Physician pays it forward by mentoring, teaching young dermatologists

July 1, 2011

When Amy Derick, M.D., mentors dermatology residents and others who are just breaking into dermatology practice, she comes across not only as a peer, but also as an icon. She's young - 34. She only started practice about five years ago, so the challenges of a startup are fresh in her mind.

Key Points

When Amy Derick, M.D., mentors dermatology residents and others who are just breaking into dermatology practice, she comes across not only as a peer, but also as an icon.

She's also successful: Dr. Derick went from zero patients in November 2006, when she started her Barrington, Ill., practice, to about 16,000 patients. She has a family, including two young sons. And she's real, admitting that she's not perfect, makes mistakes and doesn't know everything.

"When you go through training, it's fabulous for learning about medicine, but if you're going to go out to work (in private practice) and not into academics, it's kind of hard because you just don't have that (business) experience," she says. "I think that I've been able to learn from other people who are private practice physicians, and I've given back to people who are coming out."

Learning as she goes

When lecturing about how to start a practice at professional meetings, Dr. Derick doesn't talk in generalities; she gives what are sometimes painful real-life examples of what not to do.

"We wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on different EMRs (electronic medical records)," she says. "I've learned that a spade is a spade, and when something is bad, you cut your losses and move on. Now, I feel comfortable that we've ironed out a lot of the major kinks ... we're pretty smooth sailing."

Another lesson? Delegate. Dr. Derick says she has a good life because she doesn't need to control or do everything. Her mantra? You can have it all, but you don't have to do it all.

"I'm this huge outsourcer. I outsource as much as possible," she says. "I don't do grocery shopping or cooking. I have a personal assistant who helps relieve me of mundane tasks. I basically try very hard to work and be with my kids and that's it."

She recommends that dermatologists seek trusted business partners. Dr. Derick's business partner is her husband Michael Derick, a former hedge fund professional who decided to join his wife in practice when the economy went sour. Michael is not the practice manager, but rather the practice administrator - the strategic and finance person.

"I feel like a lot of the reason why I've been so successful is because of my husband. He can focus on the business side. We have 20-something employees. We have a lot of moving parts, and I can't focus on that. I shouldn't be focusing on that," she says.

Entrusting the business aspects of the practice to Michael gives Dr. Derick the freedom to do what she says she does best: see patients.

Teaching moments

Dr. Derick learned from one of her mentors about a basic practice-building reality: Realize that you will not please everyone.

"I don't like running behind, so patients who like to be on time love me. People who are late don't like me because I'll reschedule them. You can't please everybody," she says. "I've learned that the nicest thing about being four or five years out is that most people really like the practice."