So, you have completed your CAM education, and now what? There is no NHS for you to apply to for jobs; you are left to start your own practice. The likelihood is that years of study have depleted your finances, plus you have no experience in marketing and finance yet. You would rather spend the time on continuous professional development than learning how to compete against a free healthcare system which is not all that friendly to you, probably due to lack of knowledge about who you are for and what you can do.
I have noticed that CAM practitioners are especially resistant to niching and specialising in a health problem. It appears to go against our psyche of holistic health management. We bring people back to health regardless of the disease; we are not disease focused, we are health focused and hence it wouldn’t automatically occur to us to specialise in a disease or a condition. We are also not comfortable with excluding anybody from our patient group because in an ideal world we want to help everybody!
But unless you are lucky enough to be the local village doctor – the first point of call for any malaise – it will probably be better to specialise your practice, which in marketing-speak is called “niching”. The benefits are not just for marketing but also for patients, other practitioners, your professional development journey, and the economic success of your clinic.
Specialisation has increased, there were only 18 specialists in 1960 but 158 in 2011 and today there are thousands of medical specialists. The reason for this is the way medicine is continuously changing; there are more complex diagnostic tools around so that one person can’t know everything all the time. You may say that Ayurvedic or Chinese medicine is very old – that is the beauty of it – and based on natural methods; we don’t want change. But the truth is new research is emerging all the time, often comparing methodologies with other approaches, so you can stay on top of this more easily. You will not only become a specialist in your method but you will also become a specialist in knowing how other methods compare to yours and the benefits of each method. The client has a choice between all these methods offered to them. They have to navigate between complex arrays of medical approaches. With your specialisation you will be more able to help the client/patient by knowing what choices of treatment are available. You will also be able to converse better at specific multi-disciplinary conferences and may even get invited as the CAM speaker.
Practitioners have personal preferences – some like to work hands on with clients and others would like to work in an advisory role. Some practitioners prefer to support a patient over the long term, whilst others want to sort out a health issue once and move on to the next patient who needs their help.
Maybe you have additional hands-on skills, i.e. therapies you can combine in the pursuit of this specialisation. You may be an Ayurvedic practitioner and also know about Bach Flower Essences and specialise in children with ADHD, or you may be a nurse and an Ayurvedic practitioner who can deliver elderly care. You could niche or specialise even further, perhaps you have a great knowledge of and connection to a segment of the community, i.e. Punjabis in London, and offer elderly care for this specific segment.
I have found a questionnaire online, helping you on the journey of finding your ideal specialisation: www.Thedo.osteopathic.orgaamc.org Once you have found your ideal specialisation you may want to attend industry specific seminars and conferences, even when they are outside of your particular medical methodology. This will help us grow more together more as a medical community and learn about other approaches, and where you will be representing the CAM approach to this particular health problem.
Networking is an important aspect of medical specialisation. Get to know other practitioners and their methods and really become an expert in your field. Make friends with people who you can refer to and who can refer to you. Some practitioners may not like networking and making new friends, perhaps their communication skills need improving, and if that is you, you could go to conferences and make a little bit of an effort to find people to connect with.
You may find partner centres to collaborate with, which are good at communication and marketing, and already have a client base they work with. Perhaps they would like to add your service as an option. So, think in terms of collaboration not in terms of competition and remember there is enough work to go around for everyone as long as you stick to what you are doing. Networking means being friendly and sharing with other people and wanting the same in return. You both need to understand the value of the kindred spirit of sharing.
The value of sharing may mean that you will be able to rent a room in an already established clinic without the need to invest in expensive equipment and you will bring a new client base to the clinic, e.g. Punjabis in London, a group this clinic did not manage to communicate to before. This could help the clinic to become more established and you to start a practice. You would need an agreement about the rights to clients, because the clients who come to see you will either want to continue to see you when you move, or they will stay with the clinic. However, here is a note of caution: it is very hard to run your own practice and it takes your time away from treating patients, so if you want to be a busy practitioner, it is always best to collaborate with existing premises.
You will publish your results in the form of case studies and get a reputation for your treatment outcome. The local GP who knows about your treatment outcomes may even give you a mention, especially when they are not particularly successful with their own methodology. They may say we can put your child on medication for the ADHD, but if the mother is adamant there must be another way, the GP may say that there is something they could try first (which is your CAM method), and if it doesn’t work to come back for the medication.
When people hear from you and like the results of your case studies, they may want to work with you even though they are not from your area. I have referred patients to contact people in India (Dr Gaurang, Skin Diseases) and the US (Dr Women’s health problems). I could have told the patients to come to me because I can help you. But advertising yourself doesn’t have the same power as somebody else giving you a referral to a third person. Plus, they are specialised in these health problems, so they will give a very good first consultation that shows a deep understanding of the effects on the clients. Now when these people need treatment, and as they are out of the area, the specialists I have referred to will have to refer them again to the local clinics.
Marketing means communication with your desired audience. The language which you use changes with your audience; the communication is different when you are talking to parents of children with ADHD, or to the elderly person and their family, or the Punjabi community in London. Simply, from a practical point of view, you don’t have all the time in the world to offer everything to everyone and communicate that, otherwise you will be busy running a marketing agency not a healthcare business.
If you are specialising, you will save time, get to practise more and get to practise more deeply and meaningfully. You will get to know this audience pretty well over time. You will find out where to reach them, how to speak to them so they will listen, and you will understand their concerns and their desires. They, in turn, will feel understood by you and held in their space initially, then gently moved on through the healing process. This is possible because you are looking at them exclusively and therefore you get a deeper understanding; you can provide better support and can really help them much more than anybody else, even if that person practises the same CAM methodology.
We don’t work with the Yellow Pages anymore; SEO technology has replaced this online. This is actually a great thing. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can mean your website will come up when people search for their specific problem:
Parents may search “children with ADHD” and your website comes up as “Ayurvedic practitioner specialising in treating children with ADHD”, and they will give you a call. Or they may search for “elderly care” or “Punjab speaking doctor”. The point being that when you specialise you can reach more people, even those who didn’t know that your medical methodology existed in the first place. They may not have Googled for “Ayurveda” or “Chinese medicine” or “Bach Flower Remedies”, but they Googled their particular problem which they want to solve.
So, in terms of marketing, a niche is described as: “a small but profitable segment of a market suitable for attention by a marketer”.
Sonja Breuer MSc. ayur. med. is a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner, yoga teacher, energy healer, coach and mentor. She likes to reach out and help other practitioners of Complementary Alternative Medicine. By sharing her personal experiences, she wants to inspire others to do so too. Her aim is for CAM to grow and flourish for the benefit of the consumer, practitioners and change the way we practise and think of medicine today.
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