The first time someone called me a thought leader I did a double take.
I knew there were thought leaders out there, a host of doctors I respected and looked to for guidance and support. I knew that when they spoke I could count on their words, they loved to teach, were generous with their time, and they participated in academic activities like speaking at meetings, publishing papers and serving on committees for our associations. They did these things because they had a passion for their calling and they gained as much from the experience as anyone got from what they gave. They were successful in their practices and wanted others to be successful too.
I graduated dermatology residency nearly 20 years ago. The last day of my residency was on a Tuesday, I started my practice on Wednesday, the very next day. I was told by many of my attendings that NY was saturated and there was no room for more dermatologists, and some were even upset and offended I didn’t join their practices.
I started out with one patient – who stayed with me from residency and who had no money to pay. She was a young woman in her 30’s with severe carotid endarteritis and massive keloids from the several endarterectomy surgical sites. I would inject her with cortisone on a monthly basis and we would chat about life and her dreams for her future. Her English was not very good, my Spanish was worse, so it’s hard to know if we were having the same conversation but the effect was that she grew attached and I enjoyed taking care of her.
I worked full time (crammed in to 3 days a week) at the Bellevue clinic supervising the residents and then part time at the NYU student health center to help build my practice since graduating students often stayed in New York and would hopefully stay with me. I loved teaching the residents and wanted to tell them everything I knew so they would be ready for the Boards. As they got ready to graduate I made sure they knew I would be an honest and trustworthy confidant, I would help them make sure they had a fair contract and they could ask me any question at all, I would never tell and I would give my honest advice.
I was their biggest cheerleader and they were my pride and joy.
They still are. Since my practice was just starting, I had time but no money for marketing so I worked on building my website and as other social media became popular I signed on and did my own posts. The more I did the easier it was and the more I learned about what interested me and what interested others. I also started to speak at meetings and for various companies as more products came to market, first Botox then Restylane then Juvederm, Lumenis, and others. It was a loss for the practice to close when I went to meetings and the amount I was paid to speak for companies never covered the cost, but I learned from every experience, I met and learned so much from colleagues I would otherwise never come into contact with and I loved sharing what I knew. It was my high.
This was all part of my everyday world and it was my privilege and honor to participate. I had no idea this was my path. And then one day, I was considered a thought leader. Do what you love, don’t sell anything, inform people and let them decide for themselves. Always speak the truth and try to listen as much as you talk. Don’t think of yourself as a thought leader, just be yourself and lead.