Nesin Physical Therapy puts family to work together in Huntsville

Photos by David Higginbotham

Janet Nesin started Nesin Physical Therapy Services in 1987. At the time, the company, which she ran out of a home office in her basement, did contract work for home health and skilled nursing facilities.

“To be a woman in 1987 starting a private practice, there’s no way a bank is going to consider you a reliable source,” recalls Nesin, who celebrated her 80th birthday in March. When the business took off in its first month, she had to borrow money from her parents to cover the payroll. It was an early lesson in the flexibility running her company would require. Nesin Therapy also celebrated a birthday in March: its 34th.

Both of Janet Nesin’s daughters would eventually come to work with her. “That was not part of my plan,” she insists, “but I’m thrilled at how it’s gone.” Michelle Nesin joined the practice after earning her physical therapy degree from the University of South Alabama in 1989, and Janine Nesin joined after receiving her doctorate of physical therapy in 1996 from Creighton University in Nebraska.

Janine Nesin.

“I was in the first doctoral program in the country,” says Janine Nesin, adding that encouragement she received from her mother and sister to pursue the higher-level degree influenced her decision to join them in the physical therapy profession.

“We represent almost all the levels of [physical therapy] education you could have gotten,” says Michelle Nesin. Janet Nesin received her physical therapy certificate from Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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In 1999, Nesin Therapy began to shift away from contracting services and started running its own outpatient physical therapy clinics. Janine Nesin managed the clinics while her mother continued with contracting work until her retirement in 2003. Today, Janine and Michelle Nesin co-own the company. Janine Nesin serves as CEO and Michelle Nesin is director of education. In addition to their administrative roles, both are still practicing physical therapists. The company runs three clinics in Madison, Southeast Huntsville and Research Park, with a fourth scheduled to open in the Lincoln Mill district of Huntsville in May. That clinic will be the first to employ a male director.

Michelle Nesin.

“All our leaders to date, including clinic directors and the director of business operations, have been women,” says Janine Nesin, who points out that physical therapy has traditionally been a predominantly female profession. That’s part of why one of Janet Nesin’s main goals in founding the company was providing flexible work schedules for her employees, many of whom have been and are working mothers.

It’s no surprise, then, that Nesin Therapy Services regularly wins the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce Best Places to Work Award. Among their other accolades are a Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Ethics and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce 2019 Woman-Owned Business of the Year.

That one stands out particularly for the Nesins. “We have a number of awards,” says Michelle Nesin, who recalls accepting the award on stage with members of their staff. “The most amazing part was standing up there in 2019, and we were all women.”

The sisters agree that being women-owned affects how they conduct their business. As the company continues to grow, they continue to focus on flexibility for their staff. Janine Nesin points out that the past year in particular has highlighted the importance and challenges of that approach. “We’ve been working with our employees in this difficult situation, and it has definitely been a struggle for working mothers. And we understand — we’re also working mothers. You have to understand the struggles your employees are facing.”

Nesin 2020 staff photo taken at their annual state of the union event. Photo courtesy of Nesin Marketing Department.

With 50 employees across three clinics and more expected before the end of the year, the sisters remain committed to maintaining a close-knit staff. “We tend to be very purposeful about trying to maintain a family atmosphere,” says Janine Nesin. “And that’s also been tough during a COVID year because we’re in health care and we have to do as much as we can to mitigate risk.” That has meant sacrificing a lot of the activities that keep their staff connected, including quarterly in-service training and the company’s annual retreat. “Not to mention that we don’t get to go out together on a Friday after work,” she adds.

The Nesin Therapy team also regularly participates in continuing education clinics. Physical therapists who practice in Alabama are required to complete a minimum of 10 hours of continuing education annually. “We regularly complete 70 to 80 hours of continuing education per year,” says Janine Nesin.

“Continuing education has been a major part of this business from the very beginning,” says Janet Nesin, who admires the skills she sees in the people they hire. “I’ve seen so much change in 30 to 35 years of physical therapy, but [education] is still quite a focus. You have to become really good to really take care of your patients.”

“I am so jealous of young therapists who are just entering the profession,” Michelle Nesin adds to her mother’s comment. “They get to work with people who are so knowledgeable. It probably took me 10 years to get to the point they’re starting from.”

Michelle and Janine Nesin regularly teach courses themselves around the country and world. In 2017, the sisters and another staff therapist traveled to Beijing, China, to teach a seven-day course on advanced manual therapy techniques to medical professionals from around the country, including the Chinese Olympic medical staff. The three women represented the Pelvic Education Alliance, an organization Nesin Therapy Services co-founded with Sarton Physical Therapy in Tustin, California. Trips to China became an annual occurrence. Most recently, in the spring of 2019, the sisters and members of the Nesin staff traveled to Fuzhou, China, where they taught physical therapy residents in two local hospitals.

Janet, Michelle and Janine Nesin at their clinic.

For the Nesin family, the opportunity to represent — and experience — their profession on a global level provides valuable vision. “You need diversity and representation to truly be able to have a more comprehensive approach to what you’re doing, whatever it is. [In physical therapy], you’ve got to understand what the client experiences to know what approach you should be taking,” says Janine Nesin. “To best serve [a diverse clientele] you need to have that diversity in your leadership as well.”

It’s a vision they intend to carry with them as they continue to lead their team of therapists.

“When I started my business, it was to be able to control the work I did,” Janet Nesin says. “These days, when I look at the clinics, I look at the quality of the people…. I’m just amazed at the development in physical therapy and where my daughters have taken this.”

This story appears in the May 2021 issue of Business Alabama magazine. 

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