Creating a Legacy

May 20, 2010

My father is a retired OB/GYN from a small Virginia town. Dad’s professional legacy is broad. It includes not only the thousands of babies he delivered and women he cared for, but also a practice he founded that continues to this day.

My father is my hero. He is a great father, a great husband, and a great friend. His legacy is secure. Dad is a smart man, too, but a man recently stumped him when he asked if Dad knew what he was doing exactly fifty-three years ago. The man gave Dad a heartfelt handshake and told him, “You were delivering me…thanks, doc!”

You see, my father is a retired OB/GYN from a small Virginia town. And 53 years ago, he was on call 24/7, 365 days a year, often picking up the nurse anesthetist - there was no anesthesiologist on staff, and the nurse anesthetist did not drive - on the way to the hospital to deliver a baby. The delivery of this man 53 years ago is part of my father’s legacy.

Dad’s professional legacy is broad. It includes not only the thousands of babies he delivered and women he cared for, but also a practice he founded that continues to this day.

If you are the founder or leader of a medical practice, your professional legacy reaches beyond patient care. It also includes securing the practice’s future going forward, after you have retired or left the practice. Here are several steps to consider:

1. Set a timetable
You may not want to share your timetable with others just yet, but decide how much longer you will continue in your role. Leadership should be planned and then transitioned to minimize discontinuity. It is okay not to share your decision just yet, but you should try and set an approximate date.

2. Identify potential successors
Even if your retirement or transition date is five years away, begin looking at potential successors. Think in terms of the qualities your successor(s) will need. Compare the attributes and potential of each of your candidates, but don’t forget to pay attention to the negatives, too. Choosing a strong successor will help ensure the practice’s future success following your departure.

3. Cultivate your successors
Begin grooming potential new leaders by giving them responsibilities that require use of your list of key attributes for success. If you have more than one candidate, use this opportunity to see who rises and who falls. These tasks may refute your preconceived notions. Begin by informally discussing the nuances of the practice and suggest leadership development courses/books to the candidates you feel are best. Depending upon the structure and make-up of your group, you may want to share your thoughts on succession with your practice manager and key physicians. Leadership does not happen in a vacuum, nor should leadership succession.

4. Get it in writing
Document the succession plan, even if some of the details are not concrete. Having a written plan listing the tasks that must be accomplished (e.g., buy-sell agreements, check signatories), will reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings or dropped balls.

5. Stay active during the handoff
Finally, work with your successor to ensure a smooth transition. Be there for her, and support her in this new role. Do not undercut her. Her success is your legacy.

Remember, your professional legacy is the culmination of years of caring and service. Nurturing your practice by planning for your eventual transition out of the practice ensures that it remains strong for the next generation.

Lucien W. Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE, is Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Seredor Corporation. He also consults with medical groups and health systems in areas such as compliance, physician compensation, negotiation, strategic planning, and billing/collections. He may be reached at lucien.roberts@yahoo.com.