Dr. Nia Banks: “Emergent strategy”

RESET — I accepted the pause as an opportunity to reset. There is no other time I would have taken months off to spend at home with my daughter. If I had planned months off, I would have packed it with travel and activities and come out the other side as exhausted as ever. Having a four-year-old […]

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RESET — I accepted the pause as an opportunity to reset. There is no other time I would have taken months off to spend at home with my daughter. If I had planned months off, I would have packed it with travel and activities and come out the other side as exhausted as ever. Having a four-year-old at home made it very clear that Mommy needed to sit still for a while. Some things were on my plate, personally and professionally, that I had to remove as they did not serve me, did not fit the painting I was working to create.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Nia Banks, a board-certified plastic surgeon in the Greater Baltimore area. Dr. Banks received her surgical training from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she completed the Integrated Residency Program in plastic and reconstructive surgery. Dr. Banks is co-owner of the recently opened Art of Balance Wellness Spa in Baltimore, and the vice chair of the Department of Surgery at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham, Md. She is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, a diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, 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 grew up in North Carolina with three brothers, a mother who watched over our every educational opportunity, and a father who provided for us all while pursuing his Ph.D. Both my father and I are artistic, and my major bounced around quite a bit as I sought a balance between science and art. I landed on chemical engineering then decided to complete the MD/Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins.

Baltimore has been my home ever since and Plastic Surgery was apparently the destination for my career, balancing science and art. I completed a craniofacial fellowship in Paris, France, and returned in 2009 to start a solo practice. My daughter was born in 2016. When she attended preschool, it was clear that if I wanted to be as involved with school as my mother was, I would need to work closer to home. The opportunity to open the Art of Balance Wellness Spa allowed me to work close to home but would require many more partnerships and staff than my solo practice.

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

The path of starting the Art of Balance Wellness Spa was just as Brownian and an “emergent strategy” (to borrow a term from my daughter’s father) as the rest of my career path. Originally, I was going to offer a limited scope of services, primarily injectables and laser treatments, while the owner of the condo ran the spa. Along the way, the owner presented me with the daunting opportunity to take over the entire 6000 sqft spa. Even as I tried to talk myself out of making my life more complicated with such a large project, I knew I could not walk away from the opportunity.

  • With the full support of my family, I tuned out doubters and detractors, sought out potential business partners, and got to work. I brought Dr. Aderonke Omotade on board, who is both a psychiatrist and an internal treatment physician to direct the wellness therapies, including weight-loss counseling, and assist with human resources management.
  • Late one Friday evening in November 2019, I gave my daughter and a close family friend (and one of the best estheticians I have ever worked with) a tour of the space. The hairstyling area in the old spa was under demolition to build out the new medical space. I was bone-tired but as I watched Tory and Amira break floor tiles with glee, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

  • The Art of Balance Wellness Spa served its first clients on February 14, 2020 and had to close as a nonessential business on March 16, 2020! We canceled our grand opening celebration that was slated for April 2020. As business closures have been eased in Baltimore, the reopening of the spa has taken a new sense of urgency. We have retained and gained some amazingly talented and dedicated professionals that are committed to helping our guests hold on to the delicate life balance that we all have sought during the coronavirus pandemic. The renewed awareness of the importance of self-care, stress relief, and bolstering our immune system have encouraged us to focus on service lines and packages that will best serve our guests during this unique time.
  • This is a time of solidification of the interplay between the wellness spa’s three pillars: spa experiences, wellness therapies, and modern aesthetics.

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?

  • My parents have shown me how you should work as a team for the benefit of your children. My parents, long divorced, continued to work as a team the week of the spa soft opening. I was filming for another opportunity during the same weekend and needed all the help I could get. My father helped paint, clean, assemble and arrange furniture so the spa was ready for the arrival of our spa management team to begin our staff training on January 26th and the Spa Sneak Peek on February 1.
  • My mother looked after Amira while I was running around like a crazy woman and brought her to the spa so she could share in the Spa Sneak Peek. When Amira got to the spa, she ran down the long hallway through the crowd until she found me shouting and giggling “Mommy! Mommy!”. Oh, how that touched my heart!
  • There is no way I would have gotten through that weekend successfully without them both.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

  • When schools closed, the spa closed soon after. My side job at a liposuction franchise ended when the franchise released each of its contracted physicians. I got the opportunity to spend more time directing Amira’s schoolwork and spending time with her, but I also needed to go to work to feel fulfilled and protect my ability to care for my family.
  • As a single mom (and many married moms are also primarily responsible for childcare), I had to be sure Amira was okay, feeling engaged and safe. It was clear I would need help. We had a sitter planned for the summer that we were fortunate to be able to engage early on to help with homeschooling on two days a week. One day, I would exercise and go to the spa to handle administrative tasks. On the other day, I would go to my private practice and see follow up patients. The rest of the week, Amira and I would work on her school assignments and, if I needed to go to the spa, she would go with me.
  • Amira’s father lives in a separate household and stepped up his time with Amira beyond our typical every other weekend. This gave me a break and gave Amira a change of scenery during the quarantine.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

As a single mom and a surgeon, there are clear times when I need the help of baby nurses, sitters, nannies, or au pairs. We have had them all! These ladies have not only helped take care of Amira, but they have also been a support system for me as a single mom and I am so appreciative of each one of them. Many women would rather not or cannot use outside childcare and many women cannot bring their children to work. I feel fortunate that I can do both.

Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

  • The biggest challenge at work now is keeping employees engaged and confident in the spa’s viability.
  • Uncertainty can dampen enthusiasm and confidence very quickly. We cannot change the uncertainty; we can only adapt quickly, express unfaltering commitment, and find ways to help employees feel purposeful and engaged. Most business owners are having similar challenges and sharing information through webinars or talking to colleagues has been essential.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

As co-owners, Dr. Omotade and I want our team to know how valuable they are; how they were carefully selected (curated almost) for this spa and essential to the brand. We have had several local news interviews that have kept the spa in front of the public. Our team has continued its social media posts which help them be engaged as well as keeps our customers engaged. We created a virtual spa with blogs and videos created by our team members about self-care during quarantine and produced a biweekly newsletter to share these ideas with the residents at the Ritz Carlton. This strengthened our relationship with the community in which the spa is housed and increased brand awareness. We have lost some employees despite our best efforts, but we have gained others who are eager to work.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

As a plastic surgeon with primarily female clients, I have always found being a mother helped me relate to my market. Now with homeschooling, it is natural for me to acknowledge that my daughter is with me, sometimes on another device if we have overlapping appointments. Sometimes she wants to wave at the camera and sometimes she asks me to help her with something.

That has to be okay. I have also enjoyed letting her see a little more of what I do all day while she is usually at school. I do try to limit my work from home to the late morning (after she is settled) or nap time. As long as she knows we have plans and when, she has been great at giving me 20–30 minutes at a time to get work done. The nights are used for administrative work (often completing or following up on state or federal coronavirus small business relief packages). Although I should have done it earlier, it was essential for me to get Amira out of my bed and back into her room so I could work after her bedtime.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

  • Routines, routines, routines. Staying inside has not been too hard for me because I am an introvert and love being at home. I had missed my home and home life very much over the last year after spending so much time and energy on the co-creation and buildout of the spa concept. The process was sometimes painful and exhausting. Decorating my home and the spa were labors of love and I was happy to be still for a while and enjoy both spaces selfishly.
  • Keeping a routine (going to the spa on Mondays, doing my hair on Tuesdays, going on walks with Amira in the afternoons, chatting with girlfriends on Friday evenings) helped me and Amira maintain a sense of normalcy.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  • The semblance of purpose and control is very important to avoiding anxiety for me. I like routines and I am a planner. Coronavirus, school closures, quarantines gave me new parameters to plan around but I still plan. I want to paint an ideal world for me and my daughter and fight for it. This is what helps me:

1. RESET — I accepted the pause as an opportunity to reset. There is no other time I would have taken months off to spend at home with my daughter. If I had planned months off, I would have packed it with travel and activities and come out the other side as exhausted as ever. Having a four-year-old at home made it very clear that Mommy needed to sit still for a while. Some things were on my plate, personally and professionally, that I had to remove as they did not serve me, did not fit the painting I was working to create.

2. CONSERVE — Conserve your money and your energy. Some expenditures are not necessary but when we are living day to day, packing all our fulfillment into a night out or planned travel, it’s easy to spend beyond your budget. Amira probably does not care whether we go to an all-inclusive resort or not; she is just as happy if we go to a beach at the state park and pack a picnic. The more I spend, the more time I have to spend at work. The more time I spend at work, the more time I spend away from my daughter.

3. RECONNECT — Just like family vacations are a time to reconnect with your children and your spouse, this time of quarantine allowed me to reconnect with my daughter and my family. I have had the time to reconnect with my family and close girlfriends. We all seem to be reevaluating what is important and it has made heartfelt, vulnerable communication so much easier. For years, I had intended to spend some of each summer with my niece and nephew who live in North Carolina. This summer, we finally took the time to do that and it was so satisfying to strengthen those family bonds.

4. PLAN — One of my favorite things to do!

  • You can’t plan anything down to the last detail but I can paint a picture in my mind and work every day towards making it a reality. Plan for what you want your life to look like this time next year. If you had a hard time quarantining at home this year, what would have made it easier? For me, the question is “How can I, as a surgeon, create a business line that can have an online market?” I am taking time (now everything is online!) to take plastic surgery courses and get additional business training through the Goldman Sachs 10000 Small Businesses program.

5. BE PRESENT — Now this can seem to contradict item 4 above, but I have had to learn to not get so caught up in my plans that I cannot appreciate what is in front of me. I am learning to be in the moment, to slow down, to breathe. I am trying to take lessons from nature about how stillness can be healing (my hydrangeas this year were incredible, I have never seen so many blooms on the bush before this year) and drawing optimism from young people who adapt quickly to change (the Black Lives Matter movement is an excellent example of sweeping optimism fueled by young like-minded individuals working together).

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Sometimes it just feels better to know someone is listening and cares. If someone you love is experiencing anxiety, you can listen, be accessible, be positive, and patient. And if needed, encourage them to seek out a counselor. There are many options available through telehealth. Mental health needs just as much attention as our physical health and should be considered part of our health maintenance.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Everything Happens for a Reason”: I say it all the time. I do not believe that nature or life is random. I am a scientist and doctor, but I take great comfort in my belief that my path is guided. To me “everything happens for a reason” means that if I simply work hard enough, live long enough, and look for the positive, even setbacks can serve you.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram: drniabanks

Instagram: artofbalancespa

Facebook: Nia Banks

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