Physical therapist aims to get patients to ‘SOAR’ |

Physical therapist aims to get patients to ‘SOAR’

Duane Johnson
Colin Nicolai |

A few years ago, Dr. Carolyn Dolan began a pursuit to find a healthier lifestyle for herself, and eventually spawned a new private practice.

At the time she was working as a registered physical therapist at Renown Health. Her own research wasn’t consistent with her patients’ needs in relation to the limitations of what the hospital could offer. Plus she figured the amount of time the job required really cut into the time she could spend with her husband and three daughters.

“At that point it became clear to me I was missing a huge component in taking care of my patients,,” Dolan said. “Speaking to lifestyle changes such as eating and sleeping well has a huge impact on recovery from an injury.”

So in 2014, she took a gamble and left Renown and started her own private practice, which she named Reno SOAR. The SOAR is an acronym that is common in physical therapy in reference to Spine Orthopedic Active Rehab.

“Speaking to lifestyle changes such as eating and sleeping well has a huge impact on recovery from an injury.”Dr. Carolyn Dolan

The way it differs from traditional physical therapy rehabilitation is that it includes holistic medicine into the practice. Dolan focuses on basic principles: Eat well, Sleep well, Move well (stretching or other physical activity) and Soar On (connecting with people in life such as spouse, children, co-workers, etc.). She says, for example, she may confer with a patient on their digestive health or other life stressers that impact one’s life.

Her business is slowly growing, although it has been difficult to explain her mission to patients.

“I call myself an integrated physical therapist because if you come in to see me I’m not going to ask you about your pain but I’m going to ask about what your life is like. What are you eating for breakfast? I incorporate all those pieces,” Dolan said. “It’s difficult to explain what it means, because I’m not an acupuncturist, I’m not an MD, but I am a physical therapist.”

Initially, she did outcalls to patients’ homes and relied on word of mouth to garner business. Her clientele mostly are people in their middle ages — stay-at-home mom to active adults — who have incurred some type of injury. She also has clients who have questions about improving their overall health or their family’s health.

While she could handle caring for patients, being a business owner turned out to be a whole new world. As a novice to the business side, she was responsible for her own marketing, payment collections and even keeping track of mileage going to and from patients’ homes — all things that she never had to consider while working at the hospital.

“I’m learning a lot of the ropes as I go,” Dolan said. “Marketing is a huge piece. I never had to market before because I had a captured audience (at Renown). To be a professional there’s so many things I was unaware of because I didn’t have to think of them before.”

She even tried her hand at creating her own business cards, but admitted her final presentation wasn’t to her liking, so she sought the help of various marketing professionals to give her a hand. Dolan has worked with Waking Girl Web Design to develop her Web site,

“I’m learning where I need to outsource because those people are much better at those things than I am,” she said.

Dolan decided to limit her practice at first, partly to cover her expenses as she acquired more training to expand her business and to free up her time to spend with her family.

She also wrote a self-help book titled, “Soar Into Health: Simple Principles to Health and Wellness,” published this year by AuthorHouse of Bloomington, Ind. She said the project initially was a way to share her own experiences and educate people on her principles and message to her own family and others. It was not necessarily intended as a marketing tool, but has helped to spread the word on her practice.

Dolan has decided to move her practice into a central location rather than traveling to patients’ homes. She sometimes had to block off two-hours for travel and individual sessions. It was a scheduling nightmare and not cost-effective for her business.

She rents an open space at The Healing Point, owned by a licensed acupuncturist and friend, two days a week. She usually can see four or five patients a day, depending on the available time frame.

“She’s not there full-time, and has a treatment table, so it makes it more efficient for my availability and to see more people,” she said. “I can still see more people, if need be, but financially you have to make sure you can make ends meet.”

Dolan said her business plan and goals for Reno SOARS is ever evolving, but is relatively pleased with its steady growth. Still, she wants to fine-tune her target market to maximize her productivity and see as many patients who need or want her services.

Her contacts in the local healthcare community have assisted her business through word of mouth to potential clients.

“I have had other professionals who have been supportive in sharing cards or recommending me to patients and clients,” Dolan said. “There’s been some really good support that way.”

While she continues to strive to make Reno SOAR a flourishing venture, she wants to make sure growth is not at the expense of her or her family. She feels it would be contradictory to ask patients to follow her recommendations of a holistic lifestyle if she can’t do the same in her own life.

“In my mind that’s OK, although I’m going to potentially limit or slow the growth,” Dolan said. “That’s OK, I’ve chosen the lifestyle and I want to share it with people who need it or want it. At first I was doing this out of passion and to just cover costs over making a living and I think I’m developing my new business plan as we speak, because I can’t continue to fly by the seat of my pants.”