“Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity.” What a true and telling quote by Henry Hartman. It’s especially true when you are trying to work your way into the medical community to get referrals to your fitness facility.

But take it from me, meeting physicians, surgeons or other medical providers is not always easy. That’s why when you do get that opportunity, you must be prepared to benefit from it. And that takes advanced planning and mental preparation.

If your personal trainers are doing their jobs right, they’ve had countless client contacts with multiple medical conditions, which has meant they’ve sent many letters to doctors seeking authorization for general physical exercise care or, in my case, post-rehabilitation care. It is often difficult to develop professional relationships through letters. You and your trainers must take networking a step further. You must create opportunities to meet medical professionals. Here are some examples of places you can go to meet the medical community:

  • Local charity or auction events that involve fundraising for a disease or illness
  • A social before a sporting event
  • A fine arts event
  • An open house for a new office or practice that is opening

There are many more opportunities, but let’s focus upon these four. These four events are activities where you can mingle and engage in conversation with the people there. In these situations, medical professionals usually are willing to have a conversation on a subject of commonality—in other words, someone you both know (in this case, a patient/client) or something you are both fond of (the same piece of art, sport). This connection acts as an ice breaker.

When initiating a conversation, I have tried several approaches that you or your trainers might want to try, such as:

  • “Dr. Jones, let me introduce myself. I am such-and-such, personal trainer at the such-and-such health club, and you were very gracious in responding to my authorization letter. It is nice to meet you.”
  • Or, “Dr. Jones, my client, Mr. Smith, is really grateful for the care you are providing him. Thank you for working with me on his physical care. My name is such-and-such.”

Fortunately, I have lived in the same area all of my life. A local physical therapist had an open house several years ago. She and I had competed in sporting events years ago. We had had a common client/patient, and this physical therapist didn’t truly understand what or how a personal trainer could provide synergy to what she does. I attended her open house and didn’t mention the client/patient, but I reminded her how talented she had been as a basketball player and how tough it had been to play against her, providing a few examples. It indeed broke the ice and provided a common ground that has served us well since then. The opportunity was there, and I stepped out of my comfort box to bridge the professional gap.

Meeting the medical professional in person provides them the correlation to the letter, to the client and will have a lasting memory. In any of these situations, you must be as brief, cordial and professional as possible. If the medical professional wants further conversation, let them initiate the ongoing dialogue.

If the fitness professional feels the conversation has been engaging and positive, now is also the time to encourage the referral reciprocation. For example: “It has been a pleasure meeting you. If there is anyone else in your practice that you believe could benefit from my services, please let me know.” I don’t always provide a business card. It may not be the appropriate time, especially if you are attending a formal function.

After the event, I drop a note in the mail to thank the medical professional for the opportunity to meet them or to visit briefly. At this point, you should again indicate how much you appreciate their interaction and medical direction with the common client or that you hope they might consider your service for a patient in the future. Here is where the business card is most appropriate. Remember, brevity is the key. I like handwritten notes, but typed notes with bullet comments also work. Physicians don’t like to read long paragraphs where they have to dig to get the gist of the message. In fact, they probably won’t read the note if it is too long.

Developing relationships is key with the medical community. Fitness professionals are needed to develop strength, flexibility, cardiovascular conditioning or care after physical therapy services have been exhausted. We have to position ourselves as best as possible.

You may also run into random opportunities to connect with a medical professional. Whether you recognize a voice at the community pool or hear a neurosurgeon checking in at your club, remember that success always comes when preparation meets opportunities. You must be mentally prepared. I have even demonstrated exercises in the middle of the grocery store with a sports medicine doctor.

When the medical professional calls you, sends clients/patients to you, greets you at special events without introduction, you know that your networking has been successful. Stay focused and professional, and continue to meet the opportunities. They only await us.

Wendy Williamson, PhD, is a nationally sought-after speaker in the areas of general personal training education, medical exercise service and post-rehabilitation. She was recognized by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2005 and 2006 as one of the top three personal trainers in the nation. A contributing author of the 2008 Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist–ACE Training Textbook, Williamson routinely writes and reviews national certification testing criteria for personal trainers. She has an extensive track record in teaching and curriculum development and is the owner of Williamson Fitness Consulting (http://www.williamsonfitness.com). Williamson continues to provide hands-on post-rehabilitation training at Genesis Health Clubs in Wichita, KS.