Anyone beginning their career a clinical practice has considered this question. Does it make sense to pursue a “safe” position in a group practice, or would it be wiser in the long run to set out on your own, rent an office, and start building your brand?
There is, of course, no “right” answer. So much depends on personal preferences like work style, schedule, and even lifestyle. Considerations include the administrative benefits of each option, the financial impact, the social impact, and the market itself.
Of course, it’s also important to take into consideration your own goals and personal working style. If you don’t thrive while working independently, and prefer a collaborative environment, a private practice might not be right. Likewise, it probably doesn’t make sense to join an established group if you prefer to work independently.
The most obvious benefit of owning your own private practice is that it gives you the freedom to set your own hours, define your own approach, and make executive decisions like insurance panels. You have full control over where to have your office, and how you’d like to operate. There’s also the sense of pride and ownership that comes with starting and maintaining a business with your name on it.
However, with all that autonomy comes a great amount of responsibility that isn’t felt as much at a group practice. A private practice is essentially a small business, and chances are, you didn’t go to school for business. There is a bit of a learning curve and many unpaid hours of set up and maintenance. Though it’s nice to be able to set your own schedule and manage insurance on your terms, it all requires hours of extra administrative work. Not to mention, you’re on the hook for all the financial responsibilities, without anyone else to share the burden. Additionally, with a private practice, there’s a constant need to maintain your brand, online presence, and general marketing tactics. It can be a lot of extra work on top of helping clients, unless you use a platform like Advekit to help match you with new clients, and market your practice.
Joining a group practice can open a wide variety of options that would not be available otherwise. It’s an especially good option for those who don’t want to pursue clinical work full time. Depending on the size and setup, groups may be able to offer health and dental insurance, administrative support with scheduling and billing, shared risk management, IT support, and shared costs on computers and other technical equipment, Groups will also have more marketing reach, and potentially even a dedicated specialist. All of this support relieves you of stress and additional administrative work, allowing you to focus on providing care. It also has the potential to reduce isolation and burnout, while providing on-site consultation options.
One of the biggest drawbacks to a group practice is sharing liability for other mental health provider’s actions and decisions. Before joining a group practice, it's important to be aware of the legal entanglements of being in practice with another mental health provider, as it exposes you to all kinds of liabilities. For instance, working in the same building without a formal partnership agreement could open you up to being sued by someone who was injured on the property or who accuses your co-leaser of a criminal or civil action.
Of course with more cooks in the kitchen at a group practice, you have more opinions to consider in the decision making process. Even for the most minimal office expenses, group agreement can be inefficient and frustrating for some people who move at a different pace. Since everyone owns an equal share in the practice, no one is ever really in charge and able to make quick decisions, create a cohesive vision, or to take the lead of the group.
It is nice to have less responsibility, but that also usually means having less input into decisions regarding everything from office decor to how things run. In fact, when you’re legally partnered with others, they have a say in business decisions that affect your income. When you’re part of a group, others may have already dictated the cost of joining the partnership, or the amount you’ll be paid when employed by a group practice.
Whether you choose a group or private practice is up to you. Think about how you like to work, and what you need to succeed. Both options have clear benefits and drawbacks, but only you know which option provides positives that outweigh the negative specifically for your career.