This installment of the Nurse Entrepreneur Series features Suzanne Drake, PhD, APN. Suzanne is a board certified clinical specialist and owner of The Wellness Group of New Jersey, LLC. She provides a variety of mental health services to individuals, couples and families, including psychotherapy, psychiatric evaluation, medication management and wellness counseling.
How long have you been a nurse? What’s your nursing background/experience?
I was first licensed as a nurse after completing my AAS in 1969. I worked in oncology, medicine and pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx before I went into OB. I really loved helping to bring forth new life, especially around the time when I was starting my own family. I loved it so much that I stayed until my babies were starting college. Early on, I became certified as a childbirth educator and started my own practice. It grew into a full-time practice as I expanded it to include preparation for pregnancy, childbirth and through the first year of life. The award-winning program, called Best Beginnings, was nationally recognized by American Baby Magazine. Meanwhile, I continued my education and earned a masters in nursing, board certification as a Psychiatric Advanced Practice Nurse and a doctorate in family therapy. I integrated the family work with Best Beginnings and then sold the practice and started The Wellness Group of New Jersey, LLC.
Can you share what brought you to start your practice?
I’ve always had a business. I started my first business when I was 9 years old. I had to do a lot of chores for my parents to make enough money to buy the expensive Ginny doll clothes I coveted. I learned to sew on a discarded machine I found in someone’s trash. I began sewing my own doll clothes and then realized that I could make really cute clothes and sell them for half the price as sold in the store. All I had to do was make two outfits and I could buy a package of accessories. The clothes were very popular in the neighborhood as they were so cheap and I could make them to order. I hired some younger kids and paid them in doll clothes. It didn’t take me long to figure out that working for myself was a lot better than working for someone else. I made most of my own clothes in high school and college and I have been pretty much self-supporting my whole life.
I started all of my businesses in response to a need. It was never about money. It was about providing something unique that people didn’t have. I saw that too many young, newly pregnant women in our community were disconnected from their extended families and needed support, information and connection much earlier in their pregnancies and throughout that first year than was available. Best Beginnings met that need. I started The Wellness Group to provide a more holistic mind-body approach to treating mental illness than was available in my community.
What services do you provide at The Wellness Group?
In addition to individual, couples and family psychotherapy, we provide psychiatric evaluations and consultations, medication management, child and adolescent services, wellness counseling, hypnotherapy and energy healing. My colleagues are both nurses. We have offered massage therapy and nutritional counseling as well, although those positions are now open again.
How would a nurse who’s interested in starting his or her own practice get started?
Before you even start planning, you will need to have an entrepreneurial mindset. No kidding. There are certain traits that if you don’t have either innately or developed, you will struggle to succeed. The good news is these traits are commonly found in nurses! First of all, you need real passion to enhance the lives of others in whatever product or service you envision. Second, you need a LOT of energy. Self-discipline, high motivation and good organizational skills are important. And it’s essential to have an extraordinary work ethic. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself putting in 12-hour days for less money than you were making at your old job, especially in the beginning. But it’s also essential that you know how to take care of yourself so you don’t burn out. You need to be comfortable with risk and uncertainty, and it’s a must to be a creative problem solver. Now doesn’t that sound like a nurse?
It helps to start with the end in mind and work backwards. Visualize your outcome and then chart all the steps to get there. When I left Best Beginnings to start The Wellness Group, I bought an appointment book and highlighted all the spaces where I planned to have appointments filled with patients. Within six months, they were all filled.
The rest is logistics. But they are important. All the details from writing a business plan to financing, regulations, taxes, marketing, etc., can be found now in books and online. Here are just a few:
What are the best things about having your own practice?
Maybe it’s a first-born thing, but I’m intensely independent. I like to be in control of my own life. I’ve always been a disrupter of the status quo and that’s a trait that’s not very popular with autocratic supervisors. Being my own boss, I don’t have to worry about getting fired. I can make my own decisions and not have to compromise on what I believe to be right. (I also have to live with the consequences when I’m wrong!) I have freedom to control my own time and that is very valuable. I can be creative and I can get things done FAST without the red tape. I can take calculated risks and reap greater rewards.
What are the greatest challenges?
For the most part, challenges give meaning to my life. But some of the hardest challenges that I have faced in my life have been personal, not work related. They have made me even more grateful for my practice.
There were times when the patient census was low and I was afraid I couldn’t cover my expenses. I learned to use that extra time to market my practice and develop other services like offering group psychoeducation for anxiety and phobia disorders. Before I knew it, the numbers were back up and then some. I stopped worrying and started shifting my focus and energy. It’s all good.
The greatest practice challenge I am facing right now is deciding whether to join my husband in retirement. I love what I do and until now, I had not given any thought to an exit plan.
Looking back, as you started your business, what do you wish you had known? What advice would you give others?
I wish I had the books I mentioned. There were a lot of things I had to learn on the fly, like budgeting, expense and revenue forecasting, and taxes. I also think I would have gotten more help. I really needed clerical, secretarial and bookkeeping help. I spent too much time doing things that could have been done by others and that would have allowed me to spend more time utilizing my skills where most needed, and most importantly, to spend more time with my family and in taking care of myself. My best advice would be first to read and learn as much as you can. I recommend SCORE, an organization focused on growing and mentoring small businesses. Second, find a mentor. And third, have confidence in yourself! The skills and knowledge you have acquired as a nurse will be invaluable when it comes to being a business owner.