The barefoot physio

We chat to Sal Oliver Lange, founder of Barefoot Physio about some of the changes she is making within her Physiotherapy practice and how it benefits both the patients and her team.

You started Barefoot Physiotherapy in 2012. Could you tell us a little about that journey? What led you to becoming a physio and now a small business owner?
I had wanted to be a physio since I was little. When I was 10 I would make my Mum hire VHS ‘how to massage’ tapes from the library, watch them and practice on her on my $60 massage table that I had bought out of the Weekend Shopper! I had, and still have, a strong desire to help people live ¯their lives how they choose. I am fascinated by the human body and I knew I wanted to go
to university to learn about the body and how to help people the best way possible. Physiotherapy ticked all these boxes.
Barefoot Physiotherapy was born out of frustration. After 5 years of working as a physio in different settings I just couldn’t find a clinic that I wholeheartedly wanted to work at along with a clinic that I would go to as a client. I wanted a clinic that supported its staff fully whilst celebrating its clients and making them feel totally welcome. All while being absolute amazing professionals. So, I made one myself!

Opening in Greenslopes at the end of 2012, then moving to Tennyson in 2016, we have grown as a team and community. We throw Car Park Parties every year for clients, friends, contacts and family, and last year on our 5 year anniversary, we had our first ever Barefoot Wellness Summit, a day of lectures, laughter and no judgement healthcare.

During the growth of Barefoot Physio, we’ve seen the emergence of the ‘Barefoot Lifestyle’.

Could you tell us a little about that?
Well this came about from seeing incredible clients everyday living extraordinary lives. Now this is the important thing; I see the incredible in the everyday. If you scratch back the surface of good people, you will find the amazing things they do and what makes them tick.
It really blows me away the inspiring/quirky/fun things that some people do and for some reason these are the clients we attract… from mining project managers (who have a wicked sense of humour, travel the world like a pro and will tell you where to find the best chocolate in Brisbane) to Scientists working on the cutting edge of malaria research (who know all the local Brisbane bands, will school you on your music history and keep you up to date on the latest political drama), they all have a story to tell.
And while they may not always ‘have it all together’ there was a definite trend that I was seeing. They were all doing these 5 things – which after quite a bit of time and thinking I was able to articulate into what we refer to as the ‘Barefoot Lifestyle’.

• Take care of your body and mind now and for the future.
• Move everyday in a way you enjoy.
• Surround yourself with people that are important to you.
• Have a passion for your vocation and lean in to it.
• Take action to make the world a better place.

The Barefoot Treatment plan places a big focus on a holistic approach to treatment, with the aim for long term success. What sets it apart from other treatments?
Physiotherapy is a beautiful thing. To me it is the ultimate intersection of two things I love; Science and People. We can take a person who is in pain and help them. We can guide them through the scary time and out the other side. And even more amazingly, we can get them back to doing what they love and often more! Whatever that is for them.

At Barefoot, we use a combination of hands on techniques, exercise and education. Our treatment plan is an integration of many techniques. It is up to date and on the cutting edge of neurophysiological research which we know to be the best research we have to date.

What this means for our clients is that no matter who you see at Barefoot, we are all trained the same – meaning client care
is better as case discussions and sharing clients is the norm for us. We don’t use our framework to put people in boxes, we use it to keep ourselves fully accountable. We also use it to keep the client at the helm of the ship with us guiding the way.

What are some of the most common reasons a client will come to Barefoot Physio after being engaged with a different service?
Honestly, we do have clients come to Barefoot after seeing other people first (whether that be different type of clinician or another physiotherapist) without results or feeling like they haven’t been listened to. This sounds mean, but it is the truth.

My belief is that people who study physiotherapy (and similar things like osteopathy, myotherapy etc) go into it for the right reasons and are doing their best. But the conditions in which they work make it difficult (this is what I found and what I hear from friends) and they can’t bring their best. I believe it is the leader’s role to set them up to succeed.

The main ways I do this at Barefoot is with logistics:

• Maximum 9 x 30 min consults in a day
• Maximum of 5 x 30 min appointments in a row
• 10 or 20min gaps between each appointment
• Huge amount of training and ‘inservices’
• ‘Homework’ time every day
• 4 weeks training before they start
• Quarterly Brainstorm days
• Weekly catch ups

I also, with my whole heart, believe it is my role to take care of my people. That belief makes the decisions easy. When you take care of your people they can take care of the clients.

Why do so many physiotherapy clinics focus on treating the condition or problem, and ignore the lifestyle factors and root causes of the pain or discomfort the person is experiencing?
I don’t think physiotherapists necessarily ignore the lifestyle factors and root causes of the condition (this is a passion area for a lot of physios) and there are plenty of clinicians out there doing great things. For the ones that aren’t hitting the mark with clients, typically I see 2 things happening: Lack of time & lack of training.

TIME: I had worked for 5 years before starting Barefoot and was expected in Private Practice to see up to 16 clients a day. This broke me (not just my body but also my soul as I was giving so much to be able to help the people in the limited time I had). I know of physios that treat up to 24 people a day with minimal or no ‘homework’ time.

As I said earlier, we treat maximum 4.5 hours in a 7.5 hour day. That is how we are always on our A-game with clients. The rest of the day is for prep, breaks, homework, catch ups and training. The session doesn’t just begin and end when the client is there.

TRAINING: There are so many lessons and skills to learn in physiotherapy and I did it the hard way by piecing together training outside of work time, going to courses on holidays and harassing my seniors whenever they had a free second. This took a lot of my own time; a lot of drive and substantial money and I know all the good physios out there will have done the same. But just because that’s what we did doesn’t mean that’s what has to be done. At Barefoot, for our General Physios we have 4 weeks full time training to start. Then 8 hours a week for a couple of months. Then 4 hours a week ongoing. Minimum. This is a potent example of creating the type of clinic I wanted to work in.

We also have professional development allowance for our physios to go on courses and then come back, practice, integrate and train the team. Which takes time! Yes, we block the diary for that! I implore any health business owner to think back to when you graduated, or soon after, and what you wanted. If you can’t remember… listen to what the graduating physios are saying.

What’s been the highlight since starting Barefoot for you?
This is so hard to pick! Moving to Tennyson was huge! The end of 2015 renovation of a derelict building in 7 weeks was one of the most consuming and rewarding things I have ever done. It is my pride and joy to take people on tours around the clinic.
Our first Barefoot Wellness Summit in December 2017 and our second on 3rd November 2018, was a leap of faith, so much fun and such a great reminder that we have a powerful message to share.

But to be honest I think the biggest highlight is the everyday – our ‘ordinary’ is so much fun and full of joy. The results we get with our clients, the changes we help them achieve and the lives they live because of our assistance is powerful and it happens every day. I sometimes sit back at our team catch up and think how lucky I am to have such a fantastic team of people and feel like everything I have done up until now (including lugging that heavy massage table around when I was 10) was for me to be sitting in this room.

If you could give three tips or advice to someone looking to become a physio and potentially looking to one day start their own practice, what would they be?
For those looking to become a physio: Know deep down that you really want to do it and what it is like. Observe physios working in private practice and in hospitals so you make the decision with your eyes open.

If you want to start your own clinic, ask yourself why? This is very important. Read Simon Sinek’s work if you need help. Also get some significant experience under your belt so you are the best clinician you can be before diving into the business side of things.
And for your own clinic, if you decide to go ahead do it your way – your tribe will come. You can look outside of physio for inspiration. A lot of my inspiration for the things that make Barefoot unique were from businesses I looked up to outside of health. The physio work and the business work is so much easier if you are doing it because it’s what you truly believe in and value. It doesn’t feel like work.