PFEIFFER SPOTLIGHT: Devoted to hand therapy

In 1977, Bill Walsh of Concord received a B.S. degree in occupational therapy (OT) from the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 2003, he earned a master of health administration/master of business ddministration degree (MHA/MBA) from Pfeiffer University.

This academic background has proven particularly potent for Walsh, 71, who is still working as a senior therapist for BenchMark Physical Therapy. And so has hand therapy, his OT specialty, for which Doris Ann Slack, one of his instructors at the State University of New York at Buffalo, sparked an interest.

“Hands just called to me,” Walsh said. “A lot of what gives you a sense of value is accomplished through your hands, whether it’s touching another life, whether it’s bowling, throwing a ball with somebody or tying your shoes. I’ve derived a lot of satisfaction from helping my patients recapture that value through therapy and other services I’ve provided them.”

Walsh’s journey in the hand therapy space began with a clinical internship at the Philadelphia Hand Rehabilitation Center. It has included OT stints at such places as the Hand Rehabilitation Center at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine and the Duke University Medical Center.

It has gone way beyond helping individuals with hand injuries or with conditions that adversely affect the hands, such as arthritis or Parkinson’s disease.

At BenchMark, for example, he is responsible for launching the clinical operations of hand therapy services within two established clinics in Concord and Salisbury. He has worked to advance the hand therapy specialty, primarily as a researcher and as a lecturer/instructor at several universities. He has put in years of committee and board work for the American Society of Hand Therapists.

Walsh’s greatest achievement in hand therapy has been as an entrepreneur. He founded, directed and served as the managing partner for Hand & Rehabilitation Specialists of NC, LLP, a Greensboro-based practice that he sold to BenchMark in 2014. Under Walsh’s direction, Hand & Rehabilitation Specialists gradually expanded to include five free-standing clinics in the Piedmont Triad that focused on orthopedic rehabilitation and return-to-work services. It came to employ 40 clinical and support staff and to receive referrals from more than 100 physicians.

Walsh credits his entrepreneurial success with the practical know-how he acquired at Pfeiffer. This covered critical areas such as computer systems, strategic planning and personnel management.

“In therapy school, they teach you how to treat patients,” he said. “They don’t necessarily focus on how to develop business acumen and administration skills.”

Walsh spoke at length about his many steps to start and expand his business. One of the most important was contacting the office managers of doctors he had worked with before becoming self-employed and asking for the zip codes of their patients. An analysis of this data determined where he should set up clinics.

At one point, Walsh needed to secure financing from banks. So, he looked up statistics from the North Carolina Department of Labor showing that hand injuries were among the most frequent and common injuries to the body in certain counties.

“I had done the business research to indicate that there was a need for my services and my particular specialization,” he said. “The banks reacted favorably to that.”

Walsh stressed that successful self-employed people must know themselves.

“What’s good about the personality of a self-employed person is what’s good about their business,” he said. “Also, what’s bad about their personality is what sours their business.”

Walsh learned early on to find the right resources and people to shore up his weaknesses.

“I’m a fairly analytical person, but I’m not very intuitive,” Walsh said, citing one example. “Some of my managers knew before I did when somebody was thinking about leaving the company. They just sensed that. Having people who have a better gut check is beneficial because it can lead to adult conversations about certain issues and what can be done about them. The key is having them trust me that there’s not going to be consequences.”

Walsh looks back on his entrepreneurial days with pride and with appreciation for the role that Pfeiffer played in his success.

“The graduate education helped me expand the scope of what I could influence,” he said. “It helped me expand the number of lives I could touch.”