We’re thrilled to announce the $10,000 June Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Christina Doll, Founder of Revival Direct Primary Care.
Christina is the seventh qualifier for the 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Christina for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Welcome, everyone, to a chat with our latest Amber Grant winner. Today, we’re speaking with Dr. Christina Doll of Revival Direct Primary Care, who’s the Amber Grant winner for June, 2021. I’m Marcia Layton Turner. And I’m on the Advisory Board for WomensNet. So Christina, why don’t we start by just having you tell us about your business and why you started it.
Christina: Before I even do that, I just want to take a minute to really say thank you for this really incredible opportunity. I was so thrilled when I found out I was the June recipient of the Amber Grant. My heart leapt out of my chest when I got the news. I’m just so grateful for what this program is doing for women like me. So thank you, first and foremost.
My journey to becoming an entrepreneur and building this practice really began back in early 2020. I was at that time preparing to return to work after maternity leave. I had, unfortunately, a really complicated pregnancy and was quite ill. I ended up needing to be on an IV for fluids and medicine for 30 weeks straight. So I was much too sick to see patients and had taken some time away from work. But I had finally had my baby…a beautiful baby girl… and was starting to feel better and get really excited about returning to work and kind of coming out of that fourth trimester haze that I think all moms know well. Unfortunately just as I was preparing to come back to work, coronavirus started to show up in my town and of course all across the country.
And although in the news, what we really heard were stories about high demand for healthcare workers — particularly really early in the pandemic — at the same time there was this other impact of COVID happening. Healthcare workers were being put on leave and furloughed and fired, all across the country because of decreased patient visits. So things like preventive care, routine physicals… they just weren’t happening. People were staying home. Ultimately, a lot of healthcare workers were finding themselves in this position where they weren’t needed, and shockingly and sadly, that’s what I experienced firsthand. I found myself in this position where I was asking, ‘Do ride this out and kind of see if a spot opens back up for me. Or do I muster up some courage and make a change?’
For many reasons, I decided to take a leap. I think it was really important for me to get back into caring for patients. I was watching this medical crisis unfold and of course wanted to do anything I could to help. And on a very basic level, I needed an income. So I decided to go for it. Starting a practice was something that I had been dreaming of for years and years and years, but I had always told myself that it was too far out of reach. You know, I would tell myself I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have formal business training. I didn’t have sort of this panel of patients ready to support a new practice. And it all just felt like an enormous risk, I guess.
You don’t really see too many doctors these days going out and kind of hanging a shingle like people used to, because it’s a really competitive environment. It’s pretty intimidating to do that. And on top of that, like so many other parents during COVID, I lost all my childcare options. So I knew that whatever move I made, I would be making with my newborn and my toddler in tow. That was really overwhelming and pretty scary. But having that experience with my prior position, kind of being put on hold due to COVID, showed me that even an employed position was no guarantee. And it kinda gave me that little push to take a risk and be brave. I knew that if I was going to go it alone, I needed to do something different and bring something new to the table.
I wanted to set myself apart from the hospital system owned insurance-based practices that I think all of us are used to. So what I did was I started thinking about: what is it that I look for when I look for a doctor? What do I want for my own family? And I really asked anyone who would listen and talk to me, what do you look for? What do you wish you could find in primary care? And then I got to work building that. I envisioned a practice that was really affordable, accessible… a little bit old school in style. So not so rushed, a little bit slower and intentional, but still modern. So I chose a practice model called direct primary care. That’s why I’m Revival Direct Primary Care.
It’s sort of a newer, innovative approach to healthcare that challenges this whole concept of assembly line medicine..and instead, really puts an emphasis back on the doctor-patient relationship. So what sets direct primary care practices apart is that we do not require or bill through insurance at all. The reason for that is insurance dictated healthcare comes with a lot of baggage — really opaque billing. That’s hard for families. People have high copays, surprise medical bills. There’s a lot of paperwork, administrative burden and costs associated with that…and long wait times, just for very short, rushed visits (I’m sure every patient has been through that). And a lot of that is really not at the hands of doctors or nurses, but really an insurance issue. So what direct primary care does is it tries to sort of remove that insurance middleman, to improve patient access and give people a more personal primary care experience, while also saving them a lot of money.
The way we work is that we use a monthly membership fee with completely transparent pricing. So a flat, affordable monthly membership fee covers pretty much everything I do at the office. Everything from routine physicals, preventive care, chronic care like diabetes, hypertension, sick visits, illness, injury, even things like procedures — all of that is included in that membership fee. What that means for patients is they have predictable healthcare costs that they can budget for just like a gym membership or Netflix or anything that’s a membership. They’re not getting those surprise bills and it also is giving them this access. They can call me or text me or email me and they know me and I know them. And then from my perspective, it means I can see fewer patients. I can sit with them longer, and be a little bit more intentional in my visits and spend my time listening and looking them in the eyes instead of checking boxes and running room to room. It’s really something that benefits both doctors and patients.
WomensNet: You mentioned the monthly membership. It really is line with a gym membership, right? What is that typical monthly fee per person?
Christina: Most direct primary care practices mine included use age-based tiers. Mine is based on age, and we’re talking anywhere from $50 a month to a hundred dollars a month. Comparable to a cell phone bill or a gym membership or something like that. The goal is to support the practice, but really to make it as affordable for patients as possible. And we also do things to save patients money. I dispense medication straight from the office at wholesale prices, so people don’t have to go to the pharmacy and pay those markups. We’ve got discounted pricing on labs and imaging for sort of direct pay. So we really try to be as thoughtful as we can about money for our patients.
WomensNet: I know that you’re in the early stages and I’m really impressed with the amount of market research that you did as part of this process. So where are you now? What kind of results have you seen as you are in this startup phase?
Christina: I think the scariest thing when you are starting a new business is hitting launch — making your website live and sharing it with people. And I actually kept this business really close to me. I did not tell many people for quite a long time, because I was nervous. You want to present it to the world beautifully and perfectly. But when I finally did share, the response was really incredible. Within just a few hours of launching my website, I had inquiries coming through for people wanting meet and greets to join. I will say the biggest resources was other women. I talked to moms — women do so much of the healthcare thinking for their families; the planning and the thinking. I’ve been so lucky to really have a community of moms kind of come around the practice and support it, which is wonderful.
WomensNet: What do you think has been the secret to your success thus far? It sounds like perhaps connecting with other moms has been a big piece. Is there something else you think that’s contributed?
Christina: The special sauce is just being authentic and believing in what I’m building. I’m a mom, I have two young kids. I’ve got a four-year-old and a one-year-old, and I know how challenging and kind of awful it can be to navigate the healthcare system. Even just to go to a doctor’s visit can be very stressful. So when I think about my practice, I have tried to think about it from the perspective of a parent, what can I do to make it easier, more convenient, heaven forbid more pleasant to go to the doctors. And I think that looking at things through that lens has really been helpful. And yes, I think a focus on motherhood and parenthood as a family doctor is really important. I started to offer things like newborn home visits, so that moms who have just given birth don’t have to pack up their belongings, their babies, the diaper bag, and come to the office… just doing things to make it more comfortable for people.
WomensNet: How did you originally hear about the Amber Grant, and then what made you decide to apply?
Christina: I found the Amber Grant on Google. I had been out of work for a while when I started the business. So I was not in a place to spend a lot of money. And like most physicians who have put themselves through undergraduate and medical school, I’ve got a lot of student loans on my back. So I did not want to take out another loan for the business. That was something I was trying to avoid. So I did a lot of number crunching… a lot of research, like you said, to try to figure out ways to stretch every dollar and cent I did have as far as I could go. Then I was looking for opportunities for ways to kind of give me my best shot. And when I found the Amber Grant, it really aligned so much with this female-focused, motherhood-focused practice I was building. I loved that it was so empowering for women and I watched all the videos of previous recipients and I just sort of felt this strong pull to go for it. And I’m so glad I did.
WomensNet: How are you going to use the $10,000 to grow your new practice? What are some of the biggest, best bits that you’ll make right away, do you think?
Christina: I was trying to think about what make the biggest impact on growth of the practice, both in terms of number of patients — and in terms of the services I could offer. And it shook out into three categories: equipment, marketing and then continuing education. When I was at the VA in the earliest stages, and it came time to purchase equipment, I went sort of bare bones. I tried to buy everything I could secondhand and only buy what I absolutely needed: an exam table, blood pressure, cuff… the very basics.
Of course there are pieces of equipment that I knew would make an enormous impact on my patients; probably the biggest at the top of that list was a vaccine fridge and freezer. So if you want to administer vaccines at your practice, you have to be able to store them appropriately. Because those items can be costly right now, what I would have to do is send patients to a pharmacy or the local health department for their shots. Which of course is just not convenient. It’s doable, but it’s not ideal. So the Amber Grant will allow me to purchase those, which means I can store and administer vaccines myself, which is enormous for my patients. And it also means I can take part in the Vaccines for Children program, which is a federally funded program that gives vaccines free of charge for children who might not otherwise be able to get them, because of inability to pay.
So now I can participate in that program, which really opens up my practice to more people, and is just a wonderful thing to be able to offer. So I definitely some equipment in mind.
And then marketing so far, I’ve just been doing all the free things: social media, local meet and greets, mom groups — that kind of stuff. But I’ve been presented some really nice, bigger opportunities that come with a fee, like a local magazine spread. Having this money means I’d be able to take advantage of those, which is wonderful to help me get the word out.
And then just continuing to invest in training, so that I can remain up to date on all of the evidence-based medicine. I’m double board certified in family medicine and lifestyle medicine. So to maintain those and to always be growing my knowledge base and skill set.
WomensNet: Looking even farther ahead, what are some future plans that you might have [say, in the next three to five years] for your business?
Christina: Right now I’m laser focused on creating the best possible experience for patients at every touch point. So whether it’s just interacting through the website and social media to enrolling, to coming to the office…I just want people to have a really good experience and to grow the practice organically to a size that feels comfortable and where I can still know my patients by name. And keep it sort of intimate and personal, since that was one of my visions. But always when I look down the line, I want to think about expanding services to really meet the needs of my community. So that might look like bringing on other physicians, and it might mean expanding scope a little bit. There’s some things that I would love to offer like prenatal care and some more robust fourth trimester care for women to more fully support women in the community. And the big dream would be to have a space of my own. I’m leasing a perfectly suitable office right now, but to have a space of my own where I could have rooms for things like nutrition classes and fitness and things to really serve people more fully in their health.
WomensNet: Do you have any advice for other women business owners?
Christina: The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. I’m a doctor. I am not a business person. I never thought of myself as a business person. And I was really — I shouldn’t say was — I still am sometimes overwhelmed at the business side of things. The idea of forming a PLLC, and finances and licenses and all of that…I’m a planner and a studier and it’s been very uncomfortable for me to sort of sit in this discomfort of not knowing things. But I’ve learned that it’s really okay. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to learn as you go. It’s okay to make mistakes. And you really don’t need to have every answer just to start. You just have to start. I’m just of the belief, if you can do it yourself, go for it… do it.
I think that being mindful of your expenses at the beginning, your startup costs… is very important. And one of the best ways to keep those costs down is to do things yourself. That not only saves you money, but that helps you gain experience. And it really helped me gain competence as an entrepreneur. So I have anything I can do myself to save money. Whether it was designing a logo and then having graphic designer sort of refine it for me …[or] doing my own branding. I did my own website, and I have zero computer skills to speak of. So if I can teach myself, anyone can teach themselves to build a website. Just anything you can do: physical labor, painting your walls, installing your signs… whatever it might be.
We have this phrase in medicine, we say: “see one, do one, teach one.” And I think that that really applies to business as well. So when I was brand brand new and too scared to do things, I attended a conference on opening a practice. I read books by brilliant direct primary care physicians who blazed this trail. And that was my way of sort of seeing one. And then it was time to do it myself. And I hope that one day down the line, I can pay it forward. If there’s another physician who’s hoping to go down this path, then I can do the “teach one” part of it.