Dr. Terri Malcolm of Master Physician Leaders: “Plan time for yourself”

Plan time for yourself. You have to set aside time to tend to your personal needs or else the business will run you. I schedule my calendar in alignment with my goals and my values. I block time to reset and recharge just as I block time to meet with a client or work on […]

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Plan time for yourself. You have to set aside time to tend to your personal needs or else the business will run you. I schedule my calendar in alignment with my goals and my values. I block time to reset and recharge just as I block time to meet with a client or work on a project. Carefully plan out ahead of time when you want to take a vacation and include buffers (work-free/meeting-free time periods) in your day to give yourself time that is meant only for you.


As a part of our interview series with prominent medical professionals called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Terri Malcolm.

Dr. Terri Malcolm is a board-certified OBGYN and an experienced executive coach with specialty expertise in coaching high-potential physicians become the leaders they know they can be. She is zealous in her belief a culturally competent experience, the human(e) experience, is achievable through meaningful and authentic relationships with others. Dr. Malcolm is the founder and CEO of Master Physician Leaders, a coaching firm that partners with doctors at all stages of their leadership journey to help them thrive as they lead.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?

As a little girl, I knew that I wanted to be a doctor. I loved to read books as a child and my Aunt Belle, who was a licensed nurse, said that I reminded her of the doctors she worked with because I always carried my book in my hand, just like the doctors at the hospital. She set a spark in my mind and it quickly blazed into a flame. I loved helping others as I started middle school, my interest in the sciences really flourished. Becoming a doctor was the perfect blend of human biology with helping others lead healthier lives. By the time that I started college, I was set on a pre-med pathway.

I graduated from Tulane University, School of Medicine and completed my OBGYN residency training in my hometown of Phoenix, AZ at what is now known as the Creighton University/Dignity Health OBGYN program. I chose Obstetrics and Gynecology because it combined surgery with obstetrical care and my passion for women’s health. At the core of my clinical practice was a commitment to the humane experience of care.

After years at patient bedsides, I transitioned to physician leadership because I wanted to scale the impact that I could have in exceptional care delivery. I believe all physicians are leaders and that we are responsible for improving processes and systems that help people be healthy, so that they can achieve their best.

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 been blessed to have a number of women and men of expertise in my circle who I can call upon for advice and counsel. A close friend of my Dad’s was an OBGYN in private practice and he let me shadow him for a week before I started my residency program. Also, the women in my sorority who set an example that a female physician, especially an African American female physician, can successfully integrate raising a family and following her own career path. My mentors taught me that whatever challenge I might be facing — not getting into medical school the first time that I applied — the situation is temporary. They encouraged me to take pause and to reexamine the situation without passing judgement on myself. With a more objective perspective, I could find my way forward; a way that would be just right for me.

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

Starting my own business was not an early aspiration. I was introduced to leadership coaching while participating in a physician leadership program with group coaching included. When I finished the program, I hired a personal executive coach to further explore my agenda and my goals. Coaching helped me to see myself, my whole self, with more clarity and focus and to take action steps based on my values. Naturally, I was hooked and wanted to offer coaching to my colleagues. I wanted to provide other physicians a trusted ear to work through the feeling of being “stuck” in their professional lives. I became a physician executive coach because of the impact that coaching had on my life in successfully opening a new chapter. I established Master Physician Leaders to help physicians take an area of struggle and make it thrive. My goal in starting a business was to help physicians leverage their strengths. By being more aware of their emotions and those of others, in the moment, to manage themselves and their relationships, they can identify what is most important, what to do next, and how to break up the steps into incremental, actionable steps.

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

When I was taking on leadership roles with greater responsibility, I would put pressure on myself to get everything right; leave no room for errors. My coach recognized my lens of objectivity was skewed toward perfectionism and suggested that I take improv classes to accept the situation for what it is. I rejected his invitation (at least four or five times!) and eventually set my fear of making mistakes aside. Getting up on the improv stage is one of the scariest things that I have done and one of the most thrilling. I learned the power of “Yes, And” and to stop being overly critical of my work. I could have fun and laugh at my mis-takes.

Because it is a “helping profession”, some healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization.” How do you address the business aspect of running a medical practice? Can you share a story or example?

I once read that if you’re not making money, it’s not a business, it’s a hobby. If taken literally, that prioritizes profits above all else, which I disagree with as a business model. But I do believe that one can serve others in a professional and ethical way, while operating a successful business in the process, including doctors. I pour my attention into serving my clients and leading with compassion. My clients perceive my sincerity. The main role of a coach is to focus solely on the client. When clients can sense that your service is genuine and is intended to help them live a happier and fulfilled life, they will come to you. And they will be loyal to you. They will tell their friends about you. A referral is one of the kindest compliments that I receive from my clients. A new client who was a senior physician executive once told me that he noticed the positive difference in one of his team members after working with me. He said, “I’m impressed with how he is showing up for the team and I want your assistance to show up in a different way as well.”

Managing being a provider and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?

I focus on life integration. A balancing act brings to mind a circus act — someone trying to balance multiple spinning plates on a stick. It’s a fun trick, but inevitably, a plate loses speed and crashes on the floor. I’ve learned that I can’t sustain the continuous speed of multiples plates. There are times when my business takes the front seat because I have a critical deadline to meet or a client makes a special request to meet at a specific time outside my usual hours. And then there are those times when being fully present with my family is what I prioritize over everything else. I think it is about making choices. I want my children to see that I am mommy, a doctor and a coach. And I want my clients to understand that I am a coach, a mom, a wife, and a doctor. I am all of these persons, perfectly imperfect, who strives to do her best each day.

From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

I tended to persevere in less-than-ideal circumstances. I thought if I work at it and work on it, it will change. But nothing changed much. Seth Godin calls this the Cul-de-Sac. It’s a situation that doesn’t get a lot better. It doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is. I’ve learned that effort and exertion without passion equal depletion [(E+E) — P = D]. I’ve miscalculated far too many times! Now I make sure I am truly passionate about the project. In my experience, when you add passion to the formula, success is the outcome [(E+E) + P = S].

Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview. What are the 5 things you need to know to create a thriving practice, and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

It starts with visualizing what you want your practice to be. Once you have a clear picture, be bold and take a LEAP.

  1. Create a vision statement. A vision statement holds your attention to the broader picture. It is a reminder of the future plans for your practice. It’s easy to feel disappointed by the setbacks that will arise. I created a vision statement very early on to serve as a source of inspiration and as the framework for all my strategic planning.
  2. Listen to your inner leader. I call my experienced voice of knowing, my inner leader. She is courageous and compassionate; encourages me to use my imagination; and reminds me that I am resilient. As a business owner, you will be faced with difficult decisions or unexpected challenges. Develop a relationship with your inner leader so that you trust your own instincts and find your own answers from within.
  3. Embrace being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship assumes a posture of possibilities. When you walk through one door ask, “What can I do instead of what I’ve done before?” And when another door closes, ask, “What would need to change in my perspective to accomplish an alternative outcome?” Embrace the opportunity to experiment and to learn new things to better serve your client or your patient and yourself.
  4. Appoint a personal board of directors. Along the journey of being a business owner, you are going to need help. Enlist a group of trusted advisors who you can ask for advice and who will hold you accountable to your desired goals. Each person on your board brings a unique perspective and a special area of expertise. My board is diverse because I want a diverse collection of minds working together to solve an issue. We all need help and having that go-to support and guidance available is immeasurable.
  5. Plan time for yourself. You have to set aside time to tend to your personal needs or else the business will run you. I schedule my calendar in alignment with my goals and my values. I block time to reset and recharge just as I block time to meet with a client or work on a project. Carefully plan out ahead of time when you want to take a vacation and include buffers (work-free/meeting-free time periods) in your day to give yourself time that is meant only for you.

As a business owner you spend most of your time working IN your practice, seeing patients. When and how do you shift to working ON your practice? (Marketing, upgrading systems, growing your practice, etc.) How much time do you spend on the business elements?

I’ve been working ON this for years! At times, it feels like I am still a work in progress, but I have settled on a semi-consistent schedule. I know my hours of optimal performance and dedicate Monday through Thursday to coaching with set start and end times. My private clients have direct access to my calendar, which allows them to schedule a session based upon their preference and availability. It provides autonomy and flexibility — a win, win scenario. Fridays are reserved for project collaborations, connecting with my team to review events from the past week, plan for the upcoming week, etc. Since creativity and problem solving cannot be confined to a designated day or occur on demand, I remain flexible and adjust for moments of spontaneous creation when it happens.

I understand that the healthcare industry has unique stresses and hazards that other industries don’t have. What specific practices would you recommend to other healthcare leaders to improve their physical or mental wellness? Can you share a story or example?

Live your life in alignment with your values. From high school to college and medical school, then residency and attending status, I was on a clearly defined, well-paved path. Traveling along the course can be brutally hard at times with specific milestones to achieve. A few years into becoming an attending and I thought, “What next?” I had been working so hard to become a doctor that when I achieved the goal, I was uncertain about what my next chapter was going to be. Coaching helped me to define my values and to make decisions about my career that were in alignment with those values. Know your values and live your life in accordance. Finding joy in the everyday, mundane moments is how I keep burnout at bay.

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

My favorite quote is from Maya Angelou, arguably one of the greatest poets and authors of all time. And she had this to say about feelings. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I thought there was little space for the expression of emotions in medicine, unless they were the happy ones. So, I repressed a lot and held back from sharing with others how I felt because I didn’t want to rock the boat. When I learned how to use my emotions, use them to make more effective decisions, connect with others, find and follow my purpose — I was able to lead a more whole-hearted life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Visit my website, www.masterMDleaders.com. Connect with me on LinkedIn at Teresa Dean Malcolm and on Instagram @masterphysicianleaders. My Twitter handle is @masterMDleaders.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success and good health!

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