportunity to practice integrative medicine within a large organization, evident by the scores of new IM programs being launched annually in response to ever-growing consumer uptake and demand for clinical services and natural products.

However, when well-planned the rewards of ownership can be enormous. With substantial control over your clinic model, how you charge for services rendered, and each critical aspect of your operation, you become the author of your own destiny. There are no ceilings to your financial and professional success.

Choices and Planning

The inexorable march of integrative medicine continues. Long term there is no question that the core tenants of a sensible integrative approach to care—by nature preventive, proactive, patient-centered and participatory—will be steadily and widely adopted across the land.

Regardless of your current situation or future integrative health-directed interests, you will need a cogent strategy and clear road map to achieve your goals, dreams and aspirations.

About FON

FON is a leading integrative health and medicine business development and strategy consulting firm. FON specializes in custom solutions for growing patient volume, developing programs, and increasing product sales. Our practical business models are driven by innovative marketing, clear messaging, and customer engagement via branded storytelling.

Contact us today to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss your business development or personal brand needs.

Image of Glenn Sabin
Author: Glenn Sabin
FON’s founder, Glenn Sabin, is a nationally recognized thought leader with a reputation for successfully positioning integrative health organizations for sustainable growth. Combining media, marketing and business development expertise with an extensive professional and personal integrative health and medicine narrative, Glenn is deeply passionate about advancing the field as the new standard of care—accessible to all.
Read Glenn’s story.


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