Conscious Entrepreneurship: May I introduce Teri Dreher
After 30 years as a critical care nurse, Teri Dreher grew fed up with the healthcare system. She watched in dismay as profits were prioritized over patients, resulting in poor care, medical errors and soaring hospital readmissions.
She was particularly disturbed by the way senior orphans — elderly people without family support — fell through cracks in the system.
Things came to a head when her father-in-law fell critically ill on a family trip to Belize. Despite a life-threatening blood clot, the hospital moved to release him. Dreher intervened, but it made her wonder: what if he didn’t have a nurse in the family to advocate on his behalf?
It was a defining moment. But rather than leave the world of healthcare, she decided to change it — from the inside out. She joined the first wave of nurses moving into the emerging field of private patient advocacy, working directly with clients to ensure they get the best care. After all, who knows the system better?
In 2011, following training, she opened NShore Patient Advocates, one of the first — and now the largest — Chicago advocacy companies. As it quickly grew, she became an active voice in her fledgling industry, helping establish best practices that are standard today.
Several years later, her industry trade association, The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, awarded her its highest honor. She was among the first RN advocates to receive professional certification by the Patient Advocate Certification Board (PACB), formed to establish ethical standards and competencies for the profession.
As the benefits of patient advocacy became clear, even leading healthcare systems like Johns Hopkins began asserting that every patient needed a healthcare advocate. In response, Dreher published her first book, Patient Advocacy Matters, an advocacy how-to guide for consumers that is now an Amazon bestseller.
But the plight of senior orphans continued to haunt her. Frequently, churches and attorneys would hire her to arrange healthcare services for elderly and disabled parishioners and clients. But Dreher couldn’t stop thinking: What about the ones who don’t have someone to call for them or can’t afford to ask for help?
So, she founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services. It wasn’t her first charitable endeavor (for years, she led medical missions to Africa, cofounding two grassroots organizations), but it is in some ways a first-of-its-kind not-for-profit.
Its mission: provide advocacy services for seniors and adults with disabilities who don’t have the means or capabilities to arrange their own care. SAGAS’ team — nurses, social workers, care managers, attorneys and guardians — collaborate with healthcare and long-term care providers and courts to ensure their needs are met.
Recently, Dreher turned to the next item on her bucket list: helping to fill the urgent need for more private patient advocates.
“Right now, patient advocates can be counted in the hundreds, not the thousands,” says Dreher. “There is more demand from patients than the industry can meet.”
So, Dreher created an online training program, Nurse Advocate Entrepreneur, targeted to nurses and social workers who want to help people more directly than the system allows. Unlike most existing programs, the focus of Dreher’s curriculum isn’t clinical so much as entrepreneurial.
“My students already know how to advocate and navigate the healthcare system,” she says. “What they don’t know is how to launch and grow a business.”
CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP — What meaning do you give this term?
Being a visionary leader to change something in society that deeply matters.
CAREER — What led you to your particular career path?
Seeing the brokenness of the healthcare system from the inside of the hospital, working in an ICU unit, seeing the focus shift to the computer and profits, away from the patient.
MENTORS — We all need a little help along the journey. Who has been an invaluable mentor for you? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
A nurse manager asked me 15 years ago: “Teri, what is your 5 year plan?” Sharon Dimitrevich saw something in me that was meant for more and encouraged me to dream big.
TO THRIVE — When you see yourself thriving: Do you see yourself opening up opportunities for others along the way to participate in your success, and how?
I am at my best self when I am lifting up patients who fall through the cracks or mentoring new nurse advocates, helping them avoid costly mistakes as they start their own practice.
CAUSE — What are the causes close to your heart, and you are supporting right now? Can you share a story how you got involved? How did it make you feel?
I am drawn to help the most vulnerable in society. For 15 years I led medical mission trips to African countries, empowering women and children, providing life saving medical care and equipment to rural hospitals. Coming back to the US I looked around and saw seniors and adults with disabilities falling through the cracks and resolved to strongly advocate for them when they could not advocate for themselves.
THE FUTURE — How do you see the face of entrepreneurship in 5 years? How do companies /brands need to adapt to secure their place in the future?
I see entrepreneurship continuing to grow; small businesses are the backbone of the US economy and I hope those with a dream to make our country better in some way will be empowered and encouraged to launch out. Creativity and finding problems are opportunities for someone like us. Those who understand the problems of society are most likely to effect real change from the inside out.
ADVICE — What kind of advice would you like to give to an aspiring entrepreneur who feels limited due to their background or lack of resources?
You can do this. I have a three year diploma RN and I tell people I have a Phd in street smarts. Real life common sense and values count much more than college degrees. Do not let your limitations define you. If you are walking in God’s will for your life, He will provide all you need to succeed. You just have to follow and grab the opportunities presented to you.
DRIVE — Do you sometimes feel bad for “wanting more out of life”, and if so, why? What is your personal motivation that leads you through the hardships of entrepreneurship?
I have a beautiful life. The hardships I have endured have been a springboard into a great life. Having a vocation you passionately enjoy is one of the greatest gifts of all. My faith in a better tomorrow leads me through the hard times with strength and perseverance. I know that my future is assured and that my rewards will be in heaven. I don’t work for financial success, though that has come. I work because I know I was created to do this work and it fulfills me completely.
CHALLENGES — Entrepreneurship is very challenging. We each have our own coping mechanism. Mine is humor. What is yours? Can you share a story?
It is hard work but I rarely get worn out. I take a quick break several times a day to get out in nature and enjoy the fresh air, my little Cavalier names Wilby and just run and play and smile at the beauty all around us. I am a gardener as well and have a lovely English country garden full of wildlife and dozens of hummingbirds at my feeders. It is hard not to believe in God when you see these miraculous little clowns around my flowers. Pure joy!
INSPIRATION — Is there an entrepreneurial book or podcast that inspires you that you would like to share with our readers?
I love Christian leadership podcasts: some favorites are Craig Groeschel, Donald Miller, Michael Hyatt, Andy Stanley, Patrick Lencioni. Business Made Simple videos and podcasts have given me much of my entrepreneurial success when I implemented their principles.
ACTIVISM: Do you have a principle to live by that you would like to share? How does it impact your life and the lives of others?
Every person deserves the right to quality healthcare, no matter what their race, creed or religion and ethnicity. My vision for the future of America is that every patient will some day have access to their own private healthcare advocate.
YOU — Is there anything you would like to share that we have not asked you here?
I am a woman of faith and all I do comes from a deep sense of gratitude for what God has done in my life. It gives me joy to serve him by serving others in need.
Reach out to Teri Dreher on LinkedIn.
Demee Koch about the MEDIUM interview series on CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP:
Conscious entrepreneurship for me is about building a sustainable business that values and respects the resources used and makes an effort of giving back to society.
I believe we need entrepreneurs to really get involved in the causes close to their heart.
This is why I reach out to entrepreneurs that aim for more than generating profit. With this interview, I aim to share entrepreneurial purpose-led passion to inspire others.
Looking forward to learn from you. Reach out to me via LinkedIn.