“They told me it was impossible but I did it anyway” With Dr. Luiza Petre

Resilience is what I call post traumatic growth disorder, being humble and grateful when you fail, when a disappointing experience brings the best out of you. Every big success is preceded by many failures. Resilience is about embracing mistakes and loses as learning points, knowing the next attempt will be better and eventually successful. Winning […]

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Resilience is what I call post traumatic growth disorder, being humble and grateful when you fail, when a disappointing experience brings the best out of you. Every big success is preceded by many failures. Resilience is about embracing mistakes and loses as learning points, knowing the next attempt will be better and eventually successful. Winning in any field is a learning curve; one has to go through that slow phase at the beginning before it takes off. Resilience is an attitude, is reaching that point when someone says I can learn and do anything new no matter what.

Dr. Luiza Petre is a Board Certified Cardiologist and Nutritional Expert with extensive training and experience. Dr. Petre currently is appointed Assistant Clinical Professor of Cardiology at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Cardiology Clinical Instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center and is an active Fellow of American College of Cardiology (FACC). She is a frequent TV guest and Medical Wellness Contributor.

She received her M.D in 1998 from University of Medicine and Pharmacy Carol Davila in Bucharest, followed in 2000 by a residency in Internal Medicine at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, Columbia University College of Physicians, in New York. In 2007 she completed a Cardiology Fellowship at Beth Israel Hospital, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NY, followed in 2007 by Cardiac CT mini fellowship.

As a clinical Cardiologist, Dr. Petre diagnosed and treated cardiovascular disease and related illnesses. Recognizing that heart disease, diabetes and other potentially fatal diseases stem from obesity, in 2014, she expanded her practice to integrative health and wellness, with an emphasis on weight management and lifestyle modification as the most sustainable medical approach. Thus, she opened five Medi-Weightloss Clinics in New York and Connecticut.

Dr. Petre currently is a Fellow of American College of Cardiology (FACC), American Society of Echocardiography (ASE), American Society of Vascular Ultrasound (ASVU) and American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP). She serves as an independent expert consultant for Laboratory Accreditation process in Echocardiography, Vascular Ultrasound and Nuclear Cardiology.

Dr Petre’s past and current certifications include American Board of Internal Medicine, Adult Cardiology, Echocardiography, Nuclear Cardiology, Vascular Ultrasound and level III expertise in Cardiac CT Angiography.

In her free time, Dr. Petre volunteers as a house doctor at the New York Philharmonic.

Thank you for joining us Dr. Petre! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Iwas born in a small town in Romania (where you hang the map) during communist times, in a poor family like almost everyone else unless one was part of the political elite. Those years seem grey in color in hindsight: homework at candlelight, sleeping with hats and sweaters in cold winters, and waiting in long lines for food ration. We had no TV, no travel out of town; the only windows to the world were going to school and the library. I call those the early PHD years: Poor, Hungry and Driven. And, the rest just happened. I knew I wanted a different kind of life when I was about seven years old. Luckily, childhood has a magic wand of making everything beautiful and joyful, so we grew up in a happy isolated world taking advantage of a free solid education where the utopian socialism worked. We were all equal and evaluated based on merits. Fast-forward, I went to free medical school at 18 and graduated at 24, started learning English at the age of 22, already had a residency position in Internal Medicine in Manhattan at the age of 26. I finished seven years of training including Cardiology fellowship in NY by the age of 33. I had four moonlighting jobs throughout the training years in NY. One of them was as a Forensic Sexual Assault Examiner (besides Detox, Hospice, ICU), with the most ever 207 rape exams done within seven years and multiple court appearances as an expert witness including one famous Central Park rape case (got DNA from the dog’s teeth). And, as a Hospice doctor I had to sign four death certificates in one night when everyone was celebrating the 4th of July of 2006.

Two years into private practice in 2009, I launched a cardiac imaging company, and a few years later, I opened a chain of nutrition and weight loss clinics, In addition, I started a few other entrepreneurial projects from a supplement company, medical spas and a created a protein supplement brand. I had two children in between and I spent a lot of time ballroom dancing and running the house doctor program at Lincoln Center for the last 16 years (since 2003).

What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success as a leader?

  • Endurance, moving laser forward, always on the highway. Stopping on the side road or turning back were not an option.
  • Simplifying complicated things
  • Learning attitude

In your opinion, what do you think makes your company stand out from the crowd?

I created businesses that started from large-scale needs, not from a consumerism financial model perspective. Then, we created niche solutions and concepts. We adapted to our clients’ needs as we evolved. In the medical field and weight loss industry, I had to recognize that people are not given real life solutions, but band-aids. I wanted to build an environment where patients are empowered with health, quality of life, and off the pills versus the typical medical environment where we label sickness and prescribe medication. Therefore, in our clinics we teach positive behaviors, build confidence, and redefine health as being medication free and not medication controlled.

How has your company continued to thrive in the face of rapid change and disruption in your industry?

Rule #1, a leader should not fall in love with a personal business concept. Be ready to move on and recognize when it’s time for a change. A great leader is the ultimate listener. The direction drive has to come from the front line.

A good leader has to listen to the pulse of her business, stay alert to surroundings, be in touch with and learn from clients and employees. No great ideas were born overnight, but the result of relentless attempts and trials and errors and ideas that started at the bottom. Know your competition, evaluate what the missing links are out there and be a disruptor yourself.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s jump to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. All of my successful clients seem to have one quality in common, and that is resilience. What does resilience mean to you?

Resilience is what I call post traumatic growth disorder, being humble and grateful when you fail, when a disappointing experience brings the best out of you. Every big success is preceded by many failures. Resilience is about embracing mistakes and loses as learning points, knowing the next attempt will be better and eventually successful. Winning in any field is a learning curve; one has to go through that slow phase at the beginning before it takes off. Resilience is an attitude, is reaching that point when someone says I can learn and do anything new no matter what.

When you think of tenacity and endurance, what person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

It happens that I am not choosing someone famous, but the father of my children is my hero. I learned most of my business skills from him and I owe him my twist from a simple medical doctor to a businessperson. He was an inspiration and teacher for me at every step. I recall the day when I said I want to open a company and do this and that, everyone would have said, “you are crazy”, but instead he gave me the president of his real estate company for one week to help me get started. I recall the day when he was speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2010 or in front of 2000 people in Australia in 2011 and he came to me to ask, “how did I do?”.

My children’s father is a self-made entrepreneur coming from a Brooklyn Jewish family, built a real estate empire, just to leave it all behind and commit himself to charity work and build an incredible foundation, Education for Employment, www.efe.org and be named in Time 100 Magazine. I can’t have enough gratitude for what I learned from him.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

I had many setback points in my life, but one that resonates most with me was when I decided that I would pursue a cardiology fellowship in NY. Let’s face the circumstances, I was a woman aspiring to enter a man’s world, I was a foreign medical graduate without any “ivy league” to back me up, and I was applying in Manhattan where there were only 3 positions available for any major academic center. I was competing with my American Ivy League graduates, “chief residents” of my generations who spoke English without an accent and didn’t have blonde hair.

Looking backward, I am still astounded how it happened, but I think what helped me stand out of the crowd was that I was genuine, I was able to connect to people in ways out of the medical field, I was world rounded, I proved I was driven and I was hard working. But at the end, it is the power of the personal connection one could make. I recall the interview I had with the medical director that assigned me the fellowship. He was born in Slovakia, border with my home country and we talked about history and connected in ways irrelevant to medicine, and I think that resonated with him when he had to make a choice out of the hundred applicants.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I was in Romania in 1999 and I was a fresh medical school graduate with my exams and diploma ready to be accepted in US as a foreign medical graduate but I was refused a working visa three times in a row within one year. I missed all the interviews (including a Yale one) and my American dream just collapsed in front of me with no hope of ever breaking my boundaries. I was hopeless and depressed and I didn’t know what the next would be. It seemed over. One day, I received a call from a stranger named Inna who connected through a friend and was coming from NY to move to Romania to adopt a child. It happened that she was born in the same small town as I was and left with her family to Israel when she was 4 to never come back since. She always thought about adopting a child from her hometown and through many connection links she reached out to me. Inna was a successful businesswoman living in the heart of NY. My family helped her later adopt a child from our hometown and, as an American citizen, she was able to open a reevaluation of my visa and eventually got it. Arriving to NY, within three weeks I had a job. Another random connection put my resume in front of a program director, who had a no show for the residency and that position was mine within three weeks after I arrived. In retrospect, that job was better than anything I would have hoped for.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Well, there could be many. Poverty is for sure one, I recall the days when we were searching drawers for lost pennies to make it to buy school necessities, or when grandparents had to buy clothes for us. As children, my sister and I never had nannies, but parents were working late. So we were home alone from the age of 5, we had to warm up our food and do our homework. We went out to play later outside with our friends and no one was questioning or worried about it. We did learn to be self-reliant at an early age, something I wish kids nowadays would learn. Resiliency starts when one understands he is on its own, you make it or break it.

When I was 14 I knew I wanted to become a doctor, I was part of a national first aid team and training in ER. I learned CPR and how to handle a burnt or drown victim at that time, how to fix a fracture with a splint and I learned that life can be short. That exposure helped me understand I wanted to make a difference and help people.

I also liked to dress up and wear pretty clothes and I had no other option but to learn tailoring and started making my own dresses, later to make for friends for extra pocket money. At 15, I made a wedding dress that I traded to buy a pair of white boots. Still nowadays, I love dresses and do a lot of handwork. My second career choice would have been a fashion designer.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. What strategies do you use to strengthen your resilience? (Please share a story or an example for each)

My own resilience is pretty trained…The best training is a real-life need. But that is not happening to everyone, the real question is how we do that for our children who grow up so privileged or our peers who grow up comfortably and don’t feel any urge to do something different. In our current world, teaching resilience to our kids or our employees can only be done though positive empowering, as Pygmalion effect, let people know that you believe in them but the the bar is high, “it’s ok to fail but you can do better than that”. Need is the best fire to burst resilience but when it is not there, it’s got to be a different motivational game and as alternative that would be self-purpose or meaning.

What are your thoughts on how leaders can create a more resilient workforce?

As I said above, with employees, create an environment where feedback on mistakes is not punished at a personal level but accepted as constructive criticism and learning curve. Empower your employees first, then you can give them any feedback and they will never see it as negative but thank you for the teaching experience. However, that doesn’t mean tolerating endless underperformance and laziness.

Extensive research suggests that people who have a clear purpose in their lives are more likely to persevere during difficult times. What is your purpose?

Purpose is meaning in life, it is a compass. As in Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, we need an idea of future we aspire to in order to accomplish, it’s like having a destination on a road map. Clear purpose is like a magnet, when we establish that, it is amazing how many ways we find to reach that target. The “What” is first the “How” will follow.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

Albert Einstein “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

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