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Dr. Andrea Klemes: “Making healthier lives happen”

…Retirement is a period of time when people finally get to slow down, but that doesn’t mean to stop all together. You need to keep your body and brain active in retirement, as there’s a direct effect on both your physical and emotional health. People approaching retirement should take time to think about what makes […]

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…Retirement is a period of time when people finally get to slow down, but that doesn’t mean to stop all together. You need to keep your body and brain active in retirement, as there’s a direct effect on both your physical and emotional health. People approaching retirement should take time to think about what makes them happy, what intrigues and engages them, and project that into the future. Make a plan with a purpose that draws on your passions, maintains social connections and keeps you active.


As a part of our series about the “5 Things You Should Do to Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Andrea Klemes.

Dr. Andrea Klemes is the Chief Medical Officer for MDVIP, a national network of over 1,000 primary care physicians who limit the size of their practices, affording them the time needed to provide patients with more individualized service and attention. Board certified in internal treatment and endocrinology, Andrea’s principal role as Chief Medical Officer is leading and shaping MDVIP’s physician-led primary care model. Through research and education, she identifies tools and tests to help MDVIP physicians better identify risk and prevent disease, improving patient outcomes across the board.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I would describe my career path as having three distinct chapters with one common thread — my desire to help people live healthier lives through coaching and education.

I first trained as an endocrinologist and joined a private practice in Tallahassee, Florida. I was the quintessential city doctor from New York working in a rural town. That’s when my passion for women’s health took hold, particularly in the areas of osteoporosis, diabetes and menopause. In addition to working one on one with patients, I gave presentations to other physicians and realized how much I enjoyed educating my peers and sharing impactful research. It’s another way to reach patients with meaningful care.

Later, I worked at Procter & Gamble in pharmaceuticals and then personal healthcare, focusing on women’s health and digestive wellness. I was also Medical Director for bone health. This life chapter allowed me to really dive into research and empowered me to educate doctors, patients and consumers about health and wellness on an even broader scale.

Since joining MDVIP over 10 years ago, I have carved out a unique path that combines the best of both worlds. I work with over 1,000 primary care doctors who have a direct impact on the health of more than 340,000 patients across the country. My role as Chief Medical Officer also involves considerable research and education across a broad range of subjects, from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and brain health.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It was during my first week in private practice, when my partner asked me to admit his patient. He said, “He’s diabetic and has a blood clot in his leg. Seems cut and dry. Call the general surgeon.” The surgeon, who was a seasoned and well-respected physician in town, insisted it was a blood clot and said repeatedly, “Just let me take care of it.”

My instincts told me otherwise. I investigated the patient’s labs, consulted with some outside experts and determined we weren’t dealing with a blood clot. I called my partner immediately and told him that the patient was bitten by a rattlesnake. But I couldn’t convince the surgeon of this.

The next day, the patient’s wife brought in the pair of socks he had been wearing, and we found fang marks in the fabric. We sent him to the ICU immediately, called his family to his bedside and thankfully, after receiving antivenom treatment, he pulled through. Finally, after he recovered, the patient recalled standing in his corn field “watching the hogs run and feeling ‘lightning’ shoot up his leg.”

I guess the surgeon was so impressed with how I handled the case because from that point on he referred his entire family to me. I won him over by trusting my instincts and pushing back when it counted — even though I was just a rookie doc.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

A mistake in treatment is rarely humorous, but there are certainly laughable moments that taught me real lessons early in my career when I was working in an emergency room. Doctors who have worked in the ER know what I’m talking about when I say patients can get very creative with the stories they tell, sometimes leaving out important details when it’s obvious there’s more to the story. I had to learn firsthand to never take what someone says at face value. Be curious, follow your instincts, actively listen and ask the right questions. Working with patients this way builds trust and enables you to paint a more complete, clearer picture of the situation so that you’re equipped to provide the best care you can.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had a lot of incredible mentors, but Dr. Robert Weinstein is one who stands out. He’s a brilliant physician and academician, and lucky for me, also a great coach. He had a knack for guiding and creating space for me to learn on the job.

When I was in fellowship, I had a patient with an unusual bone case. Dr. Weinstein encouraged me to write it up and submit it to present at a big medical meeting in New Orleans. I was accepted to give an oral presentation, which meant they really liked it. I had never presented at this level, and I was a nervous wreck. To help me prepare, Dr. Weinstein broke it down, and we worked through the presentation step by step. I remember him timing me with a stopwatch to make sure I hit my marks.

The night before the presentation, I couldn’t focus or eat. I distinctly remember him saying, “Andrea, you’ve done the research. At this moment, you know more on this topic than anyone in the room. There’s nothing those people out there could ask you that you can’t answer.” The audience was full of veteran researchers, some I had even quoted in the paper. Dr. Weinstein bolstered my confidence, and by the time it was all over and I had answered their questions, I thought to myself, “I could do this again.” In fact, I wanted to do it again — conducting and presenting research has since been a large part of my career, all thanks to Dr. Weinstein.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Physician burnout is a systemic issue with more than three-quarters of doctors reporting feelings of burnout. In fact, burnout is a top reason many primary care doctors come to MDVIP. In a traditional medical practice, they typically have to treat hundreds if not thousands of patients. They feel as if they are “running on a treadmill,” simply unable to provide a proper level of care. That can be destabilizing for a person who went into treatment to help heal people.

Physicians who are feeling spread thin need to care for themselves like they would care for a patient. Take an honest look and decide if something needs to change. If so, seek out an alternative professional path that supports your passion and emotional well-being. Be open to all options, in treatment or even outside of the field, that reduce stressors and that are rooted in purpose.

The MDVIP model is built to proactively reduce burnout by allowing physicians to practice in a way that benefits everyone. Physicians maintain smaller practice sizes, and more sustainable workloads translate to more time to care for patients and for themselves.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

As a leader, you need to be approachable. Open door policies go a long way, especially during times of crisis which can be ripe for miscommunication. During this pandemic, I’ve had employees come into my office almost every day, asking personal, family or COVID-related questions. They know they can walk down the hall and pick my brain anytime. Empathy and warmth are critical to serving as a successful leader and fostering fantastic work cultures.

It’s also beneficial when you have a clear company mission. At MDVIP, we’re “making healthier lives happen.” For doctors, patients, employees, it’s a rallying cry everyone can get behind on some level. When everyone understands how their contributions positively affect the business and that they’re part of a bigger movement, good things happen. That’s why MDVIP has been recognized as a “Great Place to Work” for the past three consecutive years.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?

Retirement is a period of time when people finally get to slow down, but that doesn’t mean to stop all together. You need to keep your body and brain active in retirement, as there’s a direct effect on both your physical and emotional health. People approaching retirement should take time to think about what makes them happy, what intrigues and engages them, and project that into the future. Make a plan with a purpose that draws on your passions, maintains social connections and keeps you active.

It’s not that different than graduating from high school or college. You leave those chapters with plans. You know what you’re passionate about and likely have a good idea of what you want to pursue. Having a plan keeps you moving forward.

My friend’s father is a great example. He retired in his late 60s without an action or passion plan. After a few months of sitting around and running out of pet projects, he decided to do something about it. He found a part-time job in his field and continued working in a low-stress capacity. He also spent a few hours a week as a golf course ranger. In other words, he kept his mind and body moving.

Another contributor to cognitive decline is a lack of social connections. It’s not always easy making new friends as we age; especially if it involves moving to another city or state. If you are relocating in retirement, you must be even more proactive about connecting with others, even if that’s digitally.

Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

Our mental and physical wellness are inextricably linked. A healthy brain feeds a healthy body and vice versa. This is especially important in retirement. Consider taking up new hobbies, whether it’s golf, card games or book club, to stay active mentally, socially and physically.

Stop a bad habit. Our brains are wired for habitual action but breaking an unhealthy lifestyle pattern can help build the brain’s resilience. This could be cutting back on junk food or smoking or biting your nails. You can also engage in mindset work, such as observing and minimizing negative self-talk.

To that end, keep positive people around you. Sustaining a positive outlook can become more difficult as we age, so it’s important to surround yourself with people who help you foster good thoughts. Also, wake up each morning assuming an attitude of gratitude to maintain a positive mindset.

Exercise daily and eat well but start slowly. Sustainable changes come when you consistently achieve small, incremental diet and fitness goals or small “wins”. For example, you might try one or two vegetarian meals a week and see what shifts in your diet from there.

Make a point to visit your doctor regularly for screenings, including cognitive, vision, hearing, depression, cancer, thyroid and others. According to a recent MDVIP survey on brain health, a staggering 65 percent of adults 55 and over have never had a cognitive screening test, which is key to early detection, diagnosis and treatment of brain disease.

In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

Be proactive about what you want. Don’t wait until you stop working; make sure that your action and passion plan is in place ahead of time. Throw more than one iron in the fire — maybe search for an opportunity to consult or take a volunteer position on a nonprofit board. Whatever you do, get your plan in motion early.

Look at the needs of your whole family. If you are planning to travel extensively when you retire, how will that impact your children, and does it mean you won’t get to see your grandchildren as much as you’d like? What if they rely on you to babysit or if there is an emergency?

Make sure you’re prepared financially for the expected as well as the unexpected. Do you have the support you need and a safety net if you encounter a health crisis?

Do you have a physician or healthcare advocate you can count on as you age? People often focus on having enough money for retirement. But it’s just as important to have a doctor who understands your medical history, your lifestyle and your health goals. This is especially important now, during the pandemic.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

This isn’t your typical best-selling business read, but The Notebook had a profound impact on me. If you’re not familiar with the story, it follows a decades-long romance, where a husband in the third act of his life shows up every day to create fleeting moments of magic for his wife who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. When I watched the movie, I happened to be at a major crossroads in a relationship. We watched the movie together while on an airplane and both cried hysterically in front of the other passengers. The story touched me in such a way that I realized what I had at the time was exactly what I wanted, and he did, too.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to start a movement that helps people maintain a healthy weight starting in childhood. Obesity increases your risk of nearly every major life-threatening condition — heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and even complications from COVID-19. We could prevent 80 percent of heart disease, most of the deaths from chronic diseases and much more, by educating and equipping people with simple ways to maintain a healthy weight.

It may seem easier to heat up a frozen pizza or order takeout, but most people don’t know enough about the food they consume. Focusing on nutrition education and building a daily habit of physical activity early on that can be fostered through adult life would make a world of difference. The solution lies in finding ways to motivate, if not incentivize, people to make healthier choices.

This is where primary care physicians play a role, and why it’s important people have a regular doctor they can work with as they age. Physicians in the MDVIP network have time to sit down with their patients and discuss these issues in depth. Based on family history, lifestyle and other factors, they can more effectively guide them.

It’s never too early or too late to start living healthier.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Do or do not. There is no try,” from the wise Yoda.

There are challenging moments in life when only two things can propel us forward: grit and purpose. A perfect example is when the pandemic hit. We had to do what needed to be done. There was no trying, and we had to move fast. At MDVIP, we prepared 1,000 physicians to respond and operate in a pandemic as quickly as possible because the lives of MDVIP’s 340,000-plus patients depended on it.

We connected physicians with medical experts like the head of the COVID-19 global consortium from Scripps, which is working on antibodies. We launched online resource centers for both physicians and patients. We conducted live webinars. The list goes on. There is no try during a pandemic, so we did.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’ve always wanted to sit down with Bill and Melinda Gates. Because of the COVID-19 global consortium, I know the tremendous impact they’re having on health-related causes. They’ve started movements, helping to transform industries while improving the health of millions of people around the world.

If we had lunch together, I’d want to brainstorm with them, thinking on a global scale of how we can tackle our biggest health threats. What could we do to help even more people through education to prevent disease and premature death?

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

My personal LinkedIn and MDVIP’s social channels:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrea-klemes-3313571/
https://www.linkedin.com/company/mdvip/
https://www.facebook.com/MDVIP/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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