How I Got Into Medicine...
My maternal grandmother worked as nurse/field doctor during WWII in Russia. Growing up, she used to tell me all these fascinating stories about what she encountered and how she helped soldiers who were injured and people in villages that were sick. I was very close to her and always felt this connection to who she was. I always wanted to help people, and I knew since I was five years old that I needed to be a doctor.
But my grandmother had this way about her that you could tell that she was thinking outside the box and in a holistic manner. So I grew up understanding that interaction between one's health and the environment, including food. My mother, who also grew up with that philosophy, always tried to address health issues holistically. If we had a pimple, she gave us zinc and made sure we ate fewer carbs because she understood that there was a "root cause" to the pimple.
After I had attended medical school, I struggled to reconcile the holistic side that I grew up with and believed in, with the scientific/traditional side that was ingrained in the medical system, particularly at Johns Hopkins. It was clear that nutrition and lifestyle were not an important piece for understanding the patient's illness since we probably spent a couple of hours in the four years I was there on nutrition and vitamins. So during my medical training, while I was learning about all the technologies and advancements in medicine, on the side I was teaching my classmates about nutrition and exercise and practicing what I preached. It was almost embarrassing to admit that I was interested in what was considered "pseudoscience" then.
Over time, as I joined different medical groups, I saw patient after patient fail different medical therapies for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and many other diseases. I became increasingly frustrated because I knew that with better education and understanding, patients can have much better control over their health. And I could see that traditional medicine was not equipped to understand how all the different diagnoses that patients carry interacted with each other and why they were there in the first place. Slowly I started incorporating what I already knew personally with the traditional science that I was trained in. I spent more hours than you could count scouring the medical literature for every study looking at the root cause of the epidemic of diseases I was seeing as well as looking for alternative treatment options. As I applied this information to patients and their conditions, I started to see positive results. More importantly, patients started seeing positive results. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was practicing "integrative medicine."
In 2009, I started connecting with other like-minded practitioners. One of them asked me what kind of medicine I practiced and as I began explaining my approach, he said, "so you practice integrative medicine.” That was the first time that I realized that my way of thinking and treating patients actually had a name.
In 2011, I was ready to leave the large multi-specialty medical group I was with and go out on my own.
Launching My Own Practice:
Back in 2011, when I left the comforts of being a salaried employee of a large multi-specialty practice and took the plunge and started Armonk Integrative Medicine on my own, it was almost unheard of for a doctor to start a solo practice. The environment of the time (which still exists today) is for practices to buy out other practices, hospitals to take over practices and to form large conglomerates that can negotiate better deals with insurance companies. And patients adapted to having everything included under their health insurance policy, especially if they stuck to all the doctors within one large group. I went in the complete opposite direction and decided not to take insurance at all and took a risk that patients would be willing to pay out of pocket for my services. Most of the doctors I worked with were very negative about my vision for the practice, and one doctor in particular (who was my boss in the first practice I joined in White Plains in 1999) said, "You will never make it.” He cited other examples of doctors who had tried to go out on their own only to run back to the larger groups. The overhead to run an office is so high, (over 70%) that most doctors would never be able to see enough patients on their own to support the business.
No one seemed to understand that my vision wasn't just a run of the mill internal medicine practice, which probably couldn't survive without an insurance base. My vision was to provide the highest quality personalized medical care that is evidence based, fosters a strong partnership between patient and physician and addresses all factors that affect patients health, wellness and disease. And while insurance would not pay for this, I believed the patients who would see me would understand that "optimum health" was more important than money.
When I finally left the practice I was working at, I had a handful of patients that wanted to follow me. Within weeks, I had new patients calling, and I honestly don't recall how they found out about me, but I would guess it was word of mouth. When I officially started October 2011, my office was not yet complete, but I found a way to see patients, without them having to wait. I rented the chiropractor's office that was inside The Gym (now Equinox) in Armonk. I saw patients alone without any staff for a few months like this.
Finally, January 28, 2012 I moved into my brand new office that I designed from scratch, with a lot of help from friends and family. My father, as an electrical engineer, designed all the lighting, which people still talk about. I was lucky when my mother agreed to work with me and she was my only staff member for a few months until I started getting busier and needed more help. During that time, my mother acted as my receptionist, medical assistant and cleaning service.
The growth of my practice was exponential and beyond what I had expected. Within 6 months, over 80 of my prior patients had decided to follow me plus I was getting several new patients every week. But it is not just about the number of patients that makes me successful. It is that I help patients get better every day and there is no better feeling than knowing that I've made a difference in someone's life.
A couple of years back I ran into that one doctor who told me I wouldn't make it and he asked how I was doing. I told him the truth. I was very busy and almost fully booked. He was speechless!
People tell me all the time that I had a lot of guts (no pun intended) to do what I did. I don't see it that way. What I did was follow my heart. I knew that I had to find a different way to help patients who were suffering without any answers or hope.