Cash Confessional: A physician started her own practice in Plaza Midwood on $25,000 in savings

Cash Confessional: A physician started her own practice in Plaza Midwood on $25,000 in savings
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Our Cash Confessional series, in partnership with Bank of America, takes a real and personal look inside the finances of different Charlotteans. No matter your situation, get helpful tips for a brighter financial future with Better Money Habits.

Interested in sharing your own personal finance story for our Cash Confessionals? Reach out to Katie Peralta at [email protected].

Melissa Jones is a physician who grew up in High Point and did her residency at Atrium, wrapping up in 2008. She worked at a few large local hospitals before setting up a private practice. These days, Jones lives in the Plaza Midwood area, close to work and close to family.

Wednesday (October 21) marks one year exactly since Jones opened her own practice. It’s a direct primary care practice, which means it’s a bit different from the traditional private doctor’s office. It’s a membership model the way a gym is, and covers everything from in-person checkups to text consultations to stitches. Jones says the model helps her spend more time with patients.

She also works with local businesses that want to provide a healthcare option for their employees. Jones calls her DPC office a micro practice: She’s the only employee for now, and she has just under 100 patients.

(The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Dr. Melissa Jones with a patient

Dr. Melissa Jones with a patient (courtesy of Dr. Melissa Jones)

What inspired you to open your own practice?

When I started medical school, I always intended to own my own practice. As I got further along in my training, I came to understand that the trend was to be an employed physician. While this did offer some security, it never allowed me to practice in the way that I wanted to.

The direct primary care is kind of like going back to the traditional small-town family doctor that knew the community and was available for their neighbors through the different areas and needs of their lives. It was intentional that I set up my office less than a mile from my house.

What made you decide to go with this type of practice, one that is member-based?

I had been looking at the direct primary care model for a few years, but had been hesitant to take the leap because of going against the status quo of what felt like assembly-line medicine. The more I researched having a membership base model, and being able to offer low costs pre-negotiated labs, dispensing medicine in my office also at cost, and being able to be each patients’ advocate through the healthcare system, it was a no brainer.

What were the biggest hurdles in opening a business and how much did you have to invest?

The biggest hurdle was figuring out the business side of being a small business owner. I’ve never had to really network or sell myself, so that’s been a skill set that I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone to learn.

I used my own savings of about $25,000 for the start up costs and kept my overhead low. As I add more patients and revenue, I plan to add more services. Once I reach about 600 patients, then I will have a salary that is the same or slightly more than what I made working for the hospital affiliated insurance-based system.

How has the pandemic affected the business side of your practice?

Interestingly, I’ve had little to no turnover even as several of my patients were furloughed or lost their jobs because of the pandemic. I was able to pivot easily to Telehealth visits, some of which were free to the community during the spring. My revenue grew because I acquired new members. But during the pandemic, my growth has slowed, in part because I wasn’t able to market and have those face to face meetings.

Have you seen a lot of patients who either have Covid or have had Covid, and now have after-effects like loss of smell?

Yes, I did have a few patients that had Covid. I was able to monitor a few of them very closely by texting or calling daily and keeping up with their symptoms and oxygenation levels, with the primary goal of supporting them and keeping them out of the ER.

The after effects such as the loss of smell and taste, fatigue, and heart and lung issues will probably be something we’ll be monitoring for many years to come.

Have you sought specific pandemic-related relief like PPP or a grant from the city, state, or county for the business?

I was able to qualify for the EDIL small grant of $1,000 as a sole proprietor in the beginning. Since I didn’t actually lose revenue, I didn’t qualify for any PPP loans. My DPC colleagues that already had full panels experienced little or no disruption because they could still give care and had income from the memberships.

If you could give one piece of advice to 22-year-old Melissa, what would it be?

That medicine is a rewarding field, and would still be worth the years of training and student loan debt. However, I would’ve wanted to start the DPC model of practice right out of residency. It aligns with all the reasons I got into medicine to begin with.

What is your No. 1 piece of financial advice?

Whether we are in a booming economy or in a recession, that this too shall pass. 2008 was not the best time to finally be done with training and start my career. Like many physicians in the current financial state are being laid off, I was laid off from my first job due to people losing their jobs and going to the doctor less. But, things improved and markets recovered.

And always try to have savings as you never know what life will throw at you. Money and time go hand in hand.

Want to read more about personal finance? Find our Cash Confessional series here.

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