PLASTIC SURGEON Paul Vanek, MD, FACS, was drawn to the field of medicine at a young age. When he was 8 years old his father suffered a traumatic brain injury, which gave Dr. Vanek a unique perspective on the care that physicians provide. “The doctors who took care of my father and comforted my mother really had that ability to make people feel better, even though it was a very out of control situation,” he recalls. “It was that experience that led me into medicine.”
Dr. Vanek worked as an emergency medical techncian while attending Haverford College in Pennsylvania. “I really loved trauma,” he says, noting that he became more engaged in the area during medical school at the University of Rochester in New York. He trained as a general surgeon and then entered a plastic surgery residency at the University of Michigan. “I was very interested in saving lives and patching up people who were traumatized—having an impact on their lives and reconstructing them.
“I worked in a level 1 trauma center in Rochester, and while I was training I got to see these magical people called plastic surgeons,” he continues. “They would go into a room with a patient who had some very serious problems, and they’d emerge 6 or 8 or 10 hours later, and the patient would be transformed.”
After completing his residency, Dr. Vanek joined the Lake Health System in Lake County, Ohio, where he practiced for one year before striking out on his own. “I always thought it would be best for me to be self-employed. The hospital facilitated me to get my practice going, and I opened Vanek Plastic Surgery in Mentor, Ohio, in 1997,” he says.
The Will To Thrive
An entrepreneur at heart, Dr. Vanek has owned or managed several businesses throughout his life, beginning with a paper route as a child. He worked as a contract trumpet player during high school, college and medical school; ran a landscaping business in high school and college; and founded his own medical billing company, HealthMaxx, in 2001, which he sold as a new attending in 2007 to focus on plastic surgery.
“When I was training to be a physician, I also did research at Columbia Presbyterian and New York University—I regularly had academic jobs at that time,” he says. “I’ve had other ventures along the way, but I always wanted to have practice autonomy. Even though I’m a collaborative soul, I knew I’d be best served if I was able to run my own business.”
The most challenging aspects of practice ownership have been keeping up with compliance issues and the day-to-day management of personnel. “Surgery is the fun and easy part of my day; the challenging part is the massive amount of compliance that goes along with being a physician in the U.S.—negotiating contracts with insurance companies, keeping up with the administrative state requirements of being an employer—as well as handling all the moving parts of a busy office,” says Dr. Vanek. “But I love it because of the relationships I’ve formed. I have people who have worked for me for 14 years—long-term employees who I value.”
He has found that retaining personnel requires more than just logistics and numbers, and he strives to nurture his staff emotionally as well as financially. “People come and go—they get married and divorced and move around, and the only way to keep them is to know what the market pays and compensate them well,” he says. “But you have to structure their bonuses emotionally too by recognizing holidays, being there for their kids, giving them time off and acknowledging their accomplishments. That’s not just economics; it’s the emotional side of the practice of medicine.”
Photo by Cory Sorensen Photography