Recently I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Jeff Scholten of Calgary Alberta Canada. Dr. Jeff is a fantastic leader in the upper cervical community. He is involved in just about everything that’s going on in the world of upper cervical including NUCCA, The Upper Cervical Research Foundation, the Upper Cervical Diplomate, the ICA Council on Upper Cervical Careand The Upper Cervical Experience. All this while running a multimillion dollar practice with multiple associates and a beautiful family. You’re going to love this interview! There was so much good stuff I had to break it up into two blog posts. So here is part one.
Dr. Jeff Scholten
Dr Bill Davis: Dr Jeff, it is great to talk to you today and we have a lot to talk about and I’m excited to have you on the phone. How is everything going in Calgary this morning?
Dr Jeff Scholten: It is wonderful. I am really excited to be here Bill. Thanks for having me and thanks for thinking about me. It is really cold in Calgary. So I am happy to be inside talking to you on the phone.
Dr Davis: Good. Excellent. I like to always start with, Jeff, how you got in to Chiropractic. What drew you to Chiropractic?
Dr Scholten: Growing up, I had a sister who had a lot of health problems. She had open heart surgery at 3 and then a stroke at 5. And she became hemi paretic. She had basically an upper motor neuron lesion where the left side of her body was in a state of regular spasm. It never really relaxed. She could not walk properly and because of the imbalance in the musculature that created by the time she was 16, a very severe scoliosis.
She was supposed to only live until she was 18 and now she is 36. My parents were never the people to kind of just listen to what other people had to say and put blinders on and follow it. They are professionals themselves so they would study and research and figure out what are the best solutions for their daughter was in terms of her health.
Right around the time when she was 16 or 17 and about to have a scoliosis surgery which she ended up having in the end which was been very helpful for her. But they were seeing regular chiropractors and a friend told them to try NUCCA. So they flew to see Dr Berti in Vancouver and he adjusted my sister. She had an inch and a half short leg which immediately normalized and the pelvis levelled.
That was a really profound experience for them. They transferred my sister’s care back to Calgary to Dr Hasick who started taking care of her. And although she eventually needed the surgery even today when she is misaligned, she is relative to gravity on her feet extremely distorted. And when she is in in alignment of course, in alignment is not perfect for her but she stand balanced on both legs. Her legs were equal. And I think that has made a huge impact to her.
At the time I was doing my undergrad in kinesiology I became interested in what was going on. And I went to visit Dr Hasick’s office. His associate, Dr Thompson, at that time, and he explained NUCCA and I thought that is something that I could see myself doing. So I shifted half way through my undergrad degree and decided to go on the direction on becoming a chiropractor.
I am very happy that I did. But really it was a family experience, a very profound first experience for my sister with NUCCA as a treatment then as a patient watching other people on my family have experiences with NUCCA and the effects that they had that led me to decide to become a chiropractor in the first place.
Dr Davis: Excellent. So from the very beginning, when you were exposed to chiropractic it was with Upper Cervical, with NUCCA specifically.
Dr Scholten: No, yeah that is an interesting point though. My parents have been seeing chiropractors. I remember my grandma going to the chiropractor and I remember him breaking her rib and her suing him but then continued to go see him.
No hard feelings right? He broke her rib. That is legit. She sued him and they continued as patient after that which is kind of funny. She did not have any bad feelings towards him. She felt like that that was a mistake he made and so he did not make that mistake again. He should have hit the TP first not the ribs I guess.
I saw my mom went consistently and so I would go. Even in the University I would go but I never really was called to do that. I never really had an interest in spending my life doing what I saw them do which is mainly diversified adjusting which helps a lot of people. It really helped the people in my family but it was not anything that I was interested in. It was really the upper cervical adjustment and its effect on posture and the biomechanics that really attracted me into chiropractic in the first place.
Dr Davis: So when you saw and heard about NUCCA and Upper Cervical, that is when it really clicked for you and that made the difference and made you want to change your focus and go in that direction.
Dr Scholten: Yeah, exactly.
So if you go to Chiropractic College it is a similar thing right? In a sense that I knew that there was a diversified chiropractic and I knew there was NUCCA but I did not really know about anything else. And so I did not know that I was going to do NUCCA once I was in Chiropractic College for a little while. I thought that was just kind of to put that in the back burner and investigate this other procedures that were available.
Where I went to school at Palmer they had such a wide range of techniques available. I investigated a lot of them and I always compare them back to what would happen with the NUCCA procedure. Basically by the time I was in a few semesters in the school, I was comfortable with the fact that I did really want to be a NUCCA chiropractor.
That allows you to really understand what other people are doing. And it is a really important thing I think for all of us to know what we are doing and to know what other people are doing so we can understand what we like about it and we can understand what we like about what we are doing and the challenges that we see in what we are doing and what other people are doing.
Dr Davis: Absolutely.
So you went to Palmer College and you investigated different techniques but finally settled on an Upper Cervical approach and settled on becoming a NUCCA doctor. And then when you came out of school, you moved back to Calgary?
Dr Scholten: Yeah, that is right.
The Canadian Boards is a bit of a challenge. Usually, through my life, I have been a pretty good test taker but when I was looking at the Canadian Boards, the failure rate and Palmer’s success on them at the time, I was a little bit nervous about what we were going to do. I said to Kira, my wife, “If I fail these tests, we can go live somewhere else. Maybe we will go to Brazil or go somewhere else to live for a little while.” And she told me that that would be a great thing for me to do. But she was heading home to Calgary. So there was not much of an option so, I passed the test.
I came back here and interned with Dr Thompson who was my initial mentor in NUCCA. I worked with him through my internship and I worked with him for probably in total including the internship there for about a year. The truth is my ability to be a good associate is probably not great. I do like to follow but I also have certain perspectives, certain thoughts, and certain ideas. I really felt an overwhelming need to express those.
In all honesty, I expressing them in Dr Thompson’s office probably made him really happy for me to go somewhere else as well. We had a fairly quick end to our associate relationship and we had a good year. And so that didn’t work out.
But it was a great learning experience for me and so then I started my own practice in February of 2002 and Kira have given birth to Cloe who was at that time, 5 weeks old. So Kira worked at the front desk and Clowie sat underneath the front desk. And we opened for business.
And it has been spectacular ever since. It has been a nice steady slow growth of a practice. After 10 years of practice, I looked back. I really was comfortable to say that all of the things that I theoretically held to be possible ended up being possible. And my practice is exactly an expression of what I had originally thought it should be. It really has been wonderful.
Being Professional in Chiropractic Marketing
Dr Davis: That is awesome. So over the past 12 years I know you have grown a large practice. You have trained a bunch of associates. I know that one of the ways that you attract your patients to your practice is through professional referrals. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that has been a big part of the growth of your practice?
Dr Scholten: Yeah, absolutely.
One of the things that is interesting is when you get into school and you look at the different techniques that are there; a lot of them try to do everything for everybody. If you have this issue, if you toggle the medial malleolus, I’m going to fix that. Then if you pull on the ear this way, that will fix that. It is really very mechanical in the sense that there is a problem and you are going to do something.
But in Upper Cervical Chiropractic we have this interesting challenge and simultaneous opportunity which is that the likelihood of us helping somebody is very high but we just do not really know whether the cause of the issue is the subluxation in the upper cervical spine. And the only way to really know if that is what is causing the problem is to see if there is a subluxation there and take care of it and see what happens to the person’s health.
Because we limit our practice, and we say, “This is all I am going to work on.” and we recognize simultaneously that there are other stuff that goes on that influences people’s ability to hold the reduction or correction that we make and also the idea that we want them to hold it, and we want them to stabilize, and we want them to recover.
So then I went down a journey of trying to understand what other people are doing and what they are bringing to the table so I could understand when it might be appropriate for me to refer a patient of mine to another practitioner and to do that you really have to understand what a lot of other practitioners do. And so I went to just finding out what other practitioners were doing, experiencing it when I could. And in that process of finding out what other practitioners are doing, if they are fairly normal people they would inevitably start asking you what you are doing.
There is really no gimmick here at all. It is just normal personal relationship and so you look, you find the people that you like authentically, you respect professionally, and you think that the patient you have with their personality, and their need can be properly treated or assisted by somebody else. You are just trying to put those things together.
Again, it is just trying to help people and try to find when I can’t do something for them or when what I am doing is not doing as much as it needs to for them. What should our next best step be and trying to help patients on their journey towards optimizing their own personal health.
Along the way I found a lot of different practitioners and I met a lot of people and those people ended up sending people to me. And that ended up being a wonderful and sustainable way for me to have a practice. And that continues to this day where I get to meet you people.
I went to a physio clinic last night that opened on the 5th floor of our building and speaking to the physios there and the physician interns and just understanding what they are doing and looking for who I might be able to send to them resulted in them asking me of what I was doing and who they might be able to send to me. That is the way it works.
Professional referrals is not really that hard to do. It is just that I think a lot of people tried to shortcut it and forget that it is just a relationship like any other. You have to be authentic in that relationship and in your inquisitive nature. If you don’t care and you don’t want to know but you just want to get the benefits, you are probably not going to be successful to that.
Dr Davis: I heard you speak about this many years ago and what I was hearing from you was about that collaborative approach for the best of the patient. As you find people that you respect what they do and you think that they can help the people that you are working with, it’s a win-win for everyone involved, right?
So it is for the patient’s good because they are getting better overall care. It is for your good because you refer someone to someone else that does a good job, you look good and it is good for your reputation. It is also good for the other practitioner because they are receiving more referrals as well.
And like you said, if you go into it with a shortcut mentality where you say “I referred 3 people to this person and they have not referred anyone to me, so professional overalls don’t work, right?” Your heart is not right in it, correct?
Dr Scholten: That is right. You got it exactly Bill.
The thing is you have to be professional to get a professional referral. When a person puts their reputation on the line and sends somebody to you, you have to really understand the depth of what that means. They are saying, “This is the person that I think can help you.” and they are sending that person to you, and you have to steward that appropriately. You have to make sure that that person has a great experience. In that situation, if you are doing a hard sell on them. It is going to make it difficult for that to be sustainable for you.
If you are not taking spectacular care of them adding that plus one level of service so that they go back to that person and say, “Thank you for that referral. That was very helpful. I really appreciate it.” Let’s say they did not start, they just say, “No, I had a great experience. I chose not to start.”
The only thing that you can do wrong, the number one thing that you can do wrong is just screw up that first referral from somebody because as soon as you do that, they all talk to each other. I get referrals from physicians and dentists and I have never met and I don’t know, I have never talked to for sure, they just hear from somebody else who I have talked to that I might be a person that they would want to refer to. They do. I have screwed them up to. Everybody has I think. You just have to really understand that part of it.
The first step in getting a professional referral is being professional in how you deal with stuff and being patient centric. It all has to be able to help the patient. It is not about us. It is about the patient. That is where the buzz comes from helping people. It is about what they get to experience after you help them.
They do not care if you are driving a fancy car or have a big house or had a fight with you wife or have some trouble with the kids. They like to hear good things about you of course. But they are not interested in paying for more of your toys. They are only interested in themselves and that is how they should be.
A basic philosophy that I have is everything should be in everybody’s best interest. We speak about multiple positive outcomes. If it has multiple positive outcomes, then now you have amplified your energy drastically.
The patient should have that same thing. They should come in to you. And the one thing that we do as upper cervical practitioners is that we have such a tremendous capacity to deal with so many problems in the body. The average person has ten to eleven chief complaints and if you have five, six or seven things that are resolving from one action of dealing with the upper cervical spine and realigning it you have this tremendous influence.
You just have to help the patient recognize it, if you recognize what is not changing and be there for that person as their guide and help them understand what maybe is the next step is on their health journey and give them suggestions for it. They are going to value you and your expertise and they are going to send people to you.
Come back for the next blog post as I continue my conversation with Dr. Jeff Scholten.
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