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what i’m doing with my mba

Shahin Pourgol opened the first National Academy of Osteopathy in Toronto in 2010, followed by locations in Madrid and, most recently, Naples, Fla.

This story is the ninth in a series that features students and graduates who are using their MBAs and EMBAs in unique fields other than the traditional ones of finance or consulting.

Shahin Pourgol had two options: fight in the 1980s' Iran-Iraq war or emigrate to a country where he could get a proper education. He chose to be educated.

Heeding his father's advice that he should emigrate to a country where English is the predominate language, the Iran native moved to Canada in 1986. Toronto appealed to him, in particular, because it was the headquarters of the International Taekwon-Do Federation.

In Iran, Dr. Pourgol was a tae kwon do champion, and he assumed that in Toronto he'd be surrounded by similarly minded fanatics of his favourite sport. He understood his mistake almost immediately upon landing.

"Not everyone did tae kwon do, not as many as who practise it in Iran," he says. "I saw that it was just a little community here. It wasn't that important."

It was a moot point, anyway. Soon after arriving in Toronto, he suffered a knee injury that shattered his hopes of climbing the elite levels of tae kwon do.

He was 20 at the time, and his English was almost non-existent. He says he enrolled as a mature student at Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute and after two years had mastered the language well enough to proceed to Ryerson University, where he took biology and applied chemistry. His academic average was 97 per cent, the highest in his class.

"I wanted to be a doctor," he says. "This is the dream of every young person in Iran. But I needed to find something where there wasn't any blood. I don't like the sight of blood."

His options were optometry and chiropractic, the latter catching his interest more because of his love of sport and personal experience with skeletal injury.

He says he enrolled at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in north Toronto, emerging four years later with a licence to practice. He worked first in an established clinic in the city's Little Portugal neighbourhood.

He was so taken by the people he treated that he began travelling to Portugal, where eventually he says he became the chiropractor for the Football Club of Porto, a top-tier team in Portugal's Primeira Liga.

Back in Toronto, after five years working for someone else, Dr. Pourgol opened his own rehab clinic in 2005. He hired other chiropractors to fill the practice, and when it was up and running efficiently, he recommited to what he first came to Canada to do: school.

His studies as a chiropractor had introduced him early on to osteopathy, a branch of medicine that looks at the relationship of the body's structure to its function. The practice was established in 1874, giving rise to chiropractic medicine, a breakaway discipline, which originated in 1895. Intrigued, Dr. Pourgol pursued osteopathy programs in the United States and in Europe.

In 2006, he says he received his diploma in manual osteopathy, a technique using hands-on palpitations which is distinct from medical osteopathy where new technologies are employed to treat injury and disease.

Dr. Pourgol says he retired as a chiropractor in 2014, four years after the College of Chiropractors of Ontario disciplined him for "professional misconduct," according to College documents, after he admitted that he used "names other than his name as set out in the College's register in the course of providing or offering to provide services within the scope of practice of the profession."

In 2012, the College reprimanded him for calling himself an osteopath, a protected title in Ontario to which only a member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons on Ontario can lay claim.

Jo-Ann Willson, registrar and general counsel for the CCO, could not comment on the disciplinary hearing other than what is reflected in the actual decision. "The college has a public interest mandate," Ms. Willson says. "The CCO has a complaints and discipline procedure designed to ensure a thorough and fair investigation of any accusation of professional misconduct consistent with the requirements of the Regulated Health Professions Act."

In 2013, Dr. Pourgol says he enrolled in an MBA program with the aim of turning his osteopathy training into a viable business.

That business would be a school where he could teach students about osteopathy, and also how to promote the benefits of the healing technique in their own communities. He opened the first National Academy of Osteopathy in Toronto in 2010, followed by locations in Madrid and, most recently, Naples, Fla.

The Toronto academy has an annual enrolment of 40 students on average, each paying around $12,000 a year in tuition. The Toronto classes take place on site, in a 3,000-square-foot former storage building located just off Highway 407, in the city's northwest end.

The curriculum consists of lectures as well as clinics where on a recent morning students took turns lying on examining tables while their peers manipulated their skulls, determining the connection to the sacrum. The public can access these clinics and get free treatment from senior students. Dr. Pourgol, 49, is their professor.

It's a fresh approach from which other practitioners in similar fields would have benefited.

"I graduated with the skills to be a great chiropractor within the walls of a clinic, but I lacked the knowledge on how to market my skills and turn them into a successful practice," says Nekessa Remy, a Toronto chiropractor who works at Integra Health Centre in The Exchange Tower. Dr. Remy was not a student of Dr. Pourgol.

"I think a curriculum giving an education in both science and an effective use of social media is a great idea. I wish it had been available when I was a student."

Reza Moridi, Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, also recognizes that what Dr. Pourgol is doing is unique. In a letter that now hangs framed on the academy's entry wall, Mr. Moridi congratulates Dr. Pourgol for safeguarding the health of society while providing an opportunity for a financially rewarding career.

It is estimated that there are 13 other osteopathic schools across Canada. But Dr. Pourgol says his stands out by combining business education with instruction in the healing arts. "I want all my students not only to learn about osteopathy but how to manage their practices effectively," he says.

"I believe if they mix osteopathy with business they can become successful health professionals, and the proof lies with our graduates who fill up their practices within two to three months of graduating. I believe that's because we teach them business principals."

The business courses he teaches at National Academy of Osteopathy mirror what he learned taking a specialized health-care MBA from Madrid-based National University of Medical Sciences, which he founded and owns. He did the program online over a 12-month period. He says he later returned to the university to get his PhD, graduating just weeks ago, in the spring.

The courses he teaches run the gamut from advertising, marketing and public relations to accounting, tax planning and investing. The focus is on small-business marketing.

"I teach business management courses to my health professional students, preparing them for the real life. I teach them how to set up, own and operate a health clinic and how to market and manage it efficiently and effectively," Dr. Pourgol says.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly called Dr. Pourgol a chiropractor – he no longer is – and omitted the College of Chiropractors of Ontario rulings against him and his ownership of National University of Medical Sciences. This is a corrected version of the story.)

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