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Joel Schlessinger, MD: Priorities and Passion

By: Cathy Christensen
Posted: January 29, 2010, from the January 2010 issue of
Dr. Schlessinger holds a chart in the hallway of his practice

Physician's assistant Jacqueline Clegg is Schlessinger's right-hand woman, offering her energy and intelligence to staff and patients alike. Photography by Ophir Palmon, Artistic Visions

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Conversely, one of the trends Schlessinger did instantly adopt was the Internet. It opened a world of efficiency for him, because he not only uses it to help manage his time between work and family, but has also harnessed its power to add to his stable of businesses, founding, a skin care product Web site, in 1997. “When the Internet became available, I found I could leverage myself even more. I could continue to write and work and take it home with me and do it at hours when the kids weren’t awake. It’s a terrific thing,” he says. When his practice started, Schlessinger was working every day from 7:30 am–5:30 pm and Saturdays from 7:30 am to noon. “This translated to quite a few hours after that in order to finish up paperwork and other incidentals. Throughout time, we have gone to working Monday–Thursday 7:30 am–4:30 pm and Fridays 7:30 am to noon,” says Schlessinger, offering proof positive that the Internet has shaved hours off of his business day.

Economic efficiency is another factor Schlessinger has taken into consideration when building his practice, adding many different arms to help ensure economic security. The current recession has helped test whether his business is built for the long haul. “Things like surgical procedures are much stronger this year. It may just be that people are afraid of losing their jobs and their insurance so they’re coming in to have moles and acne and warts taken care of, but it’s always been my stance that it is important to keep all aspects of the medical practice and the cosmetic practice active so during times of a rainy day, you don’t have problems,” Schlessinger says. “It’s important to have that medical aspect just in case of this type of economy, and we have the research arm that has been very helpful during this time. And even that has shown some signs of erosion, so it just goes to show you can’t fall back on one thing and expect it to turn out well.”

Supporting strengths

Always seeking to improve his practice, Schlessinger recently made the New Year’s resolution to take time to re-educate himself. “I decided to go to a managerial training class called the Great Manager Program at Gallup University,” he says. Gallup is a world-recognized, Omaha-based company that has been studying human nature for 70 years. “I have had no business background at all and that was an opportunity for me to think about it for three days straight.” During the class, Schlessinger learned how to evaluate his practice and look into better ways to improve staff and practice efficiency. One of those ways was by identifying his team members’ strengths using testing at Gallup University, which is also outlined in the book Strengths-based Leadership (Gallup Press, 2009) by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

“We’ve tested all our staff members for their strengths, and Gallup’s philosophy is people should work on their strengths instead of their weaknesses. So, for example, if you have a child that is great in math but awful at baseball, rather than focusing on bringing his baseball skills up, work on the math and strengthen the things that will go side-by-side with math, such as physics and chemistry,” explains Schlessinger. The revealing test also helps Schlessinger interact with his staff more effectively and offers insight into the types of personalities he’s hiring during the interview process.

Diligence and judgment

Beyond business, two of the most crucial elements of Schlessinger’s success have been practicing diligence and precise judgment. In order to offer the most well-rounded advice to his patients, he feels it is incredibly important to be dedicated to both dermatology and cosmetic surgery. “I love both and feel it is imperative for dermatologists to keep their hands in both because it’s so important to have a background in medical or dermatologic science in order to further improve your cosmetic skills,” says Schlessinger. “Knowing dermatology assists me so much if I’m doing a laser case or have a complication with a patient who needs to have an infection treated or a scar treated. Unfortunately, many people go into cosmetic surgery, and they don’t have an appreciation or a concern for what can go wrong, and that’s an important part of doing it. It’s called judgment, but judgment is a combination of experiences that you’ve had throughout years and years.”