Dr. Maria Clarissa Visitacion moved from Buffalo, New York, to Winder in 2011, recently graduated from residency training. She joined the local hospital and began sharing her ideas for better patient care with management, but a steady rotation of new CEOs made it difficult for any idea to gain traction. “Dr. Claire,” as her patients call her, listed suggestions for the administration to consider. “When I have reasonable plans on patient care, I want them implemented,” she says. When her ideas were turned down, she began building a list of ideas to use eventually in her own practice.
Dr. Visitacion then decided to open a primary care office in Winder, a medically under-served area about 30 minutes from Athens. She went to a local banker to discuss a loan and was referred to Laura Katz, area director at the Athens office of the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center. “I didn’t have any business experience at all,” she says. “Laura mentioned a business plan. I didn’t know what it was and how to start it out. She and SBDC consultant John Maynard walked me through the whole process, helping me develop financial projections, demographics and a competitive analysis of the Bethlehem and Winder area.”
“Dr. Claire has a thirst for knowledge. She’s a hard worker and a tenacious physician. If she doesn’t understand something, she will find resources or learn how to do it,” says Katz. “She really cares, and wants to make a difference.” After completing the plan, Dr. Visitacion prepared for her meeting with the bank like she did for medical and residency training.
“I studied every bit of it, every detail. I’d prove to them that I could do it. I thought that would give me the loan. But when I got there, the bank went through my files and approved my loan without any questions. They’d been working with the SBDC a while, and if the SBDC made a recommendation, they knew it was worthwhile.
“The SBDC showed me that in building a small private practice, you must take into account the business end. They supplemented my passion to deliver health care to my patients with a desire to run this business effectively and efficiently,” she says. Dr. Visitacion opened Bethlehem Family Healthcare in a small office with a receptionist and medical assistant in July 2013. She quickly grew beyond the patients she could serve there.
“The business plan gave me direction after I got the loan. It was my guide,” she says. “I followed it, and it led to the success of the practice. Two years after I started, I had paid off the business loan and expanded into more space. I had nine employees by the end of 2015.” Dr. Visitacion also attended the UGA SBDC’s GrowSmart® program that year.
“GrowSmart® is guiding my business practices as we grow. My revenue is growing at more than 50 percent. My practice is twice as large now as it was in the previous space. We started out seeing five to 10 patients per day. In less than two years, we now see up to 25 patients in a full day with a record patient volume of 35 on a very busy day!”
“GrowSmart® has been one of the best business courses I’ve taken. I have enrolled in an on-line MBA degree, and I’d say GrowSmart® is better. While the MBA is broader, GrowSmart® focuses on our specific business needs.”
Katz continues to instruct Dr. Visitacion on strategic planning, cash flow analyses, marketing and human resources. “It is gratifying and satisfying to work with Dr. Claire, because she’s so passionate about the people she serves. I love it when the business owner I’m helping is really involved in what they’re doing,” says Katz. “Dr. Claire really cares. She wants to make a difference, and so do I.”
“The SBDC is just a great resource for anyone starting out or still doing business. I’ve always recommended it to colleagues and patients. If they’re starting a new business, I give Laura’s contact info out,” says Dr. Visitacion. “I’ve maximized that resource. It’s been instrumental in terms of our growth.”