Dr. Ruth Arumala, Feminine Health Advisor: “You are your brand”

You are your brand. From my social media presence to a visit to my local grocery store it is imperative that I represent my brand and practice at all times. Many times, people have approached me and said aren’t you a doctor? I answer affirmatively but cautious as I am unsure how they know that. […]

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You are your brand. From my social media presence to a visit to my local grocery store it is imperative that I represent my brand and practice at all times. Many times, people have approached me and said aren’t you a doctor? I answer affirmatively but cautious as I am unsure how they know that. The person either says, I saw your ad on my grocery store cart or I follow you on Instagram. These interactions always reinforce the idea that I am my brand.

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. Ruth Arumala, DO, MPH, NCMP, an Obstetrician-Gynecologist, pH-D Feminine Health Advisor and women’s health advocate with a private practice in the greater Dallas area. Dr. Arumala offers comprehensive women’s health services with a focus on the medical and surgical management of fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, sexual dysfunction and menopause. She is passionate about empowering women to live a healthier more fulfilling life through improving health literacy.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell our readers a bit about your ‘backstory”?

At 19 or 20 years old, I watched my 51 year old mother return to training as a resident physician. Although she completed medical school prior to my birth and had practiced as a physician for many years in Nigeria, she had to return to post graduate training in America if she was ever to practice as a physician again.

I often wondered why a married woman who had a seemingly full life with three children went back to training with individuals 20 years her junior. After careful investigation it seemed that in medicine my mother found her purpose. This resonated with me.

Growing up in Salisbury, MD as a first-generation Nigerian-American, I lived a somewhat isolated life. I looked very different than my white peers and had too strong of an accent for my black peers. In this isolation though, I had the opportunity to explore my passions and purpose at an early age. I am intellectually challenged by the anatomy and physiology of the human body and how it is affected by pathogens, toxins and behavioral insults. Naturally that drew me to pursue a career in medicine.

During my second year of medicine, I suddenly lost my brother and best friend in the hospital while receiving treatment for a sickle cell crisis. The last conversation I had with my brother who was a 2nd year law student at Fordham Law was about legacy building. In retrospect it seems like these were his parting instructions to practice medicine in such a way that I truly impact people’s lives and move medicine into a new frontier.

I spent the next few years struggling to determine what that meant. How do I truly impact lives? What flaws do I see in the medical system that need improvement. How can I be that agent of change? This became clearer as I started my residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology. I became aware of the racial disparities in women’s health. This goes beyond just maternal mortality. This consumes the entire breadth of women’s health from access to care to mortality to breast cancer. It was simple for me. I was created to toil in the interface between women and the healthcare system as both a provider and a changemaker.

What made you want to start your own practice? Can you tell us the story of how you started it?

As a medical student, my personal gynecologist had a novel practice model. She provided evidence-based care in a personalized, pleasing environment. She had a pay for direct patient care model which ensured that the patients she saw had the means to pay her for her services eliminating insurance coverage all together.

This experience inspired me to want to provide high quality, evidence-based, personalized care in a boutique style practice without limiting my patients to a socioeconomic class that could afford this type of premium health care. Consequently, I have built a patient panel with a large range of insurances.

My practice was started in affiliation with Texas Health Medical Associates in order to bring this vision to life in a sustainable fashion.

Managing being a provider and a business owner can often be exhausting. Can you elaborate on how you manage(d) both roles?

Barely! That is the true answer: barely! Running a practice while providing care is a formidable task and often requires very long days especially in Ob-Gyn. The most important factor to a sustainable practice is having the right staff.

The key to an amazing practice is the right people working in the right roles. This is important because I may be the face of my practice however patients don’t speak to me when they call our practice. They do not receive their paperwork from me. They do not actually talk to me when they have billing, scheduling or medical issues. They speak with my clerical or medical assistants first. Consequently, these individuals have to buy into my vision. They have to take ownership of our patients. They truly have to feel appreciated for the work they do. The office has to be a safe space for them to exhibit their talents and skills.

Unfortunately, one may have to go through several personnel before forming a team that works well together. In order to balance both roles, learning to relinquish control and delegate effectively have been skills I have had to learn and am learning on a daily basis.

I also propose that this stage in my life, single without children, is the perfect time to have started a practice. It has allowed me to have fewer tangible commitments. This facilitates my ability to put more effort into building a robust practice.

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?

In my practice there are peaks and lulls. I have come to recognize those and spent the peak times caring for patients while the lulls working on my practice. The Coronavirus pandemic paradoxically allowed me to spend some time taking inventory on the growth of the young practice in order to seek ways to improve the practice and refine my voice as a thought leader in women’s health.

In practice, I see patients during clinic hours and work on my business early hours of the morning, late at night and during the weekends. I take every opportunity to rest, however, as this rejuvenates both my mind and body for the inescapable burdens of running a solo practice.

From completing your degree to opening a clinic and becoming a business owner, the path was obviously full of many hurdles. Is there a specific hurdle that sticks out to you?

The biggest hurdle was establishing a reputation that attracts new patients and appeals to colleagues in a new geographical region. I trained in and am from DC/MD. My practice is in a suburb of the twin cities of Dallas-Fort Worth. I did not have a hometown advantage. No one knew who I was. I did not know the culture, layout or nuances of this new environment. Having to learn all of that was the biggest hurdle for me.

How did you build up resilience to rebound from failures?

Watching my parents struggle and emerge victorious as immigrants in their 40s cultivated resilience and perseverance in my brothers and me. Our parents taught us lessons that echoed far beyond the temporary moments of adversity. I know that failures are greater teachers than triumph. I search diligently for the lesson in every moment after moaning, groaning and complaining of course. In order to be a successful practice owner, one must anticipate failure, dwell in the pain, seek lessons and move forward.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Grow Your Private Practice” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

You are your brand. From my social media presence to a visit to my local grocery store it is imperative that I represent my brand and practice at all times. Many times, people have approached me and said aren’t you a doctor? I answer affirmatively but cautious as I am unsure how they know that. The person either says, I saw your ad on my grocery store cart or I follow you on Instagram. These interactions always reinforce the idea that I am my brand.

Always find an opportunity to share information about your practice. When my practice first opened, I always went to a different nail salon to get my mani-pedi because it gave me an opportunity to give my cards and marketing materials to new avenues without formally soliciting. In addition, I would leave my cards on every treadmill or stairmaster I used. You would be surprised as to how many patients we got from simple touches like this.

Never give up. Many early weeks, I would get very frustrated as I was seeing only a handful of patients per day. Those days, I found ways to go out and market. The weeks I pounded the pavement directly resulted in increased new patients in one to two weeks. Times of frustration are just opportunities for growth

Seek effective partnerships. I decided to seek and build a referral base that would help my patients. This ranged from physical therapists to high risk obstetricians to gyn oncologists. This allowed me to build a network that benefitted my practice and paradoxically increased the community awareness that I existed. I also have expanded my networking and exposure to other health care providers through my partnership with pH-D Feminine Health. I feel strongly about their quality products and have met many influential people through my attendance at their past events.

Lean into your team for help. You cannot do it all. Even if you could, you are not the best person to do it all. Study your team and recognize their talents and desires. lean into them for appropriate help.

Many healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization”. How did you overcome that mental block?

I haven’t! I deal with this by never negotiating. I always have a member of my team work on the finances. I always oversee it but I am not the interface with a patient or client.

What do you do when you feel unfocused or overwhelmed?

I am so excited and passionate about my work that if I feel unfocused or overwhelmed, it is a sign of burnout and indication I should rest or do something else I enjoy for a while. I listen to these cues to rejuvenate in order to work more effectively and efficiently.

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?

I have a mentor who has achieved every professional and personal goal I have. I cannot pick one person in particular as I go to different people for advice about gynecology, surgery, business, interpersonal relationships, love, romantic relationships etc. The most valuable lesson I have learned from my mentors as a collective is “there is always a solution to a problem but sometimes that solution is to move on!”

What resources did you use (Blogs, webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) that helped jumpstart you in the beginning of your business? Can you explain why they were helpful?

I read a lot of information in three categories: real estate, beauty spas and Ob-Gyn. I chose to read about real estate because realtor guides teach you a lot about closing deals. I wanted to know how to convert people to want to choose me as their gynecologist. I read about creating a spa because that was the type of calming atmosphere I wanted my office to have. I wanted my patients to feel appreciated and special from the second they stepped in my office. Lastly I read contemporary Ob Gyn magazine and ACOG resources for new physicians and practice owners. These resources were specific to my specialty and provided the information I needed for billing and equipment. The biggest resource, however, was experience. Things were not perfect especially in the beginning but as you practice, you learn more.

In interviews like this one, people often ask about the best advice that one was given. I’d like to flip the script. What’s the worst piece of advice or recommendation you’ve ever received? Can you share a story about that? Was there a lesson or take away from that story?

The worst advice I was ever given was to close my practice when I was 6 months in and very frustrated. I was seeking help and assistance to move past various extremely frustrating issues. The person looked at me, paused and said “if you are so unhappy, you should just close the practice.” The condensing response actually has created a fuel that is unmatched for me. You have to realize that everyone does not see the potential you see in yourself and your practice. It is your duty to push forward for the success of your practice.

Please recommend one book that’s made the biggest impact on you? Can you explain why that resonated so much with you?

I will actually recommend two books
-The 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen R Corey 
This book shaped how I move professionally. I revisit this book quite often seeking to refine some important principles.

– “How Doctors Think” by Jerome Groopman
I first read this book in 2007 when I was a grad student. I have revisited it several times because I enjoy seeing us from a patient’s point of view. I hope to improve my character to really improve my approach to helping women as they seek to and deserve to be helped.

How can our readers follow you online?

IG: @i.am.dr.arumala, @my.mansfield.obgyn, @prettyinpinkpod 
Clubhouse: @i.am.dr.arumala
website: www.drarumala.com, https://www.phdfemininehealth.com/pages/meet-our-advisor, https://www.phdfemininehealth.com/

Thank you for these great insights!

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