A Second Chance — A “Late Start” in Medicine is Rewarding
By Helen K. Kelley
Dr. Rutledge Forney has always been a problem solver. First, she used that ability as a successful management consultant. Today, she’s a problem solver in her second career as a medical practitioner.
Growing up in Birmingham, AL in the 1960s, young girls were generally steered toward becoming homemakers and mothers and, just to be safe — in the event they didn’t marry — were encouraged to select a “gentler” career path than their male counterparts, such as teaching or bookkeeping. So, even though Forney had an aptitude for science and math and a quiet dream of becoming a doctor, she ended up choosing an alternate road — and using an alternate aptitude — in business.
However, in the late 1980s, Forney found herself at a career crossroads… and reexamining her childhood dream. It was a case of now or never. She applied and was admitted to Emory University’s School of Medicine and graduated with a medical degree in 1996.
“I was a late starter,” says Forney, who completed her residency in San Francisco before returning to Atlanta to practice dermatology in 2000. A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to start a new career in mid-life. I was fortunate.”
The business of medicine
Forney acknowledges that her former career in business has been very helpful in her present occupation as a physician, especially when it comes to making a practice run efficiently.
“The biggest challenge for a doctor is running a business,” she says. “We must ask questions like, ‘How can I deal with government restrictions and the amounts that insurance companies will allow us to earn, while still delivering excellent care to our patients?’ I spend a lot of time thinking about how to do things well in my practice. And it helps to view them through business glasses.”
Quality of patient care and patient satisfaction are crucial to the success of a practice, as is addressing the needs and desires of the current patient base, Forney notes. Right now, that patient base includes a growing number of baby boomers.
“Care and support of mid-life patients is a large part of the dermatology practice these days. Luckily, I’m a baby boomer fighting aging, myself,” she says. “These patients are coming to dermatologists for medical and surgical solutions for health problems such as psoriasis or skin cancer. But they’re also very interested in cosmetic treatments such as Botox, “fillers,” hair removal and skin care products.”
Forney and her colleagues at Dermatology Affiliates make it a point to stay abreast of the latest medical advances in dermatology, both surgical and nonsurgical.
“For example, in the world of skin cancer, there is a desire to find ways to treat skin cancers non-surgically. In the past eight years or so, several alternatives to surgery such as creams and light treatments have become available,” Forney notes. “I think we’ll see many more nonsurgical treatments in the near future.”
There is also a growing demand for laser procedures, not just for hair removal but also for treating sun-damaged skin. Dermatology Affiliates has a Fraxel Dual Wave Laser, which employs a new wavelength to resurface skin.
“The Fraxel Dual Wave is a notable advance,” says Forney. “But we hope that the need for it will, one day, become extinct, simply because people are more knowledgeable about their skin and the sun, and are taking better care of themselves.”
The MAA and the “10-90” Rule
Like most everyone else these days, physicians find themselves squeezed financially and they have to make tough decisions about where their dollars are getting the most return. Sometimes, this means cutting back on memberships in specialty associations.
Forney, who currently serves as President of the Medical Association of Atlanta (MAA), says that it’s important for associations to offer services that are of real value to members.
“There are so many organizations in which doctors already have to participate, so the MAA is constantly looking at ways to increase services and resources that will benefit members and make membership attractive,” she says.
Forney also points out that strides made by the MAA are beneficial not only to its members, but to all Atlanta area physicians. She calls it the “10-90” Rule.
“Let’s say that about 10 percent of the Atlanta physician population are members of the MAA. Those 10 percent are carrying the other 90 percent,” she explains. “The members who are active participants are achieving results that benefit all doctors — yet all doctors don’t have to belong. Can you imagine the huge difference it would make if the other 90 percent would join the association and add their support?”
Forney is passionate about the MAA and encourages all area physicians to join — even if they can’t participate actively — because there is strength in numbers.
“Just because you’re not participating doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join,” she explains. “One of the main benefits to membership is being part of your local physician community. Being a part of it — even if all you do is read the association newsletter — makes you aware of what your community is doing and what’s going on in your profession, including political activity.”
The association has provided significant opinion and guidance in times of crisis and uncertainty for the health of the region’s citizens. A prime example of this is the struggling Grady Health System. Grady is the only level I trauma center within 100 miles of metro Atlanta, and also provides important emergency services for burn, asthma, sickle cell and stroke patients, among others.
“If Grady went under, it would affect all of us. Grady absorbs the lion’s share of treatment for trauma victims in Georgia. Patients with nowhere else to turn go to Grady. A huge number of physicians have trained at Grady. The MAA has been very vocal about the importance of Grady to the entire community,” Forney states. “Even if we can’t entirely change the situation, we can at least talk about it. It’s our responsibility to create awareness and gain support for issues like this.”
The MAA gives a unified voice to the Atlanta physician’s voice, especially when it comes to legislation. Considering the fact that Georgia’s Governor and other elected officials often turn to the MAA for expert advice and opinions, having a strong and active membership is critical, says Forney.
“What happens to physicians affects our patients. If doctors don’t have a role in setting healthcare policy at all levels, government will control it all. People would be shocked at the impact our government has on doctors’ lives,” she states. “As physicians, we should be able to shape the system for the better in terms of the health of America. We need to be at the table with an organized voice. We can’t be there as individuals; we have to be there as a group.”
For Rutledge Forney, it’s obvious that a second career in medicine was a natural progression from her earlier calling to the business world. She has been able to channel the best of both skill sets, plus a passion for making the healthcare world a better place, into one perfect occupation. Sometimes, a dream deferred evolves into a dream realized.
Rutledge Forney, M.D., is board certified in medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology. Her practice, Dermatology Affiliates, has two locations — one in Buckhead and the other in East Cobb. For more information, log on to dermatologyaffiliates.com.