Business and clinical mentors in general practice

Maria Boulton

25/06/2019 12:40:06 PM

GP and practice owner Dr Maria Boulton reflects on some of the best mentors in different aspects of her career.

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Mentors can prove invaluable throughout a career in medicine.

As clinicians, hopefully you have come across some excellent clinical mentors who have given you valuable insights into the medical side of our profession. As a business owner, I have learnt that business mentors are just as valuable in supporting the business side.
When I speak about the subject at conferences, someone always asks me where I found my business mentors.
I have recently become a business mentor myself, as I listen to others who are starting their journey in business and discuss with them some of the lessons I have learnt since starting Family Doctors Plus.
The clinical side
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received from a clinical mentor came when I asked him what I should do about a patient who I thought needed to be admitted to hospital, but who didn’t want to go. My boss and mentor, Dr Andrew O’Neill, replied with his own question, ‘Will it keep you up at night? If the answer is yes, then he should be in hospital’.
Wise words that I have used often in my clinical decision-making, saving me many sleepless nights.
My other clinical mentor to this day, even though I haven’t worked with her for many years, is Dr Margaret Campbell. She has mentored me since my second year of general practice training as I took over her patients’ care. Imagine a general practice registrar in the second of year of training taking over extremely complex patients who were on immunosuppressants, anticoagulants and more, and who worked in a clinic in a regional centre that had few non-GP specialists to ask for help.
Dr Campbell guided me as I quickly upskilled in the management of chronic disease. To this day, I am able to email and discuss anything with her.
It is because of the generosity of my mentors that I felt the need to pay it forward and have supervised both medical students and registrars through the years.
The business side
Three years ago, I co-founded Family Doctors Plus with Dr Fiona Raciti and, as a newly minted business owner, I felt like a junior registrar again – except this time it was in business, not medicine.
I had to quickly upskill in all things marketing, business planning, human resources and more.
I naively thought I could hire people to run the business side of the clinic. I soon realised that does not work, however, as I had to understand where every dollar came from and where every dollar was going. Furthermore, I learnt that a great business culture is not something that happens by accident, you have to work at it.
Fiona and I spent time choosing our extended team of financial advisors, accountants and medical indemnity providers. They have provided us with excellent service and great advice along the way. If you are not getting that from someone in your extended team when you are a practice owner, it may be time to reconsider your relationship with them. We have learnt a lot from our extended team, who are always happy to answer our questions.
We have regular board meetings, where we invite two business mentors to join us. One of our mentors is the director of a successful non-medical start up. The other used to work for one of the largest airline companies in the world.
Their insights are extremely valuable. They analyse our profit and loss reports with us and make suggestions for improvements. Yes, the medical business is very different to other businesses, but the goal is similar – to provide the best customer/patient service for a reasonable cost.
An example of advice from one of our business mentors was to approach our vaccine supplier to ask for a better quote as our vaccine numbers grew. This may seem like a no-brainer to someone who has experience in business, to me it was a practical suggestion that could be actioned immediately and result in cost savings.
Fiona and I are so busy seeing patients and running the business that sometimes we lack the time to think about changes in the business aspects of our practice. This is another valuable lesson I have learnt – the importance of spending time on the business side of the practice.
And now, the answer to the oft-asked question of where I found my business mentors.
The first one is my husband Edward Boulton, whose business, MEC mining, is now 13 years old. His excellent planning skills, business insights and the fact he has been through the same growing pains Fiona and I have all help to make him a great mentor.
The other is our friend Leanne Rooijmans. Leanne has now retired from working with a major airline (which is when we approached her to work with us), and has a background in property management and a deep understanding of customer service.
Fiona and I have also made a point to get out and discuss our journey with others, and have met other GP business owners who we now call friends. We exchange ideas as we all work to improve general practice. This is one of the biggest rewards of all.

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