This interview delves into the world of Chiropractic Medicine with Johanna Lelke, DC, of Innersport Chiropractic in Berkeley, CA. Johanna earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While contemplating an advanced medical degree, she learned about chiropractic medicine and “took the plunge” in starting and creating her own practice with Innersport. In this interview, we talked about the risks associated with starting your own practice – and how perseverance, determination, and a passion for your career choice are key components for cultivating a successful career.
What did you study in school and how did that lead to your current profession?
I earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I spent two years post-grad working in a prestigious neurogenetics lab in Boston, enjoying the twenty-something lifestyle that the city offered. I was exposed to chiropractic in my final year of undergrad, and then took the time to investigate the profession while I worked in Boston.
Tell me more about Chiropractic: how did you decide to get into this field?
Chiropractic is so specialized, unlike traditional Western medicine, that I had to commit to it before the program began. That’s what felt hard at first, thinking that I had limited myself in some way. In hindsight, I am hardly limited as a chiropractor. I get to run my own business, continually develop my clinical skills, and work at the art of the doctor-patient relationship.
Did you have any doubts about having to select your career path before you gained experience?
My doubts did not not outweigh my convictions in choosing this particular career path. Very well-intentioned friends suggested I consider physical therapy or genetic counseling, but these careers lacked opportunities for autonomy and directing my own business. Although I had no experience working inside a chiropractic office, my science laboratory work experience had shown me which path I did not want to pursue. My enthusiasm made up for what I didn’t know about working inside the chiropractic world.
What does your typical daily schedule look like?
I treat patients three half days and two full days a week according to my self-directed schedule. At most, there are 5 other practitioners in my office at once. Each of us has our separate business entity under the same roof, also called independent contractors. When you run your own business, “office hours” are really 24-7. You’re always networking and building relationships with potential sources of referrals. There is an incredible overlap between personal and professional life. For example, as an avid climber I train at the gym a few times a week. I’m always meeting fellow climbers and athletic folks who have nagging injuries, even though I’m not directly marketing to them. The same goes for my running club.
What was the transition like between undergrad and graduate school?
I made the work force to grad school transition when I was 25. I admit, around age 24 I read Quarter Life Crisis! The transition was hard, but not impossible. The program eased us into 1st Quarter coursework like children into the Gingerbread House. There were multiple layers to adjusting to my grad program: transplanting to a West Coast city when all I had known was Massachusetts for 25 years; developing new friendships and romances; and the increasingly demanding work load of a full-time job plus evenings and weekends of studying.
When did you actively begin job searching (while in school or afterwards)? How long did it take to find a job?
I started in my 11th quarter to investigate job opportunities. I learned through colleagues that you rarely get paid well as an employee chiropractor. I knew that starting my own practice as an independent contractor was potentially the lowest-cost and highest-reward scenario. I had a new niece in Oakland, so I moved close by. Luckily, because of a family-friend connection, I was offered an associateship by a chiropractor in Concord, CA. Then, a friend who was searching for chiropractic jobs also in the Bay Area found Innersport for me. And it just fit.
When thinking about the transition from College to Professional life, what took the most getting used to?
This transition is very fresh. The uncertainty of success was daunting at first. But when I started to build a good patient base, my confidence increased. Then the momentum started to pick up, and I got the guts to keep trying new strategies to reach out to your potential clients. You win some, you lose some.
Do you have any specific tips for people with regards to gaining career confidence?
I had questions like: “Can I afford rent every month? Would patients return? Would colleagues in other healthcare fields respect me?” You have to keep in mind that any well thought-out career plan takes these risks into consideration. I looked at the risks and benefits of beginning my practice in this particular set of circumstances and envisioned the best possible outcome. I took action without allowing the doubts to paralyze me, and that’s my experience of how success happens.
What does “work-life balance” mean to you, and how do you maintain a work-life balance?
The balance means maintaining low stress, keeping ample energy for myself, and giving enough to my patients. Fitness and good health are priorities in my life. I combine many fitness and social activities through climbing and running with friends and my sister. I do not hold office hours on the weekends. This creates freedom in my life for taking a climbing trip, going to a new yoga class, marketing at sports events, taking seminars, or just relaxing.
You’re very lucky to be able to create your own schedule and, in many ways, be accountable for your own business. What advice do you have for other people carving out their own career paths?
Make friends fast. I’ve learned the hard way that colleagues matter a great deal when you are in charge of your own business and patients. I came to my East Bay community as a stranger amongst other chiropractors and everyone else. I had my first sick day last week, and I was reminded that I lose potential income very fast when I am not present. There are no “sick days” allowed. This is one instance when I need chiropractor friends close by and ready to help out. Luckily, and I really mean that, my Innersport colleague had a few openings in her schedule and that allowed some of my patients to be seen without cancelling on them. You always need a few willing friends in the corner ready to back you up when you need it!
Think back to the moments in the very beginning of your career, before you had the benefit of hindsight. How did you stay positive? What were your strategies for learning and growing?
I continually reminded myself that career situations are temporary. Like most relationships, the one you have with your business is adaptable. I knew that I would give my best effort to build a practice in Berkeley, but I had the freedom to navigate elsewhere if it didn’t steadily grow or if I was unhappy. I never let myself feel like I am trapped in a career situation. I also had many small clinical successes in school and received powerful complements from school faculty, friends and colleagues. Their encouragement had given me a long-lasting confidence boost.
What advice do you have for recent college grads and new employees?
With confidence in your vision, you can accomplish anything. Really.
“Career Focus” is a series of interviews with young professionals in San Francisco exploring different job fields and professions and the journey from academia into the working world. Previous interviews have covered Project Management at BACR, Sports Medicine, and Web Development and Technology Consulting.