I love hearing the stories from physicians, who for many differing reasons, have changed careers midstream. A special story, written for me last year, comes from Dr. Bruce Bender who, mid career, discovered he could no longer practice medicine because of a disability.
Instead of wallowing in "woe-is-me" victimhood, he and his wife Laurie, a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist, chose to view this experience as an opportunity to become an entrepreneurial team. From being a pathologist and then hospital executive, Dr. Bender transformed himself into a partner with his wife, Laurie, in a franchise business. After some trial and error, they found the business opportunity that most closely matched their Life Plans and professional needs, and have not looked back ever since.
Because we were unable to conduct the interview in person and record it, I offer it to you in its full written form.
I would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Bender for taking the time to write out his responses, AND for the candor he expressed about his challenges, as well as his successes. My fondest wish (as I know it is his wish too) is to offer physicians faced with oncoming physical disabilities both hope and encouragement that they, too, may emerge into the next phase of their careers in ways that prove equally if not more professionally satisfying.
Philippa: Bruce, would you be willing to share your story with the audience about how you came to own and operate your first franchise?
Bruce: Certainly. My wife and I were disenchanted with the increasing focus on finance in healthcare and our inability to provide the type of care that we thought people needed. We had also made several moves over the preceding 20 years and did not want to do so again. So we made a decision to look into other opportunities.
Philippa: How did you transition from your clinical practice to your entrepreneurial venture?
Bruce: I had obtained a Masters in Administrative Medicine degree from the University of Wisconsin –ACPE degree in 1990. My positions subsequent to that were all very administrative. This gave me a sense of what business was like, as well as some basic tools.
My wife and I discussed what types of businesses we would like to try. We came to the conclusion that doing something that would help the growing population of seniors offered the promise of providing the kind of fulfillment we were missing, as well as having very significant growth potential. A franchise seemed like a logical possibility. There are a number of books about how to select and start a franchise and many resources offering and rating franchise opportunities.
Philippa: What made you choose a franchise as opposed to any other kind of business venture?
Bruce: We believed that a franchise organization would provide significant support and make for a less stressful environment. They provide such things as software, Operations Manuals, Office Staffing Manuals, etc. They also develop relationships with vendors for items such as stationary, brochures, etc. We thought association with multiple other owners who would face the same issues as us would be beneficial. The ability to participate in and benefit from national branding was important.
Philippa: How did you get your education about franchising? Who did you turn to for advice?
Bruce: We did it on a wing and a prayer with some “how to” books.
Philippa: You mentioned to me that you could no longer practice medicine because you had developed significant hearing loss. As I feel sure there are physicians in our readership who have had to leave clinical practice for various disabilities, can you tell us how this affected you?
Bruce: Having a disability can make a significant difference in outlook. As a physician and executive, young and in good health, I felt reasonably in control. To suddenly have a disability that might or might not be career threatening made it clear that things are never in control.
Although most people are really thoughtful and kind, some act like a disabled person is mentally deficient or somehow a drag on society. That made me both very angry and much more tolerant of other people. I really wanted to do something useful, and suddenly helping people who are slowly losing their ability to function seemed like a very worthwhile endeavor.
When we decided to purchase our first franchise, I had left a job and was very discouraged by the environment within the health care system. Our kids were in their teens and we did not want to move again. I did not consider myself to be disabled.
We purchased the franchise and opened it in March, 1997. However, it was apparent as soon as the office was open, that my hearing would make it impossible for me to make it a success. We almost lost our first client because I could not hear her on the phone. It was very frustrating to finally realize that there were things I just could not do, no matter how hard I tried or willed it. I was no more used to failure than most physicians. Accepting the need for help was extremely hard.
We hired a person to be in the office, and my wife became more involved in the company. I got my last job in August of 1997. The company had been growing nicely. My wife left her position as a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist and took over the operations of the company.
Philippa: How did you decide to turn your hearing loss into an opportunity to do something different?
Bruce: We wanted to do something different irrespective of hearing loss. However, we thought that I would run the company and my wife would keep working. Ultimately, I had to leave my job due to hearing disability and could not run the company either. That meant a change in plans.
I was finally declared disabled by Social Security in early 1998. So I started receiving disability payments. It really hurt not to be able to earn a living through my efforts, but having the income made things easier financially.
Now I had the time and the motivation to find fulfillment in helping others. I have participated in many Rotary and Habitat for Humanity projects. These included National Immunization Day in India for Polio, building an orphanage after the tsunami, two Jimmy Carter Work Projects for Habitat for Humanity and a Habitat project in Equador. It is amazing how therapeutic it is for an American worried about his own misfortunes to visit a school for rescued child slaves, or visit tsunami orphans, or just see how life is in most of the rest of the world. These projects have really helped me to replace what I lost with my career and probably led to a much more satisfying life.
Philippa: It seems Laurie, your wife, now essentially runs the current franchise you own and operate and you help out. How has it been working with your wife? What have been the highlights? And the struggles, if you care to name any?
Bruce: It has been said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It was very difficult in the beginning, particularly since I was resentful of her ability to do what I had set out to do. Over time, though, we became much more aware of how each person works, what our strengths and weaknesses were and how to get along. I think that has translated back into our personal lives.
Philippa: What about your identity as a physician? What, if anything have you had to let go of to move away from being a practicing physician?
Bruce: I am a third generation physician. So, my self esteem was hit hard. It took years to overcome that. However, I think my world view has broadened quite a bit. I still miss the world of medical practice, bitterly when I allow myself to. I don’t miss the bureaucratic nightmares that had become my existence. I have discovered that I can make friends, influence people and gain respect without being a physician. That was a very pleasant revelation.
Philippa: Looking back from your vantage point of now, what are two to three key things you have learned about going into business?
Bruce: First, you really need to know what you want to do and evaluate the opportunities carefully.
It will probably cost a lot more money and take a lot longer to build a real business than you will be told, or can imagine.
After a few years, you may be lucky or blessed enough to realize you made the right choice and should have done it years ago.
Philippa: What one thing would you do differently if you were to do it all over again?
Bruce: Acknowledge my degree of disability earlier.
Philippa: For those reading your story who might be interested in your product, could you briefly describe what its benefits are and how it might be used? How could they reach you?
Bruce: We own Home Instead Senior Care franchises. Home Instead Senior Care was the first to provide in home non-medical assistance for seniors. We bought the 51st franchise. Now there are over 500 around the world. Our CAREGivers are our employees, with worker’s compensation, unemployment, bonding and criminal records checks. We train them and provide supervision and replacements when necessary.
As was recently acknowledged by a study out of Purdue University, non-medical support can make a huge difference in the quality of life for seniors and others who are losing their ability to function either physically or mentally. We provide assistance with the tasks of daily living such as meal preparation, light housekeeping, errands and incidental transportation. Often companionship is a very big part of the help, since many of these clients are very isolated. Having the assistance is also a major relief for family caregivers who may be overwhelmed and depressed.
The Home Instead Senior Care web site offers a directory of all franchises. Each office is individually owned and operated. Each business has posted a short description of themselves. They can be reached by phone or over the internet. A Service Information Request form can be sent directly to the appropriate office.
What an inspiring story - right?
In what ways do you want to "reinvent" yourself, stay challenged and live your life "on purpose"?
I'd love to hear from any of you who are either obligated or inspired to reevaluate your professional existence. Do you have a story to share with your colleagues?
And if you are seeking further inspiration from successful physician entrepreneurs, check out Conversations with Trailblazers Volume 1 here.