From Birth to Renewal

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

Dr. Susan Sklar, MD wanted to be a doctor since she was fifteen years old. She knew she wanted a career where she could be of service, and considered being a teacher. Her mother, a survivor of the Great Depression, told her doctors never went hungry. Convinced that she had found a calling that was both secure and enabled her to be of service, Susan earned her medical degree and practiced Obstetrics and Gynecology for over 30 years.

Her relationship with patients was deeply satisfying. Susan liked helping people feel better, enabling them to become healthier, and making an emotional connections. It was satisfying for her to reassure people and reduce their worry. But while the medical side of her work was satisfying, the business side was stressful. Forms, billing, insurance, and regulations meant more time focusing on paperwork and less time for patients. The overhead necessary to handle all the paperwork meant she had to see more patients to break even, reducing the time spent per patient and squeezing the relationship-building Susan valued. The frustration built up over ten years, but eventually, Susan felt like a rat on a wheel.

Susan was afraid she would have to leave medicine in order to get away from the aspects of her practice that were driving her crazy. That was a frightening prospect, because after investing so much time in her education and building her practice, she wasn’t really equipped to do something outside of medicine. She wanted to be engaged with people in a helping field, and still have financial success. Then her son introduced Susan to another doctor who specialized in anti-aging medicine. This field of restoring poor health and promoting healthy longevity through prevention fit Susan’s professional interests as well as her own stage of life.

Susan was intrigued. This was an emerging medical specialty that was relatively new on the market. Most people didn’t know what it was. Susan liked the emphasis on helping patients in ways they didn’t dream they could be helped. Because anti-aging medicine tends to be direct-pay, that reduced Susan’s frustration with paperwork and insurance.

Susan was sixty years old, with a lot invested in her long-time career. She weighed her options carefully. She needed to finance her education in anti-aging medication and set up her new practice. One way would be to borrow from her retirement accounts and get bank loans. Borrowing from her retirement accounts and taking on debt was scary. The other option was to work part-time for the Veterans Administration. That would keep her from needing to tap into her savings, but it would slow down her progress. Susan felt a strong desire to begin learning and growing. That need for fulfillment won out over the risks, and Susan let go of the part-time opportunity to embrace her new calling wholeheartedly.

Going into anti-aging medicine meant Susan had to do new medical training. It took her a year to learn the medicine. But what was really new was the need to market her specialty and educate prospective clients that the types of services and the benefits they produced even existed. Everyone knew what an OB/GYN doctor did and what type of medicine and services obstetrics/gynecology included. But anti-aging medicine was so new, the people who needed it most didn’t know that help was even available.

Susan didn’t know anything about marketing, branding, or social media because her former specialty had not required her to focus on promotion. “It took me one year to learn the medicine and five to seven years to learn marketing,” Susan says. “It was faster to learn the medicine than the marketing!” Her new practice started out slowly, but Susan was motivated by the results she saw. She was helping people feel better and turning lives around. Gradually, word of mouth spread. Susan found experts to help her with marketing, and also found a mentor who directed her training and helped her develop a workable salary.

Susan was fortunate to be able to tap into savings and apply for loans to finance her switch. Her husband’s income was an additional safety net. “The first three or four years were really hard,” she says. All told, it took eight years to get what Susan considered to be very good cash flow, but she began to take a salary comparable to her old income at five years. Now she is practicing a type of medicine that she loves, helping patients and continuing to learn and grow as a person while meeting her financial goals.

Susan loved the core aspects of what she did—helping people, seeing results, making people better. The industry infrastructure, such as insurance paperwork and regulatory demands took her away from the core aspects she found fulfilling and produced enough stress that she thought about walking away altogether. What is noteworthy is that she found a way to make a strategic pivot that enabled her to keep the core aspects she loved—medicine and helping people—and do it in a setting that had far fewer of the pieces she found frustrating.

Did you notice that Susan was sixty years old when she decided to go back for additional medical training, strike out in a new medical field, and start a whole new practice? It’s never too late to follow your heart and find your Fresh Start Success!

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