As a part of my interview series with prominent medical professionals about “How To Grow Your Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewingDr. Steven Gundry MD, one of the world’s top heart surgeons and a pioneer in nutrition. Dr. Gundry is Director and Founder of the International Heart & Lung Institute as well as the Center for Restorative Medicine in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, CA.
His most recent books, The Plant Paradox, and The Plant Paradox Cookbook and “The Plant Paradox, Quick and Easy,” are all NY Times Best Sellers. His next book, The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Ageis releasing March 19.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell our readers a bit about your ‘backstory”?
I had an amazing opportunity as an undergrad at Yale to design my own major and defend my thesis on human evolution. I put that aside and went into an academic surgical tract, training at the University of Michigan and The Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London before rising to Professor and Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where with my partner Dr Leonard Bailey, we pioneered infant heart transplantation. I also invented and patented multiple devices to protect the heart during open heart surgery and had a pioneering role in minimally invasive and robotic heart surgery. But at the top of my game, my thinking was jolted when I met a man I call “Big Ed’ in the late ‘90’s, who reversed what was diagnosed as inoperable coronary artery disease in six months by a combination of diet and supplements, a diet that mirrored my research at Yale. I dug up my old thesis from Yale (my parents had saved it!) and put myself on the diet I described and started taking a lot of suppplements. Within a year I had lost 50 lbs,, my high blood pressure, pre diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, and migraine headaches (which I was told was genetic) went away. I started teaching this to my patients that I had operated on for heart disease and the same sort of things happened.
What made you want to start your own practice?
One fateful morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that I shouldn’t be operating on patients and and then teaching them to eat to avoid me in the future; I should teach them to eat so that I wouldn’t have to operate on them in the first place! Now, that’s really a dumb career move for a Heart Surgeon. But I resigned my position and moved to nearby Palm Springs, CA and opened my practice in Restorative Medicine. I asked patients to let me get blood work every three months, get a few supplements from Trader Joes or Costco, an to stop eat certain “healthy” foods to see what happened.
Managing being a provider and a business owner can often be exhausting. Can you elaborate on how you manage both roles?
The biggest challenge was how do you keep food on the table going from doing two to three heart operations a day and getting reimbursed for that, to operating on one case twice a week and the rest of time teaching people how to eat (which doesn’t exactly pay much). And still put kids through college, etc. Needless to say, we went though all of our savings, all of our retirement plans, just to stay afloat. But the belief in what I was doing, and the amazing results my patients experienced kept my wife and I going through very tough times.
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?
I don’t see a difference between the two. I never advertised my business; I now see patients seven days a week, even Saturdays and Sundays in my two offices. I still have had time to write 5 books, 3 NYT’s Bestsellers, present my research around the world, train doctors and residents who visit my clinics. It is the results of my patients that brings more people to my offices and allowed me to design my own supplement brand GundryMD, which I believe is the only supplement line where ingredients and formulations are completely designed and controlled by a practicing MD based on his research on actual patient results. In other words, results produce more results.
From completing your degree to opening a clinic and becoming a business owner, the path was obviously full of many hurdles. How did you build up resilience to rebound from failures? Is there a specific hurdle that sticks out to you?
It would have been perhaps faster to advertise what I do and to sell supplements in my office in order to generate money flow, but as a lifelong academic researcher, I wanted to keep my monetary success (from selling supplements in my office) out of the“experiment” of what supplements did to patients blood work and their health. It has gotten to the point that I can even tell if a patient has changed a brand of a particular supplement based on changes in blood work! And I used to think supplements made “expensive urine.” So, I suffered monetarily for years (15 to be exact) gathering the data. I’ll never forget a Podcast I did with Dr Joseph Mercola when my bestseller, “The Plant Paradox” had just come out. He was wild about the book, and apoligized that he had never heard of me before the book. He asked what I had been doing for so many years. I replied that I was merely following the Buddha’s advice to “chop wood and carry water.” And that’s my advice. Do the work and if the work is good, success will follow.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Grow Your Private Practice” and why?
- I’ve said this in an interview before, but it bears repeating. When I was recruited to my first academic job as an Assistant Professor at The University of Maryland, I asked my Chairman Joseph McLaughlin when I would be promoted to Associate Professor (the next step up). He put his arm around my shoulder and smiled, and said that I would be promoted to Associate Professor when I had become the best Assistant Professor I could be. I’ve never had better advice. Success comes from doing the work, enjoying the work, not looking down the road, not gaming the system. If you believe in what you are doing, it can compensate for years of low income. Could I have gone against my core values to generate more income by selling supplements in my office? Yes of course, but it would have violated my principles as a researcher. To this day, I don’t have GundryMD supplements in my office.
- Make yourself available to the community. Be ready to give a lecture anywhere and at anytime. I gave talks and still do in community centers, senior centers, nursing homes; I have long term patients that I’ve been seeing for 15 years whom I met at such events.
- Take MediCal and Medicaid patients. All people have a right to quality care and they will teach you as much or more as your insurance and cash patients do.
- If you decide to do a concierge practice (and I recommend not doing this initially) don’t price yourself out of a job. A high price doesn’t prove your worth. Word of mouth and desire to get into your office will eventually drive your value and hence your charges.
- Be prepared to have very lean times and always be sure of your motivations. You must have an unshakable belief in your talents and why you are doing what you’re doing, because the going will get tough and the desire to opt out or take shortcuts that will undermine your reputation will be too great.
Many healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization”. How did you overcome that mental block?
I resisted this for years for the exact reasons I listed before. You can monetize yourself if and only if you develop a reason to monetize your services and or talents. In other words, you must have a unique proven talent, track record that will make people want to pay for that service or product.
What do you do when you feel unfocused or overwhelmed?
I always remember why I do what I do; then I take my three dogs for a jog! Perhaps because I was in academics for so many years where I got a paycheck/salary for so many years, the drive to make money as a goal was both the biggest help during the lean times and the biggest hindrance to “make some money!”
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 mentioned many mentors above, but the work ethic that both my Mother and Father inspired in me was probably the most important driving force to keep me going during the tough times.
What resources did you use (Blogs, webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) that helped jumpstart you in the beginning of your business?
I didn’t use any; my practice grew organically. In other words, people sought me out and new doors opened. As an example, without mentioning names, I became a consultant on the microbiome to an investment company; the CEO suggested a gentlemen who had some health issues to me; when we fixed his health issues, he had me speak at a conference on what I do. After my lecture, the gentlemen who eventually became my partner in forming GundryMD, came up to me and wondered if I would ever want to design my own line of supplements where a I would have complete control of the formulations. And, the rest is history. In the words of an old Johnny Hartfield song: I would not be here if I hadn’t been there.
What’s the worst piece of advice or recommendation you’ve ever received? Can you share a story about that?
We were told to declare bankruptcy. At one point, we had exhausted our savings, our retirement accounts trying to make a go of my new practice. Our attorney arranged a meeting with a bankruptcy management team. After hearing their advice, we short sold our house, we started renting, but I immediately started working full days on Saturday and half days on Sunday; that extra work was just enough to turn the tide and hold on for better times. Which did in fact come.
Please recommend one book that’s made the biggest impact on you?
My wife will tell you that I used to consume every self help book ever written. But quite frankly, when I did what the Buddha said to do to attain enlightenment, simply chop wood and carry water (just do the work) did I find success in my new career. That’s why I have a Yoda doll in my exam room to remind me and my patients : Try Not! Do or Do Not, There is no Try!”
Where can our readers follow you on social media?
For other incredible interviews, please check out our podcast: Healthcare Heroes.
A special thanks to Dr. Gundry again! The purpose of this interview series is to highlight the entrepreneurs, innovators, advocates, and providers inside Healthcare. Our hope is to inspire future healthcare providers on the incredible careers that are possible!