Professionals enter private practice at different points in the career timeline. Making the transition to private practitioner is like any important transition in life; it requires reflection, the managing of any stress or anxiety, planning, and the ability to adapt to the unexpected.
When making the transition to private practice, most practitioners are moving from the position of employee to entrepreneur. Many practitioners start their private practice while working as a full time employee. If possible, try to negotiate a four day work week with your employer – working your weekly hours over four days instead of five and using the fifth day as your day to see private clients. Another option is to use Saturday or Sunday as your day to see clients, or to see clients in the evenings if your work schedule allows. Working full time while starting your private practice is a viable option; however not one that you can maintain indefinitely due to the risk of overwork and burnout.
Another option when making the transition from employee to private practitioner is to work part-time and to practice part-time; to divide your time up more or less on a fifty-fifty basis. Some practitioners are able to reduce their hours to part-time or job share a full time position with another employee. The advantages for remaining a part-time employee include the continuation of important health and pension benefits. (Confirm with your employer that this is in fact the case before you make any decisions about reducing your hours.) Another advantage is contact with colleagues and an antidote to the isolation of private practice that some people experience.
Although it is less popular, some practitioners move directly from full-time employment to private practice. Much planning is required to make this a successful transition, including the financial resources to meet your personal and professional needs for a minimum of one year. Depending on the employer and the type of work, some practitioners are able to move from full time employment to working on contract.
Perhaps you are considering private practice because you’ve been notified of an impending layoff and/or your position is being phased out. Take advantage of any lead time to save money, to become acquainted with any outplacement services offered, or to take a course in small business administration to bolster your skills and your confidence. Maintain your connections with valued colleagues who might be a source of support and sometimes referrals.
Your transition into private practice is also impacted by where you are on the career timeline. If you’ve just graduated you might want to consider finding employment where you can gain clinical experience and create a network of colleagues and professionals who may be an important source of referral in the future. Other practitioners consider entering private practice part-time in mid-career as a remedy to job-related boredom or dissatisfaction. Planning for retirement from traditional employment, for some health care professionals, includes the start up of a part time practice as a means to continue making a contribution to others and continued use of valuable skills.
In order to make an effective transition into private practice, consider the following suggestions:
- Interview other private practitioners about their experience of making the transition into private practice.
- Find a mentor or business advisor who is willing to support you and provide guidance during the transition and early stages of start-up.
- Set a realistic timetable – from six months to a year – to plan your practice start-up.
- Use this transition time to create a business plan
- Take a small business and marketing course if you do not have business experience.
Lucy MacDonald, M.Ed.
Private Practice Advisor
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA