The Person Every Good Doctor Needs

July 15, 2014
Greg Kelly

Management is more art than science and the right medical practice manager will keep the business running successfully while the doctors handle the clinical side.

“When looking for people to hire, seek 3 qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other 2 will kill you.”

―Warren Buffett

My father had a successful medical practice. He and his partner, Dr. George A. Sheehan, Jr., were a medical team during what some might call the “glory years” for doctors. For a long time, they were physicians who did both well (for themselves) and good (for patients).

When it came to the treatment and diagnosis of patients, they were more than a match for the best internal medicine docs of their day. The fact that they fed, clothed, housed, and educated 20 children and 2 wives for a quarter century says much about their achievements.

In medical matters they were tops; in financial matters they weren’t. They needed help running their office and, unlike many doctors I’ve heard from over the years, they had success here, too.

Her name was Mille and I learned that she made all the difference when it came to building and running a winning medical practice.

She didn’t have keen clinical skills. She didn’t have lofty academic degrees. She didn’t have a commanding presence. She didn’t have extensive experience. But she got things done. For more than 25 years, she quietly and calmly saw to it that a profitable and professional physician’s medical practice was run properly.

My experience with doctors is that management is more art than science. So I credit the 2 doctors for realizing that. Even though they were the ones with the education, skills, and knowledge about medicine, they knew enough to let her run the business.

Millie did have some have some indispensable talents—she was organized, efficient, reliable, disciplined, determined, and thoughtful.

Chasing after delinquent patients, insurance companies and Medicare for payment isn’t fun. Dad was never good at asking patients to pay (he once told of a patient who paid for his treatment with an unplucked chicken), but Mille didn’t care. She saw how hard and long the 2 medical partners worked. Getting the business paid was paramount to her.

And how clueless was my dad when it came to the financial goings on of his practice? He once told me that Millie could have “robbed us blind” if she wanted to.

My own youthful recollections of Millie are positive. Whenever I did work at my dad’s office, I never really expected any pay, and yet every time I did something, a check from the office would arrive a few days later. And she baked awesome cookies for us at Christmas.

According to Salary.com, the median annual income for a medical practice manager today is about $100,000. When it came to Millie’s pay, my dad would just say: “Take what you think you deserve.” I know that she lived very simply, never married, and rarely took time off.

So for all you doctors who have a “Millie,” let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.