An Oasis in the Desert

Wendy Roberts, MD, has developed a devoted following by helping her patients maintain and improve their skin health from head to toe.
MedEsthetics Cover Profile July/August 2017

Dr. Roberts calls this “deep medicine,” because it allows her to get to the heart of each individual patient’s physical history. Based on this information, she develops a completely customized treatment protocol with the goal of maintaining their skin health and putting them on the path to healthy aging. “My patients tell their friends and family that I went over them head-to-toe and am going to keep their skin from looking aged,” she says.

A New Skin Classification System

To help her select the best and safest treatment options, Dr. Roberts created the Roberts skin type classification system, which expands upon the iconic Fitzpatrick skin type scale. It is a four-part classification system in which the clinician evaluates four quantitative and qualitative elements of skin type and behavior—phototype, hyperpigmentation, photoaging and scarring. The Roberts skin type evaluation includes a review of ancestral and clinical history, visual examination, test site reactions, and physical examination of the patient’s skin. 

She began developing the system her first year in practice after a blonde-haired, blue-eyed patient underwent laser treatment. Dr. Roberts used the Fitzpatrick scale to determine treatment settings; yet the patient returned a few weeks later with significant post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. “She did not reveal her Middle Eastern ancestry,” says Dr. Roberts. “I learned that it’s not enough to look at a person and think you know how their skin is going to behave. I want to know how their skin is going to respond.”

Private Practice Challenges

As a solo practitioner, the biggest practice management challenge for Dr. Roberts is spending adequate time with patients to provide optimal care while also maintaining an efficient office that runs on time. “I see all the patients myself, and I believe in spending quality time with them,” she says. “At the same time, you need to see enough patients to generate enough revenue to survive and become profitable. It is a balancing act.”

The key to making it all work, she notes, is finding the right staff members. “Once you find them, reward them,” she says. “Get them invested in the practice and invested in you. Your office culture is like a little country within a country. It changes as you grow, but we all understand our strengths and weaknesses and we all understand our roles.”

She and her staff strive to give every patient the “Wendy Roberts Experience,” which means every person who enters the practice leaves feeling better than they did when they arrived. It starts by offering a spa-like environment with soft lighting, beautiful furnishings, ambient music and special touches, like ice water served in crystal glasses. The second step is delivering top-notch service to every patient. “My No. 1 way of garnering new patients is word-of-mouth. Second is physician referrals and third—but the fastest growing—is social media,” says Dr. Roberts. “You have to assume that every patient who comes into your office is going to leave your office and write a review on you. So do your best not to keep your patients waiting. Make sure your staff is helpful and polite, and seek to provide an overall great experience for every patient.”

When she needs inspiration, Dr. Roberts looks to her first role model. “Everything I am, I owe to my mother. She was a single, working parent with two daughters. She worked every day, and the only time we could really spend time with her was in the morning watching her get dressed for work, doing her hair and putting on her makeup,” she says. “That instilled in me at a very early age the work ethic that has carried me through my life and career.”

She encourages residents to “Learn a lot. Embrace new fellowships when possible and seek to work with—and learn from—the best people. Don’t chase money,” says Dr. Roberts. “Money will find you when you’re good, when you’re excellent.”

Shelley Moench-Kelly, MBA, is a freelance writer based in Newport, Vermont.

Photography by Cory Sorensen.