Focus on Physician Leadership: Get to know Elizabeth Burba-Dick, MD
March 18, 2019
1. Woburn Pediatrics has impressively consistent and excellent performance on both efficiency and quality. To what do you attribute this? What’s your “secret sauce”?
I wish there was a “secret sauce” because I would bottle it. I think what makes Woburn Pediatrics (WPA) so successful is its leadership and its people. Dr. Joseph Leader started WPA 50 years ago and has set an amazing example on how to lead. His hard work and dedication to WPA, his family and his patients inspires those around him to live up to his standards. It has always been a culture of setting the example from the top down. Through this leadership, our providers, management team and staff work together for the common good of our patients, their families and the practice as a whole. We are constantly reevaluating how we practice, sharing best practices and better ways to serve our patients with each other.
2. Can you share a specific story which a patient challenged the way you work, or you had to be innovative in your approach?
I went to a conference a few years back and the developmental pediatrician compared raising adolescents to “stapling jello to a tree.” I feel for my young patients who attempt to be independent but struggle to make the right decisions. It is tough having connections to these kids and their families as young children and then see them struggle in their teen years. I currently work with a teen who was always a top student, good kid and super athlete. He is now struggling with drug addiction. He rarely makes school on time, has a truant officer, strained relationship with his parents, no longer can play sports, and has been through multiple therapists and court appearances. Each time I see him, I try to have some impact on improving the situation. Such attempts have included looking for ways to get him into school on time, cutting back on his drug use, encouraging better eating habits and reaching out to his “clean” friends.
Each time I’m hopeful that something has stuck in his mind and there will be a positive change. Yet each time he returns, I have learned of further setbacks. I am still hopeful that maybe all of these efforts from the people trying to help will eventually result in a positive outcome. Maybe some of the “jello” will eventually stay.
3. Why did you decide to accept the nomination as a NEQCA Board of Trustees member?
I had been part of the NEQCA committees for many years serving on the Pediatric Advisory and Funds Flow Committees. I enjoyed working with the NEQCA management and providers over the years. It was wonderful to meet new people and establish relationships with them. I also learned so much on these committees about how different practices function, how doctors practice medicine and about the business side of medicine. As a board member, I could continue to represent the providers and especially the pediatricians in NEQCA. I was excited to also learn from these leaders’ ways to improve the way we practice at WPA.
4. How does your practice elicit engagement amongst its providers and maintain that “greater purpose” attitude regarding the work you do?
The philosophy of the practice, which was inspired by Dr. Leader, has always been to treat your patients and coworkers as you would treat your own family. This way of thinking inspires people to work towards that common good. It also allows for different perspectives to be shared amongst the providers and employees.
One example of this is at my previous employment, I used an EMR that was chosen single handedly by one of the partners. There was always grumbling and blame to that one partner about that EMR. The other physicians were not engaged to make the EMR successful, and two years into the EMR, it was still not being used efficiently. I switched to WPA a few years prior to changing over to an EMR. Each department was asked to give input on the 3-4 vendors that we were choosing. We were all allowed to give our pros and cons and ask questions. I was so impressed that my new practice cared to know my opinion and even asked for my input. I was a young physician and not even a partner and that really inspired me to want to make this EMR successful.
5. You chose to take care of patients as a career, how have you prepared yourself for the business related items of running a practice? What would you tell a doctor who is just entering the field about how they can prepare for these types of ‘other’ responsibilities?
My father is a dentist and opened his own practice fresh out of dental school. I worked in his office during high school and he showed me how he kept the books. I learned from the office staff how to process claims, make appointments, clean the operatories etc. This gave me a foundation in the business side of health care. My dad always told me to take business classes in college, I wish I did. Unfortunately, the rest I have learned on the job. Medical school does not prepare you for the business side of the profession. I was a chief resident, which prepared me to manage and schedule a large group of physicians. I also had to work with multiple departments in the hospital, which allowed me to see the many facets of healthcare.
Since then, I luckily have had great people around me who have taught me so much, such as my dad, Joe Leader, my other partners, finance, and management teams at the office. It was a huge learning curve when I joined the partnership at WPA. I know I made meetings run longer with all my questions. I am grateful for their support, patience and knowledge. I continue to learn from them every day. I think being part of the NEQCA committees also has given me more knowledge about insurance companies, negotiations and how other practices function.
6. Given the Woburn Pediatric is a fully employed group practice, what a type of investments has your practice made to account for the changing health care environment?
The advantage of working in a group is that we have many physicians who come up with innovative ideas. Dr. Patricia Connolly has always worked hard on coding. She came up with the idea years ago to hire a person to review our charts. This person reviewed our documentation to make sure we were coding properly, and a few years later we employed a certified coder.
Dr. Michael Vogler started our first “therapist list.” This list contained the local therapists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists etc. It was a daunting task to keep this list accurate which then led to hiring a social worker to continue this work. We now have two social workers who help our families and physicians navigate the behavioral health environment. We also started a separate psychiatry practice with three board certified pediatric psychiatrists who service our patients and educate our providers on mental health illnesses.
7. What hobbies or interests do you have outside of your work as a pediatrician?
I love spending time with my husband and three children. We are a very active family who enjoy various sports and activities. I coach their teams as my schedule allows. It is great to be around my kids and to get to know many of their friends and my patients on a more personal level. My free time is spent golfing, working out, paddle boarding, learning French (not going well), traveling and taking trips to Martha’s Vineyard.
Read other Focus on Physician Leadership interviews in this series:
Get to Know Eric Silverman, MD (December 2018)
Get to Know Kelli Kennedy, MD (September 2018)
Get to know Ted Herwig, MD (June 2018)
Get to Know Pratiksha Patel, MD (March 2018)
Get to Know Dan Driscoll, MD (November 2017)