By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Brian Sokalsky, a 1996 graduate of Atlantic City High School, spent nearly 10 years in school and internships to become a medical doctor. He then spent five years working at Rothman Institute. But as the orthopedic industry increasingly became larger and more corporate, Sokalsky felt like it was time to get back to his roots.
In July 2014, Dr. Sokalsky took a leap of faith and started his own practice. Jersey Shore Sports Medicine opened on July 5, 2014 in Ocean City, and recently moved to Connecticut Avenue in Somers Point.
“When I joined Rothman, they were big, then they tripled in size. I just didn’t like that set-up. It was very high volume and very high-paced, and I felt like I couldn’t develop the relationships that I wanted to with my patients,” Sokalsky said. “It was something I always thought about, even during my training. Where did I see myself and what kind of practice do I see myself in? Rothman was a perfect first job. I worked with amazing surgeons and I learned a ton. There’s only so much you can learn in school. They were great and I still call them with questions. The surgeons and doctors I worked with at Rothman were the best and I still love them. Over the last two years (there) I was kind of reaching the end, so it was just a matter of was it feasible to do it on my own.”
Sokalsky literally had one weekend to get set up in Ocean City when Jersey Shore Sports Medicine initially opened. He opened on a Tuesday, the day after July 4, and had been working at Rothman right up until the prior Thursday. He enlisted the help of his father to get his new office up and running, and spent a good portion of that weekend assembling office furniture. He also went from showing up to work at Rothman with a slate of 35 to 40 patients ready and waiting, to wondering how he was going to attract any patients at all.
“Every day I have fears. But I didn’t want to move, I like where I live. If I were to stay at Rothman I was going to have the same job, doing the same thing, every day for the next 30 years and I just didn’t see myself doing that. My overhead is pretty low. I own a house, I have very reasonable rates on my loans. I just felt like now was the time to do it. I’m not married and don’t have kids to support, so if I was going to take a chance, (2014) was the time,” Sokalsky said. “I like to think I’m a good doctor and my skills will always be needed. So if it didn’t work out I could have joined another physicians group, or if I had to move I could have.
“I opened over July 4 weekend. I worked at Rothman basically until the day I opened, so my dad managed all the remodeling and set up stuff. I basically spent that July 4 weekend putting together office furniture. I opened on July 5 and looked around, and I went from seeing 40 patients a day to two.”
Despite his initial fears, Dr. Sokalsky has done well during his first two years in practice on his own. He knows there is plenty of competition from larger orthopedic centers in the area, but he hopes the personal service and attention he can offer will resonate with more and more people as time goes by.
“The biggest challenge is getting my name out there and getting my specialty out there. There are very few primary care sports medicine doctors who work on their own. A lot of people don’t know what primary care sports medicine is. It’s basically non-surgical orthopedics. The two big orthopedic groups take up a lot of oxygen in the area. But I don’t consider myself direct competition to them because they are so much bigger. We see the same types of patients, so I try to let patients know that we are smaller and have a little bit more of a personal touch. The person you talk to when you call us is the same person you’re going to see when you come in here. You’re going to come in and see me each and every time,” he said. “Right now, I like working by myself and having a small staff and maintaining that personal touch with the patients. I’d like to widen my base of services that I offer, such as stem cell treatment or more specialized nutritional services for athletes, anti-aging treatments. Being on my own, I can cater my practice to what I want. Still, the bulk of my practice is sprains and strains, but I do look forward to adding more specialized aspects.”
Sokalsky said running his own practice presents daily challenges, but that facing those challenges is what drives him.
“You’re never fully comfortable because things are always changing. It’s a constant learning process, but that’s one of the things I like about owning my own business. You’re constantly trying to get better and seeing where you can improve, so it’s a day-to-day challenge, but I like the challenge. When you run your own business, you never really have time off. There’s always something to do, but I’m enjoying it,” Sokalsky said. “I have a good billing company that helps me deal with the insurance people. I have good ancillary support. I have a good billing company, a good marketer who helps me out with advertising and promotion on social media, things like that. Those are the things I learn day to day.”
One of his biggest challenges, he said, is to make the time to get out in front of the community, particularly local sports teams and leagues. He’s the team doctor for the Jersey Shore Sharks Rugby Club and spends a lot of time giving presentations to local youth sports teams and leagues.
“It’s kind of been a whirlwind. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two years. It’s a learning experience. I do a lot more interacting with the medical community, where as before I just showed up and had 35 patients on my schedule. I didn’t have to go out and give talks to the Northfield pee wee football teams about concussions, or the Dennis Township soccer league on overuse injuries,” he said. “So, it forces me to get out into the community and work with smaller leagues to get my name out there and provide a service.”
Sokalsky said he’s happy with the success he has found in the first two-plus years of running his own practice, and he’s beginning to get where he wants to be, even if the route he’s taking isn’t necessarily the one he thought he’d be traveling.
“Generally, I’m where I thought I would be at this point, I just have gotten there the way I thought I would,” Sokalsky said. “It’s funny how things work out. Some things I thought would be a slam dunk, instead a different group of people helped me build my practice. It looks positive for growth growing forward, I just didn’t get to this point the way I thought I would.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN