Flexibility is everything

June Tait looks a little wistful when describing her high school dreams. More than anything, she wanted to become a doctor.

But her guidance counselor squelched that idea by telling Tait what a shame it would be to go through so much schooling only to have to stop practicing medicine once she had children.

Tait, now 53, didn’t question that sobering statement then, in a time when options were more limited for women. Instead, she pursued a career in physical therapy—“a different direction in health care and helping people,” she says.

“It was love at first sight for me when I saw a picture of a physical therapist working with a disabled child,” she recalls. “I shadowed a PT and loved it, and I’ve loved it ever since.”

But being dissuaded against pursuing her first career choice did have an impact—it has a lot to do with why Tait has gone out of her way to accommodate employee schedules at Scarborough Physical Therapy Associates, the business she’s owned for the past 22 years.

For her, being creative and flexible to meet employees’ needs has never been hard.

“Happy people make happy employees,” she says. “I needed flexibility and recognized that others did, too. I’ve run this business so that we can be really good parents and really good professionals. Family comes first, so I don’t see why you can’t leave at noon to have a tea party at school with your daughter and then come back. I’m transparent and honest when I can’t do something, but if we can make it work, why not?”

As a result, one of Tait’s employees starts seeing patients at 6:30 a.m., which works well for those who appreciate pre-workday appointments. Another works a four-day week. Others revise their summer schedules when kids aren’t in school—and so on.

“I’ve asked employees to tell me their dream schedule. One said she wanted to work two 10-hour days and two five-hour days to minimize how much she needed to use daycare. And we made it work. It takes creativity to stay in business!”

Tait also is open about use of her homey, inviting workspace on Route 1. One employee operates a side yoga business on-site, and Tait said yes when her longtime mentor asked if he could run a part-time manual therapy practice there. He wanted good company in his final years of practice.

“The bottom line is that people need to get good care. I don’t believe in competition, and I loved having him around,” explains Tait, who says her unconventional operating ways work. Her employees stick around. A few have been with her since almost the get-go in 1994, when Tait and a fellow physical therapist branched out on their own.

“I surrounded myself with people who knew more than me, went to the Small Business Administration to get help writing a business plan, and will be forever grateful to Maine Bank & Trust for believing in my plan and getting me going.”

Proving naysayers, like the boss she was leaving, wrong also provided incentive to succeed. He looked at her as she was leaving and said, “You. Will. Fail.”

“Yes, we were young and naïve and idealistic, but what I wanted to say to him was ‘Hey! You don’t know me very well!’ I was raised to never be afraid of hard work, and it was a lot of hard work! A lot of 14-hour days, while also raising kids. But we did good work, physicians liked us, and it grew. We started with two people and I have 18 now.”

Tait credits her husband Jim—an air-traffic controller she met on a blind date—with seeing her through all ups and downs. “He worked nights and weekends, so he was the one going on play dates with my girlfriends and their kids.”

Those kids, Ian and Madi, are 22 and 18 now, and both have worked at her business over the years. They’ve motivated her, through unexpected valleys, including when her partner bowed out after eight years, and during lean years that followed the 2008 financial crisis.

“I’m a forever optimist and chose not to let anyone go, and it was difficult. But what goes down comes back up, right?”

Staying positive and taking care of herself is a priority, Tait says. She insists on  keeping her physical therapy clinic focused on the whole person, offering classes in senior fitness, yoga, pilates and barre, for example, in addition to hands-on therapy. She applies this holistic approach to herself, too, staying fit through hiking, running, kayaking, yoga and long walks, and following one daily ritual.

Each morning, before getting out of bed, she does five minutes of deep breathing, giving gratitude and reminding herself that “some days are diamonds—and some are not.”

Patricia McCarthy is a writer and editor. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).

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