Stand By Your Surgeon

Sometimes, a spouse’s greatest contribution to a practice can be made from a distance.

  • Enable the surgeon to be easily perceived as the head of the practice, eliminating confusion for the employees.
  • Develop healthy, respectful relationships with the staff.
  • Empower the employees to do what they were hired to do, clearly and without misunderstanding.
  • Utilize your skills, education, and experience in managing the practice from a “big picture” perspective.

I have an undergraduate degree in business and a master’s degree in management. I have more than 12 years’ experience running a successful small business, from marketing to operations. Some might argue that my experience and education make me an ideal choice for managing the day-to-day business of a medical practice.

But am I the best person to run my husband’s cosmetic surgery business? Maybe; maybe not.

This dilemma facing spouses who work in the family medical practice is more common than people think. I’ve had exposure to many medical practices in which the wife serves as the office manager. I’ve seen some wives succeed in this role, some fail, and others who were merely tolerated by the practice staff.

It can be challenging for any wife or family member to play a highly visible business role in a relative’s practice. It is especially challenging for a wife. We are often liked, but we are often just tolerated.

As the wife, whether you have an MBA, a background in office management, or simply care about the health of your husband’s practice, you need to support your husband’s efforts.


Camaraderie is the backbone of any profession. There needs to be harmony among the staff in order to run a business like a “well-oiled machine.” No matter how well-meaning, a spouse or family member can certainly cause disharmony and, truth be told, no small amount of chaos.

At the very least, the spouse may inadvertently create a situation where employees are confused about whether they report to the physician or the physician’s spouse. That can be uncomfortable for all parties involved.

Employees may believe the physician will side with his spouse, creating discomfort and dissatisfaction—and that is an obstacle to harmony if the wife directly manages employees, even if her involvement is as minor as delegating work to others. It still creates stress within the organization.

Disharmony between a physician’s spouse and his or her employees can only lead to an inefficient staff that does not carry out the company’s mission. Believe it or not, patients will notice an uncomfortable practice environment, possibly before you do. And your conversion rate and the bottom line will ultimately suffer.

At times, I’ve tried to stay completely out of my husband’s business. I’ve also tried running the business. The most successful formula I’ve found is balance. That means a spouse or family member may be most successful at playing a role that concentrates heavily on business strategy and “the big picture,” without acting as the formal office manager and boss of his employees. In my experience, I can make the greatest contribution from a distance.


I still have the opportunity to contribute by acting as my husband’s chief counsel without managing the day-to-day interactions with staff. This is less confusing for the employees and my husband. I have found it is the best strategy for us to work together as a team and utilize both of our strengths, while simultaneously running the well-oiled machine.

At times, the chief counselor of the cosmetic surgeon should be on site to watch cash flow, observe patient experience, train staff, set the tone, and perhaps even question staff motivation. However, balance is the key.

What does that “balance” mean?

It means you find the best way to implement your own talents and skills to work for the benefit of you, the practice, and your family.

Stay behind the scenes and analyze the practice’s health. Develop and implement strategies and tactics that help market the practice and maximize profit margin. Go into the office once a week and take note of the organization’s health. Are the employees happy? Are they cross-selling and up-selling at the checkout counter? Do you see ways to improve patient flow?

Take note, develop a solution, and present it to your spouse for discussion. The physician ultimately is, more likely, the best choice to work with his staff to implement these ideas.

These observations are hard-won, and the result of my own personal experience and that of close friends and colleagues. I admit that it was a blow to my ego at first. Within the advertising agency I ran, I was accustomed to being the “go-to, get-things-done” person. Now, I know I’m adding value to the practice.

By observing and identifying areas for improvement, strategizing solutions, and supporting the business’s plans and operations, I am a critical contributor to making my husband’s practice one of the fastest-growing cosmetic surgery practices in the United States.

Do you have a similar experience working with a spouse of family member in a clinical setting? I welcome your feedback on your experiences in the cosmetic surgery practice.

Jennifer Deal is director of marketing for Southern Surgical Arts in Calhoun, Ga, and Chattanooga, Tenn. She can be reached at (423) 266-3331.