After weeks, maybe months, of hearing stories from colleagues about how overwhelmed, terrified, frozen and lost they are, I'm back to writing the stories of those who have been there, done that and made it through the other side brighter than ever. Many of my friends in healthcare feel like they have to know 'everything' before they're able to get out there and practice the medicine they know they were born to practice. Their 'analysis paralysis' leads them down a rabbit hole of comparison, surfing the net to see all who have done it and feeling like an impostor, isolation and once again fear. A few years ago, I met Dr. Todd. He was a Family Practice doc who was so fed up and frustrated with the conventional system, he decided to go off on his own. It was when I first started doing my research on the way to become an independent and his advice was so simple yet profound. "Just get out there and do it". He found an office to lease, a couple massage therapy tables, a free electronic medical record, the basics and began his practice. He wrote a blog talking about different acute and chronic illnesses for people to read and learn and on the same site he had a scheduling system. It was easy to get in to see him. He provided his community tons of resources and availability. Todd even had an agreement with a pharmacy, imaging center and labs, so that his patients would get discounted rates. I sent anyone who didn't have insurance to him. If you go on his yelp, he's a superstar according to everyone who saw him. And then he disappeared. Why? I don't know. I reached out to him last year and he never responded. I think it's because he didn't have the community to lift him up when things got tough, which they inevitably do. That's what I'm building here and with the Well Collective events. That's what Dr. Ashley Maltz is building with her facebook group, Austin Wellness Collaborative. That's what people around the world are building for their friends, colleagues and themselves. It's imperative to have a tribe on the journey towards entrepreneurship and independence. Find your healer family and love them hard.
So back to Jennifer and her story. I met Dr. Jennifer Zomnir through Dr. Wible, who is known as the "Physician Guardian Angel". We did an email interview last year for my series, Reinventing Primary Care and here's what she said:
1. Why did you go into medicine in the first place?
I truly wanted to help people. I have a passion for making people feel better. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to say “I want to help people” in your medical school interviews, but why in world would anyone go into medicine for any reason other than that? If that’s not your primary objective, then medicine is probably not for you. I actually did say that in one medical school interview, and the doctor said, “You’re going to have to come up with something better than that.” Luckily I struck a cord with my next interviewer and was accepted.
2. What type of practice were you in before you started Zomnir Family Medicine?
I was in a large physician network. We accepted insurance and Medicare. It was, and still is, a busy practice. I would see about 18-25 patients daily. I would spend evenings and weekends catching up on charts. I like to spend time with my patients, but in that type of practice, the more time you spend with your patients means the more time you spend after hours catching up on all the paperwork. It’s a no-win scenario.
3. Is Zomnir Family Medicine your main practice?
Yes, I own this practice and spend the majority of my week there. I also care for patients at a local residential eating disorders program. Occasionally I’ll work a shift at a local urgent care clinic as well.
4. Why did you switch from traditional primary care?
It makes me sad to think that the current way of practicing medicine is now called “traditional.” When I think of traditional medicine, I think of your small town doctor that knows you personally and cares about you like family. Unfortunately, the current insurance-based system doesn’t allow for that level of care. There simply is not enough time. I switched to my current model so I could spend time with patients without feeling rushed. I wanted to enjoy medicine again.
5. Were you afraid?
Of course I was afraid. I had a good paying job at one of the most prestigious clinics in the area. My colleagues were my friends. It was easier to stay and try to improve my efficiency, reduce the time I spent talking with patients, push harder in between patients to complete office notes, rush through phone messages, refill requests and consult notes, drink more coffee, stand instead of sit. You name it, I tried it. I worked this way through both my pregnancies. My first pregnancy, I worked up to the day I went into labor. For my second pregnancy, I had repeated bouts of bleeding, contractions, and threatened pre-term labor until my OB told me, “you can either work, or be pregnant.” I had to go on strict bed rest for 6 weeks. Even then, I really didn’t realize the stress I was putting on my body. It wasn’t until my second child was 5 months old did I realize the madness of my pace. I was driving to work one morning and realized that he was already 5 months old, and I basically had missed the most important parts of those 5 months. That was my “pain point.” The point where the pain of staying at my current job was greater than the fear of leaving.
6. Most of my colleagues, who I encourage to escape from under the assembly line medicine thumb, continue to tell me medicine without insurance companies can't be done. Did these types of people exist on your journey?
Oh yes! The whole system is set up to receive payment from insurance companies. The patients are their insurance cards. Their illnesses are turned into billable codes. Their office visit is measured by time and complexity based on insurance standards. It doesn’t make sense to patients. Doctors are caught in the middle trying to be compliant with insurance rules but also care for their patients in the best way possible.
7. Did you have a business consultant? Did you write a business plan?
Pamela Wible, MD is my mentor. I attended several of her conferences and followed her advice. I did not have formal business plan.
8. Are you practicing medicine the way you always envisioned you would?
Yes, it’s actually better than I originally imagined.
8. What advice would you give to med students? Residents? Established PCPs? Trust yourself! You do not have to work for someone else. Keep your overhead low, stay out of debt, focus on your dream and don’t stray from that goal. It’s easy to get drawn into the higher salary job offers, but you’ll give up so much of your life in that type of job.
9. What is your philosophy about medicine and health?
I believe the body can heal and we should help it heal naturally as often as possible. We should focus on mental, spiritual and physical health as a whole.
Erica Benedicto has been writing about healers stories since the beginning of time. Here she hopes you get inspiration to make the leap to being the change we wish to see in healthcare.