Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dr. Alejandro Badia >

Dr. Alejandro Badia, Entrepreneurial Surgeon, Surgeon of the Hand and Upper Extremity Badia Hand to Shoulder Center Chief of Hand Surgery, Baptist Hospital of Miami Co-founder, Da Vinci Learning Center

What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
Vision. One must know clearly what the goals are and accept that some significant level of risk is involved in order to achieve them. In the medical field, service is a key component and you must fulfill the three A’s criteria: Be affable, admirable, and accessible.

What did inspire you to start your business?
I had co-founded an extremely successful surgical practice…so successful, that we soon found that we needed more surgeons in order to cover our community needs for our subspecialty to better serve our patients. The problem was that the busier we got, the less time I was able to spend with my patients and the more difficult it was to ensure that each person received the special attention they deserved, particularly the patients who traveled from abroad to see me for a particular hand and upper limb problem. I soon realized that I needed to downsize my practice but improve the service and infrastructure to deliver that care. Badia Hand to Shoulder Center is designed with this at the forefront.

How did you finance it?
I purchased the real estate shell with my local bank, who knew my practice and income potential, and then I financed the build out of the office and therapy center myself. I wanted to minimize my debt burden. I then partnered with a national ambulatory surgery center company who understood the construction and startup needs for a surgical facility better than I could on my own. This created efficiency and an expeditious process.

Being Hispanic…Does it have any influence on your business?
Being Hispanic played a major role on WHERE I decided to practice and the type of patient pool I could best serve. While I was solely educated in the US, and obtained an Ivy League degree, I was sure to maintain my Latino roots and cultivate these idiosyncrasies. This allowed me to better bond with patients whose primary language is Spanish, whom often travel to see me from Latin America. Practicing in Miami allowed me to provide US level medical care, with the technology and expertise that entails, while making my international patients feel they were still immersed in their home culture.

In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
Adversity is a matter of perception. One must know and accept that not everything can go exactly according to plan. It is like performing surgery: the best surgeons know how to work around a sudden alteration in the pathology or anatomy. Managing complications is part of the “art of medicine”.

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Developing a new surgical practice and center requires depending on many different people, particularly bureaucrats and construction subcontracting firms. Keeping everything on track and focused has been a huge challenge.

If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
As a physician caught up in a complex medical system, I wish that I could deal only with the patient, much like any other business, where there is simply the customer and the provider. I particularly enjoy serving international patients because I do not have to request “authorization” from an insurance company low level employee who usually knows little about the pathology in question; let alone the best treatment options. It is pure medicine.

What was your childhood ambition?
I always wanted to be a physician. Furthermore I was quite convinced that I would become a surgeon and often performed dissections on fish or frogs in front of my 6th grade class, much to the delight of my teacher who shared my enthusiasm for biology. At eight years of age, I accompanied my grandmother to see a famous hand surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NYC due to her crippling rheumatoid arthritis. That moment stayed with me… In fact, that surgeon trained the surgeon who would later train me in Pittsburgh, decades later.

In middle school, I read the book “The Making of a Surgeon” and later reread it noting that the author was a product of Cornell too…

Lastly, there is a great tradition of physicians in my family in Cuba and I only recently discovered that I was a descendant of the founder of the Cuban Academy of Sciences.

Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire?
Craig Venter – founder of Celera Genomics. He took his scientific skills to create a company that would beat the NIH in sequencing the human genome. He illustrates the power of free enterprise over government: even in science.

Bill Gates (of course) – His story is epic, but most importantly, he has taken this money and wisely invested it in solving some of mankind’s issues. While widely criticized for his lack of early giving, he proved that one must also be strategic and patient in making philanthropic decisions.

Mohammed Yunus – The innovator of micro-credit. His type of entrepreneurship has positively affected the lives of millions of people and indirectly helped them lift themselves out of poverty. It is fortunate that this was aptly recognized via a Nobel peace prize.

For business meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Dinner only. Late. I work too early for normal breakfasts, and surgeons rarely eat a real lunch!

What sacrifices on your personal life did you have to make in order to become a business success?
The “sacrifices” are huge, but then again, I do not really consider them sacrifices. I love what I do, but it certainly can intrude on my personal life in many ways. I married late in life and just started building a family. Regardless, I would not have done it any other way…

What is your favorite quote?
A NY surgery professor once told me, “Surgeons don’t work hard; they work a lot. Ditch diggers work hard!”

I often try to think of that when in the operating room, frustrated, in the wee hours of the morning….

Is it difficult to be unconventional?
“Conventional” is a matter of semantics. The truth is that conventional implies one does the same as the vast majority. Since success implies that one differentiates themselves in a positive way from the status quo, you MUST be unconventional to reach new heights. This does not mean mistakes are not made.

Biggest mistake made?
I had an opportunity to join a swim team at an early age, apparently due to some innate talent that was recognized. I did not pursue it and picked up the sport at a much later date when it was likely too late to reach my potential. I often wonder what athletic heights I might have achieved. Watching Pablo Morales, a fellow Cuban-American and Cornelian, win gold medals in the butterfly, also my stroke, rekindled that feeling. My passion for these individual sports led me to personally attend the last 4 Olympic games as an enthusiastic spectator!

Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why
I believe I am an innovator as I have managed to combine the pursuit of scientific and clinical excellence, with a desire to educate the public on common maladies in my little known surgical specialty. These goals require two different mindsets. My future goal is for the general public to understand ubiquitous clinical problems within the hand and upper limb, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or shoulder bursitis (impingement syndrome). Educating the public, while furthering our scientific understanding of these issues involves two varied, but equally important, skill sets.
Contact Dr. Alejandro Badia at

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