Should we be working hard to be recognized by doctors as professionals? Many in our industry would say we absolutely should.
Sal Arria, co-founder of the ISSA has been working hard to create a link between doctors and personal trainers. ACE has just founded a new certification program (Clinical Exercise Specialist) connecting certified trainers with medical professionals. While the health club industry has, as I’ve shared in many forums, weakened the professional status of the fitness professional, and the lack of state licensure or nationally recognized credential has moved many trainers away from a Professional Position, the credible certification agencies recognize a niche. The "link with medicine" niche. That’s great, for most trainers. You are not "most trainers." You are already a Professional. You understand how to excel. While it wouldn’t hurt, from a credibility standpoint, to add to your certification credits, you should have already recognized something that bypasses the "need" to "wait in line" for the medical professional to recognize you.
When it comes to permanent weight loss, when it comes to developing lean bodies, doctors, on the whole, are about as effective as automobile mechanics. Here’s where you ask, "Phil, what in the world do auto mechanics know about weight loss?" and I respond, "very little." Get it?
This is not meant to be a dig on doctors. Believe me, I have the utmost respect for anyone who commits to eight years of schooling in order to better or in some cases save people’s lives. They are usually adept and proven experts in their respective areas of specialty. It’s just that they haven’t, as a group, had any real training in helping people combine supportive nutrition and exercise to shed fat and get fit.
I’ve been teaching trainers to align themselves with doctors, not as subordinates, but as equals. I don’t mean equal from a knowledge standpoint, but from an "effective in their respective areas of expertise" standpoint.
You don’t want to be recognized by doctors as a Professional as much as you want to be recognized AS a Professional by your target market, by the general public - as doctors are. Read that sentence again if it didn’t sink in the first time.
In 1992 I was asked to give my first seminar for doctors. 250 of them! It was a convention and the conference organizer had heard me speak at a fitness convention. She invited me to speak for 90 minutes about . . . well . . . what doctors need to add to their knowledge base in order to help their patients get fit. Rarely do I find myself nervous before a presentation, but one week before, I was a wreck. These were doctors! They surely knew more than I did! In trying to better prepare myself, psychologically, I counted the doctors I had had as clients over the past several years. More than 50 came to mind. That helped me to change my perspective. Rather than doing as the conference organizer asked, I decided it wasn’t my place to tell doctors how to deal with patients. Bringing to mind the doctors I’d had as clients, I was quite certain that out of 250, a significant number of them would want for better, healthier, leaner bodies. Rather than "here’s how you help your patients," I personalized it. "Here’s how anyone can get fit!" Of course, that translates into "Here’s how you, the doctor, can get fit!"
I started out clearing up the myths and it took only about five minutes before I realized, they were listening. And learning! My confidence was bolstered as they started asking questions. . . not deep and complicated medical questions, but the same sorts of questions health club members asked. Before long, they were asking me about steroids, weight loss drugs, weight watchers, slim-fast, and 90 minutes later I realized this is a great market for me to target. They might have been the best audience I had ever had up until that date.
When Phen-Fen was pulled by the FDA, I went on a tour, and the tour included a dozen presentations for medical professionals. Today I’m asked to speak at no less than half a dozen major medical conferences each year, and I’ve learned that not only are doctors often misled, but they are hungry for the information I, and each of you, have to share.
So, rather than sitting for more tests in the hope that a higher-than-thou doctor will throw a few crumbs your way . . . I suggest you continue to position yourself as an expert. Yes, continuing your education can make you more effective, and can help you to win over greater numbers of medical professionals, but it’s not going to be a secret that will launch trainers to the top.
Our society has long held doctors in the highest esteem, and perhaps rightly so. When I hear of surgeons who removed a lethal tumor, who repaired a clogged circulatory system, and who brought someone who had stopped breathing back to life, I bow to their exceptional skill and commitment. That, however, doesn’t make theirs any greater than yours or mine. As we respect those we admire, we must also respect our own gifts, talents, skills, and expertise. It’s also important to recognize that while doctors are the perceived medical experts, larger and larger segments of our population are turning to alternative medicine, some of it with promise, some of it quackery. The state of the medical field today has alienated much of the health wanting public from standard doctoring. Too bad for the medical field, but great for us!
Have you been to a doctor lately? I have. Sort of. I didn’t actually see the doctor. Two weeks before my infomercial shoot I woke up with a horrible sore throat and my voice was nowhere to be found. There was a flu going around, and I wasn’t about to sit around and wait. I wanted to take action . . . to knock this bug out of me ASAP. I called the doctor whose phone number was printed in raised letters on my Health Insurance card. I was told the doctor couldn’t see me until a week from Friday!
I let loose. I heard my voice strain to sound infuriated. "A week from Friday!!?!?! I won’t be sick a week from Friday! I need to see the doctor now!" I was told they’d call me back if there was a cancellation.
Did anyone from the office call me back? Nope. I called again, and after being put on hold for at least 15 minutes, I summoned up the little scratch of a voice I was able to muster and demanded, "I have to see someone today."
"The doctor’s last appointment is at 2:00. If you want to come in at two, somebody will be able to see you, but you might have to wait an hour or so."
I went. I waited. And finally . . . the nurse poked her head out and blared out, "Phil Kopland." I assumed she meant me, since I was the only person left in the waiting room. She took me into an office, took my Blood Pressure. 112 over 70. She measured my pulse. My weight. Then she asked me why I was there.
I sniffled a few times, coughed up a gross nasty yellowy thing, and told her "I’m feeling like I might have the flu." She scribbled some notes and left.
Ten minutes later, a woman entered. "The Doctor" I presumed. I just wanted the cure. An antibiotic? Something to reduce the swelling in my throat? Something to restore me to health ASAP. When the doctor walked in, I was glad I was about to get what I came here for . . . and I did. She looked in every hole in my face and head and wrote me a prescription. As I stood at the reception desk to pay my bill, I looked at the prescription pad. The doctor’s first name was Lee. Hmm. Sure, there can be a woman named Lee, but I asked the receptionist anyway. She chuckled. The doctor is in fact a man, but he was too busy to see me. The woman who provided the check up and wrote the prescription was a physician’s assistant.
I found out, this is more the rule than the exception. A press release that came across my desk two days later said, "With physician assistants and nurse practitioners seeing as many if not more patients than doctors, a substantial number of pharmaceutical companies are making sales pitches directly to these health-care professionals. According to Scott-Levin, nurse practitioners and physician assistants write more prescriptions than hospital-based physicians. During the first quarter of 2000, physician assistants wrote about 90 prescriptions a week, and nurse practitioners wrote an average of 68. Hospital-based doctors, however, only wrote about 48. Drug companies responded during the first quarter of 2000 by making 10 percent of all of their sales calls to nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Scott-Levin estimates that some of the top pharmaceuticals including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Bristol Myers Squibb made about 1.2 million calls to them--728,000 to nurse practitioners and 501,000 to physician assistants. When it came to seeing patients, physician assistants saw more each week than both hospital-based doctors and office-based doctors. They reported seeing 103 patients a week, compared to the 93 seen by office-based doctors and the 69 seen by hospital-based doctors."
So, in working to strengthen you perceived Professionalism, perhaps you should view your interaction with the medical field a bit differently. I’ll share 8 ideas, any one of which can get you building upon the business that comes your way due to a new professional respect and interaction, not from the position of an underling, but from a position on a pedestal that places you right beside . . . the Doctor! Consider these ideas, not as direct suggestions for what I think you should do, but rather as examples that should direct your thinking in a direction that boosts your expert status. Of course, feel free to directly apply anything here. You have eight to choose from. Here we go . . .
- Get a Doctor as a client. This is so obvious, once somebody points it out, but so ignored. Trainers scramble trying to get doctors to refer people to them. Doctors are people. They live in homes. They have families. They have friends. They meet more than a few people in the course of any given week. People, doctors included, don’t usually refer a product or service because someone asks them to. They refer because they believe that product or service to be valuable. So how do you get a doctor as a client? There are limitless options. One method, that might be just the least bit sneaky, but can be very effective, is to ask the receptionist or sales manager in a health club to provide you the names of the doctor members. Approach them not as a trainer approaching a doctor, but rather as a concerned trainer approaching a member who might need assistance in achieving his or her ultimate fitness goals. Another method is to "present" in the presence of doctors. I once conducted a session in an orthodontists’ office teaching dental assistants and hygienists the truth about supplements. Not only did the head orthodontist and his wife call me the following day to schedule a consultation, but the women who attended told all of their associates about the great new secrets they have for weight loss . . . and of course . . . they handed out, not my business card, but my brochure entitled, "what doctors don’t know about fitness and weight loss." That one presentation sent four doctors through my office within the 30 days that followed. With a doctor as a client, a client who is thrilled with the results you bring, you up your marketing power a thousand fold.
- Get a testimonial from a doctor who has a patient you’ve helped. I’m sure if you’ve been involved in Personal Training for any length of time, you’ve had clients tell you about a doctor’s visit. John Herrera, a client of one of my trainers, had been on blood sugar medication for a decade. After four weeks on my program, his blood glucose levels normalized. His doctor discontinued the medication. You can be sure that his doctor is, at the very least, curious as to what this "diet and exercise" magic is. When you come face to face with such a revelation, a client revealing "medical" improvement (blood pressure, circulation, digestion, etc.), I wholeheartedly encourage you to call the doctor who reported the improvement and ask, with the patients’ permission, for some documentation or . . . even a meeting with the doctor to arrange a "presentation" for associates, staff members, or patients who might have similar needs.
- Get an article in a publication where doctors articles are featured. It’s not as difficult as it might seem. Locally, there are many publications that solicit article from doctors to gain credibility. If you have a topic of interest (and isn’t health and fitness of interest to everyone?), a bit of persuasion should allow you to get your 500 – 800 word article published. A good starting place would be the public library reference section where you can find listings of all periodicals in your area. Once your article is published, photocopies including your article alongside a "medical" article gives you credibility by association. Remember, it’s all about swaying perception.
- Speak at a forum where doctors are guests and speakers. Schools sometimes have evening courses where doctors are guest speakers. If you contact your local NSA Chapter (National Speaker’s Association), you can find out when the next local meeting is. Networking at that meeting should introduce you to at least a few doctors who speak regularly. Find out where they speak, and with your determination and influence, book yourself at similar venues. Sharing the bill with a doctor elevates you to his or her "pedestal of expertise."
- Establish yourself as part of a "network". This is actually a trick I learned from a psychologist. She had an office in a building with medical offices. She created the "Florida Medical Associates Network" and began registering, with their enthusiastic permission, doctors of various specialties. Of course, her name headed the list. She didn’t make any false claims, but all of her marketing brochures listed her "affiliations," greatly elevating her status . . . again, from the public’s all-important point of view.
- Visit with a doctor who hosts a radio or TV show. Many local cable stations sell 30-minute blocks of time. They market to doctors, chiropractors, and wellness groups. Because these are not usually "media" personalities, the "package" sold by the cable company often includes a music intro, a set, and sometimes even an on-air personality. If you can make the show more interesting by demonstrating some exercise movements, which would of course be of great value to the doctor group financing the production, you might find the exposure pays off. Videotape any such shows. Videotapes are inexpensive to reproduce. By sending potential clients a video of you instructing "the doctor," you are instantly raised to "expert" status. Several radio stations also sell blocks of time and doctors are often sponsoring "show hosts." If you can present an interesting "guest interview," without in anyway conflicting with the doctor’s message, you are gaining expert status. Many local news stations have weekend segments with a health or medical theme. If you can work your way into the rotation as the "fitness expert" (as many of our on-line members have already done), perception of your professionalism soars.
- Conduct a seminar specifically for overweight health practitioners. Interestingly, doctors are often called upon for weight loss solutions. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be to be an overweight doctor attempting to provide solutions. I wouldn’t market the seminar by posting a "For Fat Doctors" sign, but rather by taking some time, networking with medical professionals, hospital groups, and wellness organizations, until you build a list of doctors who might need some fitness advice. A private invitation to a seminar for 10 doctors makes you the "expert." If you win them over, think of how you have just built your referral network.
- Write a pamphlet for "exercise during weight loss medication". The pharmaceutical companies make promises. They lead their sellers to believe they are "on the cutting edge of medical science." Phen-Fen was a disaster. Redux a failure. Meridia a disappointment. Xenical a mess. There will be more to come, and it’s quite likely none of them will work. There are, however, millions of prescriptions for these drugs written every year since the drug companies know who to target with their propaganda. First the doctors, then the public through media. First they make certain they’re involved in the supply. Then they create the demand. The unfortunate thing is, people who opt for these meds resign themselves to believing the medication is a solution. We know better. If, however, there was a resource . . . one without bias . . . who could direct weight loss patients to supplement their drug regimen with exercise and supportive eating . . . weight loss might be long term, the perception of the referring doctor moves up a notch, and the drug companies will see you as an ally. Is there anything wrong with this approach? I don’t believe there is. I think when people make the decision to go for "the drug," they’re committed to that decision. We, as fitness professionals, would not normally gain access to these individuals, thus they will all fail, some suffering some side effects without really understanding why. It’s better to take someone who has committed to a goal, and slowly educate them so in the long term they find a true technology of physical change than it is to ignore that segment of our population and allow them to drug themselves into metabolic mayhem. I think you’re getting the idea. It’s not about going to the doctor for acceptance. It’s not about asking for the doctor to throw you some business. It’s about gaining the respect of medical professionals and allowing your target market to view you as a Professional. Any one of the eight ideas I shared can move you forward in terms of professional respect and long term profitability. Just to make sure you have lots and lots of options . . . I’ll leave you this month with four more simple ideas to make it an even dozen
- Conduct seminars at hospital wellness centers
- Create a medical newsletter or health fair
- Network with receptionists in medical or wellness facilities
- Develop reciprocal relationships with nurses and physician’s assistants
OK. Now, you’re on your own. I look forward to receiving your e-mails over the next 30-days reporting the sudden climb in medical referrals!