As a part of my interview series with prominent medical professionals about “How To Grow Your Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Adil Akhtar.
Dr. Adil Akhtar is an Oncologist and Palliative Care Expert. He is Associate Professor, Department of Medical Oncology & Hematology, Oakland University-William Beaumont School of Medicine. Director, Inpatient Clinical Operations, Karmanos-McLaren Oakland Cancer Center in Michigan. Chief, Division of Palliative & End of Life Care, Michigan Health Professionals. Dr. Akhtar’s medical specializations are oncology, palliative care and end of life/hospice care.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell our readers a bit about your ‘backstory”?
Growing up in Pakistan, I was very sick as a child, and had to undergo a lifesaving surgery. I was inspired to be a doctor because I saw the passionate and emphatic way the surgeons and nurses cared for him as a patient.
Oncology is one field where you don’t choose the specialty; the specialty chooses you. Dr. Akhtar was drawn to cancer care because of the lifelong bond you make with the patients and their families. An oncologist helps his patients at a time when they are faced with a potentially fatal disease. It takes a unique personality to be a cancer doctor, with patience and perseverance. I have the patience and persistence in the care of my patients, from the first diagnosis, throughout the care process — and sometimes through the hard decisions at end of life.
What made you want to start your own practice?
During my residency and fellowship training, my goal was to become a researcher and join an academic Institution. I completed my clinical training and then did a post-doc. Research fellowship at Johns Hopkins university. Then, I joined a university hospital. But soon it was clear to me that my first passion is patient care, and not basic science research. I also realized that academic medical centers are large bureaucratic places where suggesting and making a change is very difficult even if the quality of care will get better by making a change.
I decided to start my own practice to:
- Practice medicine the best way I think I can do.
- Create a simple and flexible organization where decision making and improving processes is simple and easy to fulfill the mission of providing the best patient care
- Enjoy the profession I love without any external pressures to meet productivity numbers
Managing being a provider and a business owner can often be exhausting. Can you elaborate on how you manage both roles?
I consider myself to be a passionate doctor who loves medicine and also an entrepreneur who always wanted to start a business.
When I started my practice, I first decided the mission for the practice which was to provide the best and compassionate care and be always available to my patients. My colleagues think I have the best job, which is to help people for a living.
My first priority is always taking care of the patients. For the clinical side of the practice my role is to set the vision, mission and create a culture of excellence in patient care. Team building is an important part of my clinical responsibility since cancer care require a team working together.
For the business side of the practice, I have made sure that I have surrounded myself with very good and well-trained business people. I have created a culture of good business practices. My role in the business is look at the big picture, set the strategic vision to continue to provide excellent care and grow the business. Day-to-day operations are delegated to the managerial and administrative staff.
As a business owner, how do you know when to stop working IN your business (maybe see a full patient load) and shift to working ON your business?
My passion is taking care of the patients; my belief is that if we do the right things with a passion for our patients then everything else falls in place including the business. In this regard, a medical practice as a business is different from other businesses since the whole business is built around patient care therefore I never take myself off the patient care to focus exclusively on the business.
From completing your degree to opening a clinic and becoming a business owner, the path was obviously full of many hurdles. How did you build up resilience to rebound from failures? Is there a specific hurdle that sticks out to you?
My life experiences from a very early age had prepared me for my professional life. I lost my father when I was not even 2 years old. I saw my mom getting widowed at a very young age, struggling to meet the ends meet and at the same time raising 3 young children. Growing up in those circumstances meant failure was not an option.
In the professional career I migrated to a different country, I had to learn a totally different culture at the same time completing my training was difficult. My first job after the fellowship was not what I was expecting.
All these life long experiences make you resilient and very driven and motivated to succeed.
To me the learning a new culture to assimilate in my new home was the most difficult part of my journey. But at the same time it has been the best part of life since I was helped in this journey by many good people and now I am completely assimilated into American society and am a proud American
What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Grow Your Private Practice” and why?
- Excellent patient care
- Building an great team in the clinic by keeping the focus on the mission and keeping the staff happy and professionally satisfied
- Availability to the patients and the referring doctors
- Good communication with the patients, their families and the team of doctors involved in the care of patients
- Good strategic plan for recruitment of outstanding doctors and expanding the practice to new areas and hospitals
Many healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization”. How did you overcome that mental block?
I we look at the answer above the mission is to provide excellent care. In order to provide this level of care you need to recruit the best possible people to build a great team. Good communication will require a technology platform. In oncology practice a major part of clinic operation is the chemotherapy infusion center. These drugs are expensive.
All these aspects of practice fulfill the mission and require financial resources. Also we have employees and their families as well as our own families which depend on the practice financially.
So for me it is not difficult to get over the issue of monetization since everything revolve around the mission of excellence in patient care.
What do you do when you feel unfocused or overwhelmed?
I am an artist. I go to my studio and work on creating something.
I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career — None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
My life long professional mentor has been one of teachers in the training Dr. Lyle Sensenbrenner. He was the first one to come work every morning and was the last to leave. I have learned from him work ethics and a lifelong passion for Hematology and Oncology.
What resources did you use (Blogs, webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) that helped jumpstart you in the beginning of your business?
I did a lot of research. I got help from professionals in setting up the practice and the business for example practice consultants, attorney, accountant etc. I also hired first few employees very carefully since they were instrumental in the initial setup ad running of the practice. They are still with me.
What’s the worst piece of advice or recommendation you’ve ever received? Can you share a story about that?
I think the worst advice I got to send patients to collection agency. I have never done it and will refuse to it in future also
Please recommend one book that’s made the biggest impact on you?
I do not a book to recommend. But the biggest influence in my life has been the speeches and writings of Dr. Martin Luther King junior. His passion and commitment to his cause and the dedication to non-violence is inspiration to me.
For other incredible interviews, please check out our podcast: Healthcare Heroes.
A special thanks to Dr. Akhtar again! The purpose of this interview series is to highlight the entrepreneurs, innovators, advocates, and providers inside Healthcare. Our hope is to inspire future healthcare providers on the incredible careers that are possible!