As a mother of three teenage girls, a wife and founder of the concierge medical practice located in Scottsdale, AZ, Dr. Susan Wilder inspires health and vitality for patients with her gentle, caring approach, admirable experience and medical knowledge. Her passion and mission continues to provide a positive and healing environment that is patientcentered and focuses on getting to the root causes of the symptoms rather than medicating them.
Dr. Wilder candidly shares the challenges she faced and overcame within the medical field, what she so passionately loves to do and how she was able to cross off an item on her bucket list when she was named Mom-e Club’s “2012 Mom Entrepreneur of the Year”.
Share with us a little bit about yourself.
I am the sixth of seven children to two very entrepreneurial parents. I am the mother of three daughters. My oldest just turned 18 and my twins are 13 years old. I have been married to my husband, Bob for almost 25 years. We’ve been together since my first day in college. We met 32 years ago at Washington University. So, it’s pretty strange to send my first daughter off to college thinking she may meet her spouse right off the bat! Since I was about 11 or 12 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a family doctor. I was in the Air Force for medical school and served 7 years of active duty and 4 years of reserved. In October 2003, after some time in the Mayo Clinic, I started my own practice called, Lifescape Medical.
Tell us about your business, Lifescape Medical.
Lifescape Medical was my dream practice. I was really becoming very disenchanted with the practice of medicine. In the insurance-based system, our costs kept on increasing and we were getting reimbursed less and less. So, it was becoming kind of a hamster wheel type of thing where we had to see more and more patients in less time while medicine was becoming more complex. There were many more diagnostic and treatment options. The knowledge and skill to practice medicine was becoming unwieldy, but at the same time we had less time to deal with any specific patient. So, it was an equation for disaster.
My husband has a JD MBA and I have a very visionary and idealistic sense of the way medicine should be practiced. So, between the two of us, we would give this new business a whirl, be financially creative and figure out a way to create a practice that’s truly patient-centered, where we spend the time it takes to really get to know the patients and get to the root causes of their symptoms rather than just medicate the surface of them.
I think where medicine has gone astray is when we just start throwing prescriptions at symptoms. We really have the ability if we have the time to get to know, work with and inspire patients to healthier lifestyles. When we can get to some of these underlying root causes, we can obliterate those symptoms and cure them. We can cure diabetes and heart disease. We can resolve insomnia and mood disorders rather than just medicate them forever.
It’s been hard financially, but it’s been really rewarding personally and professionally to have patients come back the next year and review their problem list to discover they no longer have those symptoms they were experiencing when they last saw me. To me, that’s the hole in one that keeps us playing this game.
What was your biggest challenge in starting your medical practice?
I’ve made a couple of big mistakes. The number one mistake was believing I could work with the insurance system and get paid fairly for the work we do while creating a patient-centered practice. That was just not financially feasible. The insurance system is a socialized system. It’s set up to directly profit the insurance industry and doesn’t reward quality service or a healing environment. As a physician with over 20 years of experience and board scores in the 99th percentile with great demand, I got paid the same as somebody who just spits out a residency, who paid for their degree in the Caribbean and who just barely passed their boards.
I don’t think many people understand that medicine in the insurance-based system is not a free market in any way shape or form. Also, it’s not a market that rewards what’s really important to patients. To win in this system, you have to see more patients in less time. In my opinion, you can’t successfully practice truly patient-centered medicine in an insurance-centered environment.
The other mistake I made was starting very large. I started with five brand new doctors right out of residency and supported them while they were growing their practice. It was a very large overhead. For many, many years, it was financially tough for us.
Throughout these challenges, especially in the early years, what kept you going?
I would say, number one, my husband has just been incredibly supportive. His parents have been extremely supportive of us, what we were doing and of the dream. We always kept our mission, which is to inspire health as the core central focus. I think that is critical.
My kids have been incredibly supportive. They help out with the practice. They used to come with me on home visits or to see newborns in the hospital or hospice visits. They know a lot of my patients. The practice is part of our family. I think that has been sustaining. It’s a part of us. We call it our most expensive child.
And our patients have been incredibly rewarding. When I made the very difficult decision to go off insurance a couple of years ago, I expected an angry backlash from many of my patients. Well, I was shocked. So many of my patients, even those who couldn’t afford to stay with me, told me that I deserved and needed to do this and they supported my decision. They appreciated what I did and what I created.
What really keeps me going is when my patients say, “All my other doctors monitor my deterioration. You actually inspired my health and you treasure patients.” And that’s what we do.
What is your biggest reward running your business?
Seeing patients get incrementally healthy year after year. And they may not even notice that their muscles don’t ache anymore or they’re not complaining about that knee anymore. These are subtle things. It doesn’t get big press when you steer somebody off the path of becoming a diabetic. But, to me, that’s huge.
Congrats on winning the Mom-e Club’s 2012 Mom Entrepreneur of the Year Award!
Oh yes! That was so much fun. I get to check off “wearing a tiara” off my bucket list. But I am still so shocked about it to be honest with you. There were so many incredible and inspiring moms and stories. And wow…I’m still kind of pinching myself about it. It’s a really nice honor. My mom was proud and that’s a great thing, because she’s been a terrific inspiration to me. And my kids had fun with it. After the whole weekend of wearing the tiara, they were saying, “Ok mom. Enough!” They sure keep me humble.
What top advice would you give a mom starting her journey as an entrepreneur?
Number one, take care of yourself. That means sleep, exercise, even if it’s for 10 minutes a day. Learn to use your time bites to breathe, such as when you’re stuck on hold on the phone. Use that time to do some deep breathing. Every time I tell a patient to take some deep breathes, I take some with them. Use those time bites to exercise. How many times do we drop a kid off for practice and we just sit there? Instead, walk around the field or walk with another mom and talk. You don’t have to be stuck at a desk. Do a walking meeting instead.
Number two, keep your overhead low. Start small and go slow.
What do you do to maintain balance in your life?
I do deep breathing, meditation for at least 5 minutes a day. I start and end my day doing a gratitude meditation and think about all the things I’m grateful for. I walk everyday. I eat healthy. And, I mentioned before, I use my time bites to do some deep breathing throughout each day.
I try to compartmentalize the cell phone. I think that all of us get absorbed by being on-call 24/7 and that gets a little hard. But there are times where I will just put the cell phone away such as dinnertime.
Share something about yourself that would surprise people who know you.
It might surprise people that I used to be very shy and easily intimidated. I used to let people walk all over me. I think people would not see me that way anymore.