Joel Makovicka runs his physical therapy business like a football team.
As president of Makovicka Physical Therapy, which is set to open its 14th location, he knows he can’t be everywhere at once, so he needs assistant coaches he can trust.
“You hire great people as the head coach and you don’t micromanage,” the former Husker said. “You let the offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator do what they were hired to do and you kind of oversee everything. There’s a lot of parallels I use in business that I learned from being a part of such a successful football program.”
Makovicka doesn’t treat patients anymore. Instead, he oversees the management and expansion side of the business. But he still tries to get to each location and talk to the patients, because, after all, that’s one of the reasons he became a physical therapist.
“You get to know people in this field because you’re part of their lives three days a week, sometimes six weeks out of the year if they’ve had surgery or been involved in some sort of accident,” he said. “It was a way to connect with people.”
And in the football-crazy state of Nebraska, his time as a Husker during the program’s glory days tends to be a talking point.
“That comes up whenever I’m in one of our locations,” he said.
As a fullback from 1994-98, Makovicka was a member of one of the greatest five-year runs in college football history. The Huskers went 58-6 over that period and won three national championships.
Those achievements drove him to continue to be successful in life after football.
“I wanted to continue to be a leader of a team, of an organization, and use my talents that way,” the Brainard native said. “It was something I was always driven to do — to create a successful business.”
Makovicka spent a year as a coach under Al Groh at Virginia after retiring from the NFL in 2002, but he was always looking toward the health care field.
During his Nebraska days, Makovicka majored in biological sciences, which could branch out into many different health care fields.
During two-a-days in 1998, his senior season, Makovicka took the Medical College Admission Test and thought about going to medical school.
But the NFL came calling.
After being selected in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft, Makovicka spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before retiring. After one year at Virginia, Makovicka was ready to come home.
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“I had been away from Nebraska for long enough,” he said. “I wanted to come back.”
With his father, John, being a physical therapist and exposure to physical therapy throughout his career as a football player, Makovicka decided to enroll in Creighton University's physical therapy program in the summer of 2005.
“It was a natural transition to go into a field where I could help athletes, as well as geriatrics to pediatrics,” the 41-year-old said.
During his time at Creighton, Makovicka met Natalie Harms. After he graduated with a doctorate degree in 2008, the pair joined forces to form Makovicka/Harms Group and opened their first location in Omaha a year later.
With the 14th location coming, they aren't showing any signs of slowing down.
“We’ll continue to grow,” Makovicka said. “We’ve not grown out of necessity, but out of opportunity. We’ve had unbelievable therapists come on board with goals of directing their own clinic and being a leader of a location.”
One of those therapists is Cory Sylliaasen, who helped open practices in Valley, Wahoo, Waverly and Yutan.
“Our mindset right now is to continue to grow and provide services for areas that maybe don’t have quality physical therapy services,” Makovicka said. “That’s what we’ll continue to do because people are staying active later on in life, whether it’s wanting to play golf or do things that they love. They want to stay active and we’re one of the ways to help them do that.”
To maintain that growth, Makovicka keeps a close eye on issues that might impact his business. No. 1 on his list right now is health care, a divisive issue in Congress.
“It is a huge topic, and one that I think a lot of people know more about than they did five or six years ago,” he said.
With President Donald Trump and other Republicans looking to replace the Affordable Care Act, Makovicka is watching closely to see what the alternatives might be.
“You have to be up-to-date and up-to-speed,” he said. “If it does get repealed and replaced, what are they going to replace it with and how does that affect physical therapy moving forward, as well as how does it affect Americans with current insurance plans, Americans that don’t have insurance plans?”
Like other Americans, Makovicka must wait to see what happens and be ready to adapt to the ever-changing health care plans.
“Hopefully it brings about good change and we will be ready to change with it,” he said.