According to an American Medical Association study in 2012, 53 perccent of physicians were full or part owners of a practice; 42 percent were employees; and 5 percent were independent contractors. Of particular note is that in 1983, 75.8 percent of physicians were self-employed. This trend has continued as approximately 75 percent of physician hiring in the last two years has been by hospitals. Anyone familiar with the medical industry knows the challenges of being an independent physician practitioner today. The amount of complexity involved in operating a medical practice from a regulatory and financial perspective is staggering. Since the health care industry is such a large part of Mississippi’s economy, I am always interested in learning from leaders in the medical field. My interviewee this week, Dr. A. Terrel Williams, is a successful ophthalmologist and practice owner.
Williams is a native of Churchill and graduated with degrees in history and chemistry from Millsaps College. He noted, “I believe that the liberal arts education that I received at Millsaps has been a great benefit to me in my quest for learning and knowledge. It gave me a broad perspective and allowed me to learn about a range of areas, including religion, philosophy, art, and politics as well as science.” Williams received his medical degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and he completed a surgery internship at Tulane. After completing three years of eye research at LSU’s Eye Center, he completed his ophthalmology residence back at UMMC. Williams began his private practice career with Dr. William Aden before opening his own solo practice in 1990. Since then, Williams has built a very successful practice focusing on cataract surgery, contact lenses and dry eyes.
One of the things that struck me about Williams was his diverse interests and knowledge. I quickly picked up that he was a leader committed to continual learning. He shared, “I have always had an interest in business and economics. In 2008, after my youngest son went to college I obtained a healthcare MBA at George Washington University with an emphasis in health care policy.”
While none of his sons followed his footsteps into medicine, they have all pursued business careers and have traveled broadly. He shared, “When my sons were young we traveled extensively, including visits to China and Uganda. I took them along on mission trips around the world which I believe taught them and me a great deal, and when they were older they pursued humanitarian works on their own.”
We discussed the challenges faced today by today’s medical practitioners. Williams noted the difficulty in navigating the ever-changing healthcare industry landscape. He explained, “Physicians today in private practice not only have to stay on top of the latest development in their medical field, they also need to know and understand the ‘business’ of medicine as well as the regulatory environment.” He shared that physicians coming out of school today have to decide whether they want to become employed practitioners and just focus on medicine or be in private practice which require knowledge and skill in running a business.
For future leaders, Williams emphasized the importance of being teachable. He said, “You have to realize that you never know everything, and thus always continue learning both to keep up with current teaching as well as for personal development.” He also explained that honesty and character are what truly count. He always emphasizes to “Do the Right Thing” and encourages his employees to follow the Golden Rule. I was inspired by Williams’ intentionality in his continual learning, and his focus on mission work around the globe. He is a great example of how health care providers can still successfully operate in the complex world of medicine today.
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.
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