Updated March 27 at 8:27pm

Success thanks to lifelong need to build a business

By John A. Lahtinen
PBN Staff Writer

The blood of an entrepreneur has always coursed through Michael Nula’s veins.

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Success thanks to lifelong need to build a business


The blood of an entrepreneur has always coursed through Michael Nula’s veins.

In fact, you could say that the Elite Physical Therapy owner has been preparing for this role his entire life.

As a 12-year-old growing up in Newport, Nula’s father urged him to knock on doors around his neighborhood offering to rake leaves, cut lawns, shovel snow – any odd job that needed doing. Nula, who loved being his own boss, quickly found himself taking care of many of his neighbor’s homes right on through high school.

Early during his senior year, Nula began experiencing severe knee pain that resulted in his having to miss the entire basketball season to instead receive physical-therapy treatments at a local hospital.

“At that time, private physicaltherapy practice was not popular or really in existence,” Nula said. “Although I was devastated in not being able to participate in my final year of high school basketball, having always loved the human sciences and then being inspired by my physical therapist, I realized that I wanted to pursue physical therapy.”

From that moment forward, Nula dedicated himself to becoming a physical therapist and creating and owning his own vibrant practice.

Shortly after graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in biology, and looking to save money for grad school, Nula took a role as a high school biology teacher and girl’s basketball coach at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket.

Two years later, he met Lisa, his future wife.

Feeling the time was right to continue his education, Nula returned to URI to complete his master’s degree in physical therapy. He also became an instructor in the biological-sciences department, teaching human anatomy and physiology laboratory, and married Lisa.

After earning his degree and working for a large health care organization as an orthopedic physical therapist at HealthSouth Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation in Warwick for a couple of years, Nula took the leap and created Elite Physical Therapy in 2002 with its first office in Warwick.

“Inherently being an entrepreneur, I always knew that I would own my own business someday,” said Nula. “I had a clear vision of what is important to me in terms of feeling fulfilled, inspired and passionate at what I do.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Ten years later, having added a doctorate in physical therapy from Temple University to his resume in 2009, Nula says business at Elite is strong. The company has grown to four locations, adding offices in Providence, Coventry and East Greenwich.

Elite’s service offerings include back and neck pain, auto/work injuries, sports injuries, arthritis, children’s physical therapy, women’s health, surgical rehabilitation, aqua therapy, shoulder/knee pain, and foot/ankle pain.

In the past three years alone, Elite has experienced more than 40 percent in revenue growth, and its staff has grown from 27 to 55 full-time employees.

Growth is great, but what sets Elite apart from its competitors?

“We do everything the patient needs to get better,” said Jason Harvey, vice president of operations and a physical therapist at Elite. “We are flexible to their needs [such as offering early-morning and later-evening appointments], we care enough to listen and acknowledge, we hustle to get patients what they need, we out-class others with professionalism mixed with a family atmosphere, and we out-service any other practice by keeping everything we do centered around improving the patients’ health.”

“Improving their condition is only one piece of the puzzle. Our clinicians have incredible skill with advanced training not only in the latest treatment techniques but also in communication and how to provide exceptional service to each and every patient.”

It is that dedication and attention to detail that Nula says he looks for in the people he brings onboard to work for him.

The hiring process involves three interviews by different leaders, testing, background and reference checks.

“We are always looking for kind, caring and professional individuals who are passionate about helping people,” Nula said. “We hire on positive attitude and personality, and are dedicated to not just filling a position, but rather hiring the most qualified candidate possible for the position.”

The personal attention doesn’t stop once a new hire is brought on board.

Elite keeps its employees energized with annual and quarterly staff-excellence awards; community events, including the Light the Night Leukemia Walk, Arthritis Foundation Walk, Little League baseball sponsorship, and support for after-school programs for children; intramural athletics; monthly staff performance bonuses; as well as summer and holiday staff-celebration events.

Equally popular are Elite’s in-house education workshops and continuing-education courses, available to every staff member.

Each month, administrative and clinical present in-services/workshops to further enhance the staff’s customer service, patient compliance, communication and treatment knowledge skills.

“I place a high value and priority in learning and enhancing one’s knowledge and professional skills,” Nula said. “I like the effect that our in-house education workshops and courses provide for our team. I enjoy seeing the camaraderie, increased communication, certainty and shared purpose among the group following these experiences.”

“Each time, I immediately see the positive effect it has not only on the entire staff, but in the quality care, service and results that we deliver to our patients and local doctors.”

Elite recently completed the application process necessary to host nationally recognized treatment technique and diagnostic-assessment skills continuing-education courses for credit – the only place in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut to host these types of courses, which are accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association and open to physical therapists around the country.

Even with all the success and positive momentum, Nula, not one to rest on his laurels, has definite plans for the future.

In the end, for Nula it all comes down to making a difference in people’s lives – his patients and his colleagues alike.

“To me, Elite Physical Therapy represents so much more than a place where people enjoy coming to work, and that people come to improve their health. It represents everything that is good about society, professionalism, good manners, compassion, dedication, hard work and helping others,” he said.

Harvey said there is no better person for the job.

“Michael has an incredible unwavering vision of what our profession can be,” Harvey said. “He has a tremendous passion for helping people, educating everyone and always doing the right thing for each patient.”•


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