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The education you didn’t get in medical school
The education you didn’t get in medical school
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Dov Weiss, an anesthesiologist, relied on the financial expertise of an RBC Healthcare specialist when setting up his new pain-management clinic in downtown Toronto.
PHOTO: THOMAS BOLLMANN

THE EDUCATION YOU DIDN’T GET IN MEDICAL SCHOOL

Many doctors turn to financial experts for help to launch and run their medical clinics

When Marjorie Dixon, a doctor of reproductive medicine, presented her idea for a world-class, full-service fertility centre in Toronto to her bank in 2014, they seemed underwhelmed. “They said it was too big a risk and they wanted me to have financial partners,” she recalls.

She then spoke to a healthcare specialist at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) who called her plan “amazing.”

“That was the first time someone looked at my past and how I had managed, and believed in me,” she recalls. RBC then enabled her launch with the business loan she needed for equipment, renovations and staff — at a competitive rate — and additional support from its healthcare specialist team, who offer a suite of services as well as expertise to help medical professionals launch and run their businesses. “They really do offer a lot of information,” adds Dr. Dixon.

RBC Healthcare works with both doctors new to business and veterans such as Dr. Dixon, who graduated from medical school in 1997 and started her first venture — a fertility-monitoring business — in 2008.

For the 2016 launch of her clinic, Anova Fertility & Reproductive Health, Dr. Dixon’s RBC Healthcare specialist assisted her with many of the set-up logistics. “I felt like I could bounce ideas off my advisor at any time,” Dr. Dixon says. While she already had a network of suppliers and experts, RBC often had the name of someone she could call to vet products and services.

Dr. Dixon says RBCʼs advice helped her refine her approach to business; she developed a strategic long-term plan for growth, and made sure the organization was set up with strong systems and structures, including airtight financials.

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The clinic launched with nine staff members, and now has 80, in an expanded location. Dr. Dixon has done it all with business skills she picked up at work and through professional advisors. “I learned business gradually,” Dr. Dixon says. “I always say it took me 15 years to become an overnight success.”

Despite the fact that doctors need business skills to run their clinics or to excel in jobs such as hospital administration, most learn nothing about spreadsheets, payroll, marketing or strategy during their medical training.

“Money is a dirty word in medical school,” says Dov Weiss, an anesthesiologist who recently opened his own pain-management clinic, Painless Medicine and Therapeutics, in downtown Toronto. “There’s zero education in terms of personal financial planning, clinic financial planning. There’s not even data given out to show the relative incomes of various specialties.”

While a limited number of medical schools now offer practice-management courses, which provide guidance on running a clinic, and there are now combined medicine and master of business administration programs, the vast majority of practising doctors weren’t exposed to this training and don’t know a thing about business. But many want to know more and build out a network of support too.

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PHOTO: THOMAS BOLLMANN

“Doctors are very smart and very skilled at what they do, but medical school doesn’t really cover the business side of medicine,” says Hurriya Burney, Vice-President, Healthcare at RBC in Vancouver.

RBC Healthcare excels at helping doctors launch new ventures, she says. “There are so many moving pieces. One of the things we do is get the right expert to the table.”

Healthcare specialists have access to professionals in various departments in the bank, as well as a network of third-party contacts. They can connect doctors to representatives in commercial and personal banking, but also lawyers, contractors, point-of-sale companies and human resources professionals.

Along with arranging loans, of course, these specialists bring extensive knowledge of the healthcare industry to the table. They work regularly with physicians and others to launch clinics, and they know what works. “We have best practices based on experience,” Burney says.

After graduating from medical school in 2003 and before opening his own business in April, Dr. Weissʼs experience was limited to a hospital setting. “Prior to this, I had zero involvement in the business side of medicine,” he says.

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But his idea for a multidisciplinary pain clinic required him to learn a wide range of skills, and fast. “Every day has been educational,” he says. “There’s not been a single day when I didn’t learn something new about finance or the healthcare system or logistics.”

He turned to RBC because he’d been banking with them since he was a child. He says the healthcare specialist team offered him the kind of comprehensive support he needed. “They’ve just been integral to everything.”

Because he had no business track record, he says his healthcare specialist was crucial in the early days to prove to vendors he was serious. For instance, he needed a business credit card, but couldn't get one on his own, as he didn’t yet have a lease on a location or a business address. His specialist made it happen.

From there, it was a dizzying array of new tasks: signing a lease, organizing renovations, buying equipment, finding a point-of-sale system, setting up the books, hiring staff and more. “She was available at every step to make sure I was on track,” Dr. Weiss says of his specialist. “They’ve also been very good at keeping my anxiety level down.”

The RBC Healthcare team also makes sure clients running their own businesses get guidance around the importance of managing their personal finances too. For Dr. Dixon, that meant taking all her personal banking products, which were at a number of different banks, and amalgamating them at RBC. Once together, her specialist noted gaps in her insurance and retirement planning. “I hadn’t appraised all the bits and pieces,” says Dr. Dixon, who soon had a comprehensive plan in place.

Meanwhile, Dr. Weiss got married and his wife had twins when plans for the clinic were in full swing. “My advisor was good at creating a balance between short-term and long-term planning, and tailoring a program to my risk tolerance,” he says.

While medical professionals need considerable support at start-up, once their business is up and running, they still need advice for keeping things on track and planning for expansions. For physicians such as Dr. Weiss, that’s key, as he plans to open more clinics one day, all with professional guidance. “In the early days, I tried to limit my panicked calls to my advisor to every other day or so,” he says. “But now she’s available any time, and she’s just a call or e-mail away.”

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser.
The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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