During Part 4 of the Vit-Buckle Society’s 2020 virtual meeting, Nika Bagheri, MD, delivered an insightful presentation on practice-building recommendations for new vitreoretinal surgeons. In her talk, Dr. Bagheri suggested a number of pearls, ranging from the knowledge new associates need to ascertain (practice-specific systems, the referral landscape, partner strengths, knowing your staff), to actionable items (having face-to-face meetings with referring providers, covering all emergencies from said providers, and being available to do so), to attitudes new associates need to maintain (balancing patient expectations, surviving poor reviews, and remembering that even young associates bring something to the table).

Kyle D. Kovacs, MD: You are more than 2 years into your practice development. How have you shifted your practice-building mentality from day 1 to today?

Nika Bagheri, MD: I think that we perform best when we have a fluid and flexible approach, but practice building never ends, and certain principles are key to follow whether it is your first day on the job or your 20th year in practice. Namely, the three A’s: Be available, affable, and able. Every referring doctor experience, from a simple phone call to a dictated letter, is an opportunity to demonstrate to your community that you are a AAA-certified physician, so to speak.

Dr. Kovacs: In your VBS presentation, you touched on one of the hardest balancing acts for young practitioners: doing what patients want versus providing what patients need. What tips or tricks do you have for new associates?

Dr. Bagheri: The vast majority of patients simply want to feel that they are cared for, respected, and safe in trusting a competent physician. I like to set expectations early and review exam findings in detail at the end. Always try to frame things in an appropriate way to give reassurance where it’s warranted, without minimizing the reason the patient came in. Having spiels for diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of common retina conditions is extremely helpful to maximize patient confidence in you as a provider.

Dr. Kovacs: Did you ever feel that being the first female in a previously all-male group changed the practice-building landscape for you?

Dr. Bagheri: In my experience, people tend to like people that they are similar to or they identify with. Referring doctors and patients will end up gravitating toward certain providers over others. This is just one of the many reasons why physician diversity is so critical to maintain a healthy long-term practice.

Dr. Kovacs: What specific suggestions do you have for engaging with your referral base in the COVID-19 world?

Dr. Bagheri: I believe that a case-by-case approach is best in today’s environment. Every referring provider will have slightly different expectations and preferences about social distancing, in-person meetings versus virtual meetings, etc. As such, it is better to be conservative when unsure and to ask questions before presuming. Although a face-to-face meeting may not be possible, your voice in a direct conversation and your availability make a huge difference. COVID-19 has perhaps accelerated an already growing movement away from traditional strategies for building a referral base. Generally speaking, the younger generation of referring providers is comfortable with texting, calling, and virtual formats.  

More from Dr. Bagheri

Read Dr. Bagheri’s thoughts about joining California Retina Consultants in “Starting Off as the First Female Physician in an All-Male Practice: Ten Tips,” from our March 2019 issue at bit.ly/Bagheri1020.